We joined Birmingham residents as they marched to save youth services from budget cuts

Hundreds gathered in the city centre to protest against Birmingham city council's proposed cuts to youth service on Tuesday

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Hundreds of people gathered in Birmingham city centre on Tuesday morning (February 13) to protest against the city council's proposed cuts to youth services.

Organised by Unite the union and the Save Birmingham Youth Service campaign, the protesters voiced their concerns about the potential harm these cuts could inflict on the lives of thousands of young individuals in the city.

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I joined the protesters at the Library of Birmingham at around 9 a.m, witnessing a diverse assembly of young people, youth workers, parents, and educators. Their signs and banners bore messages of frustration and disappointment, including phrases like “Don’t cut our lifeline,” “Youth services matter,” and “Invest in our future, not your austerity.”

The protesters chants “Save our services! Save our future!” and “No ifs, no buts, no youth service cuts!” Drums and whistles added to the cacophony, ensuring their cause received attention. At 9:45 a.m., the group departed from the library and embarked on a march toward the Council House.

Their route through the city centre served as a powerful statement: they were unwilling to surrender their city's youth services, demanding that the council reconsider its budget decisions.

By 10a.m, we had reached the council house, where the protesters held a rally outside the building.

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The protesters paid tribute to Muhammad Hassan Ali, a stabbing victim in Victoria Square, with a minute’s silence before they voiced their opposition to the council’s cuts on the anti-knife crime budget.

During the rally, we listened to speeches from Unite representatives, youth workers, and young people. They shared personal stories of how youth services had helped them navigate challenges such as poverty, crime, exploitation, and mental health struggles. Their collective warning was clear: slashing these services would exacerbate social problems and incur long-term costs.

Protesters at the Council House (credit: Birmingham World) Protesters at the Council House (credit: Birmingham World)
Protesters at the Council House (credit: Birmingham World)

I had the opportunity to speak with a 15-year-old protester, who had been attending a youth centre in Sparkbrook. She described the centre as a second home, a safe space where she could socialise, acquire new skills, and receive support from caring adults. It had also played a crucial role in her education, career aspirations, and personal growth.

She told BirminghamWorld: "The youth centre is like a second home to me. It’s where I met some of my best friends, where I got help with my homework, where I learned about opportunities, where I gained confidence and self-esteem. The youth centre has improved my life, and I can’t imagine living without it.”

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She added: “The council wants to cut the youth service budget by half, which means they will close down most of the youth centres, lay off most of the youth workers, and reduce the quality and quantity of the services. This is unfair, this is wrong. They are taking away our lifeline, our future, our voice. We are here today to tell them: stop the cuts, save our youth services, listen to us.”

The city council’s decision to slash the budget for youth services by £2.3 million has left many feeling betrayed and abandoned. The cuts are expected to result in job losses among specialist workers and the closure of several youth centres, many of which are in highly deprived areas. The loss of these services could have a terrible impact on the mental health and well-being of young people, as well as increasing the risk of exploitation and criminal activity.

The protest has the backing of Unite the Union, the representative of some of the city’s youth workers. The union emphasises how important these services are for helping vulnerable young people and avoiding violence and abuse.

Lee Wiggetts-Clinton from Unite the Union with a banner for the march (credit: Birmingham World) Lee Wiggetts-Clinton from Unite the Union with a banner for the march (credit: Birmingham World)
Lee Wiggetts-Clinton from Unite the Union with a banner for the march (credit: Birmingham World)

Lee Wiggetts-Clinton, from Unite the Union, said,

“Youth workers and children should not deal with the pressure of a financial crisis they did not create. The fight to prevent these cuts continues, fuelled by determination and a commitment to save the future of Birmingham's youth”

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After the speeches, the activists delivered a petition with over 1,000 signatures, along with letters from young people who use the youth services. The bag of envelopes was given to Kerry Jenkins, Labour councillor for Moseley, who also attended the protest and said the council should not cut frontline services for young people. She asserted: “Ultimately, young people in this city did not cause the financial mess that this council finds themselves in.” She further criticised the current process for finding cuts, describing it as “with a silo mentality,” where departments are instructed to find cuts separately.

The protest concluded around 11:00 a.m, but they vowed to persistently fight until the council reverses its decision.

Plans are underway to organise more actions and events in the coming weeks. Undeterred by the cold and the rain, they remain committed to securing the future of Birmingham’s young people.

What has Birmingham City Council said about the protests?

Birmingham City Council has responded to the rally, expressing their commitment to mitigating the impact of cuts on youth services. Acknowledging the challenging financial situation.

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"The council is going through a challenging period due to the financial position and we understand it is an unsettling time for many of our residents.

“As we review the saving proposals for the Children, Young People and Families directorate, it will be inevitable that services will need to be changed as a result, and this process allows us to continue making improvements to provide efficient services.

"We will do all we can to minimise the impact during this difficult time and continue to prioritise the services for the most vulnerable residents in the city.”

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