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Budget cuts threaten Byron Youth Service

It’s cheap as chips to educate young people, and why wouldn’t you want give the next generation the best opportunities? Young women from the Girls Group at the Mullumbimby annex of the BYS say they will tie-dye t-shirts and have cake stalls to ensure their time with youth worker Deborah Pearse continues. Photo Eve Jeffery

It’s cheap as chips to educate young people, and why wouldn’t you want give the next generation the best opportunities? Young women from the Girls Group at the Mullumbimby annex of the BYS say they will tie-dye t-shirts and have cake stalls to ensure their time with youth worker Deborah Pearse continues. Photo Eve Jeffery

Eve Jeffery

Last week’s federal budget has left a country largely dazed and confused.

Questions are now being asked about the legitimacy of a ‘fiscal emergency’ given the inequity of ripping into the most vulnerable while the wealthiest are left largely untouched.

Prime Minister Abbott’s radical plans have yet to be passed by the Senate – and, if blocked,  could trigger a double dissolution election.

Some of the current plans will hit future generations, with youth programs set to be slashed, and local youth organisations are bracing themselves for the austerity ahead.

Youth Connections is just one of the local programs to go, with funding being cut as of December this year. Youth Connections runs out of Byron and Mullumbimby Byron Youth Centres (BYS) and they support young people at risk of disengaging early from school, and also helping them to transition into vocational training and work.

‘Our Early Intervention and Prevention Program is funded to continue until at least 2015/16’, says Peter McGlennon, director of Byron Youth Service.

‘This supports another 70 young people at risk at any one time for a variety of reasons. Street Cruise is currently unfunded and at risk of closure or reduction. This would take youth workers off the street at night and leave young people at greater physical risk and also greater risk of engaging in or becoming victims of crime. The funding for our Links to Learning Program is unknown as of the end of the year.’

Meanwhile the NSW minister for family and community services, Gabrielle Upton, told The Echo that helping the vulnerable is a key priority for her government.

‘We will have a close look at the impact these federal government cuts will have on people who rely on our support to keep them out of poverty and disadvantage’, she said.

‘Now, more than ever we need to make sure family and community services funding and services are getting to those who need it most.’

Pyne’s office defends cuts

But the federal government defended the cuts, with a spokesperson for the minister for education Christopher Pyne telling The Echo that the coalition government is committed to a range of programs to assist young people into employment.

‘This includes the Job Services Australia program, Disability Employment Services and the Indigenous Employment Program, among others. We are also restoring work for the dole for people on unemployment benefits.

‘We are improving financial incentives for young people to find and stay in employment through the Job Commitment Bonus and the Relocation Assistance to Take Up a Job scheme. In addition to these programs, the government is also investing $300 million over four years from July 2014 for the Green Army program, which will provide opportunities for young Australians aged 17 to 24 years to gain training and work experience.

‘Most importantly, the government is building a strong economy, which will create a stronger jobs market for young jobseekers.’

BYS staff cuts

But the cuts will mean that one, possibly more, staff members will disappear from the BYS.

Richond Labor MP Justine Elliot told The Echo, ‘At a time of rising youth unemployment, Tony Abbott has cut the only programs designed to help young people get into the workforce and prevent them from slipping through the cracks.

This week’s budget of twisted priorities axed all three education programs aimed at helping disadvantaged young Australians at risk of falling into unemployment to finish school and get a job.’

Peter McGlennon says he feels very disappointed, but retains a glimmer of hope.

‘We live in an abundant country but somehow we have become an increasingly segregated and class-structured society where more and more people just fall through the cracks, live in poverty and have little hope of breaking out of that.

‘We are fundamentally fair and caring people. I hope that we will start to demand honest, caring, creative and courageous leaders.’


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