Federal budget cuts will force young people into ghettos of poverty

The right connections: Jack Coleman wants to avoid the fate of many of his friends and train. “I see a lot of people who are just committed to doing nothing,” he said. Photo: Brock Perks Jack Coleman

Central coast teenager Jack Coleman faced a bleak employment future, having left his public high school early with limited skills to offer potential bosses. Jack, of Kincumber, could see he was going down the same path as many of his friends who have struggled to find work in an area where youth unemployment is among the highest in Australia at 28 per cent. The 16-year-old was accepted into the program Youth Connections, which helps young people complete their education and find work. Under changes announced in the budget, funding will be axed from December 31. The changes also include a six-month freeze on unemployment benefits for people under 25 and a six-month work for the dole period. Jack wants to avoid the fate of many of his friends and train to become a boilermaker. ”I see a lot of people who are just committed to doing nothing,” he said. ”They just sit on the couch all day. They don’t get support from their parents or teachers. I’ve seen heaps of my mates go down that track and it’s not good.” Without a program such as Youth Connections, Jack could attempt to finish year 12 at a mainstream high school or face the same fate as many of his friends. ”I don’t know what would happen,” he said. ”Without an education, I guess I would just be sitting at home like so many of my mates.”

Youth Connections, which supports 8000 young people on the central coast, in Newcastle, the Hunter and northern Sydney, has achieved long-term results. Eighty per cent of participants are either ”earning or learning” 18 months after completion. Chief executive Maggie MacFie fears the budget changes mean young people will slip into crime or develop mental health problems. ”It’s interesting that they are increasing funding for [youth mental health foundation] Headspace and increasing funding for prisons,” she said. ”We need organisations like Youth Connections to stand in front of the prison gate; we need them to stand in front of the mental health services to help young people before they get to that stage.” Mission Australia chief executive Catherine Yeomans said the budget changes will create ghettos of poverty. ”Instead of investing in our next generation at the crucial point in their lives, this budget risks pushing many onto the fringes of our society,” Ms Yeomans said.

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