Young people’s mental health may bear Covid ‘scars’ for years to come says Yvette Cooper

Yvette Cooper said youngsters had “had a really tough couple of years” but spoke of hearing from YMCA staff in Birmingham on Thursday that support for some of the most vulnerable service users was “just not there for them”.

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The “scars” of the pandemic on young people’s mental health could last for “many years to come” without more frontline support, the shadow home secretary has said.

Yvette Cooper said youngsters had “had a really tough couple of years” but spoke of hearing from YMCA staff in Birmingham on Thursday that support for some of the most vulnerable service users was “just not there for them”.

On a visit to the Birmingham Erdington by-election battleground, alongside the party’s pick to retain the seat Paulette Hamilton, Ms Cooper claimed services had “been cut back over many, many years”.

Labour is hoping they can hold the constituency at the forthcoming ballot on March 3.

The by-election was triggered after the death of incumbent Labour MP Jack Dromey last month.

Ms Cooper met with staff from the Sutton Coldfield YMCA, including members of the team who support young carers, who Ms Hamilton described as having done an “incredible job” during the pandemic.

Staff explained how they would usually lay on day trips and youth clubs for youngsters but that that had all stopped during the pandemic.

Support worker Siobhan Smith-Inniss said staff had to come up with novel ideas to give their young people a little lift, including delivering activity packs door-to-door and cinema nights via Zoom, when they also delivered snacks.

They also did daily doorstep visits for their most vulnerable service users, or stayed in touch by telephone or text message.

“It was tough, because the day trips are what they love,” Ms Smith-Inniss said.

“Especially with young carers, they don’t want to be on a Zoom call while their mum is in the background.”

She said Covid-19 had left youngsters with “a lot of anxiety” and that when lockdowns lifted, some “didn’t want to come back”.

“Now, we’ve also got parents who have long Covid, and carers who are having to care for them.”

Asked if she had seen any increase in Government support measures at this time of “great need”, she told Ms Cooper: “No, there isn’t.”

“During lockdown we were working at capacity – 12 to 14-hour shifts a day,” she added.

Ms Cooper, who described the staff’s work as “heroic”, said young people “need the support” but claimed “it’s just not there for them”.

“We have heard the fantastic services that the YMCA and others are providing, but it’s so over-stretched,” she said.

“It’s been cut back over many, many years.

“That means our young people are being let down and that affects their mental health, it affects their education, it affects anti-social behaviour in the community.

“There’s so many different things that are the knock-on consequences.

“We heard about the scars that young people are facing from the pandemic and if we don’t have that support for them, then those scars will be felt for very many years to come, and that is not fair.”

Asked what measures she would like enacted by the Government, Ms Cooper said “mental health support for young people and children”, including “quick appointments” and “specialist support in schools”.

She added that if Labour were in power it would “get police back in our neighbourhoods”, with so-called neighbourhood hubs based in communities.

“So you’ve actually got that base for police officers and enforcement officers … and the way we’d fund it is we would not go ahead with the royal yacht, that neither the (Royal) Navy nor the Royal Family even want,” she said.