Teenage wasteland

Charities for young people are in deep trouble

17 October 2020

9:00 AM

17 October 2020

9:00 AM

Is locking down again the right remedy for Britain, or will it only add to this country’s suffering in the long-term? It’s certainly been a disaster for many British charities — one report earlier this year estimated that there would be a £12 billion black hole in funding. And it’s been catastrophic for the charity I support: the Teenage Cancer Trust, which provides bespoke care for ill teenagers.

An awful lot of people have heard of the Teenage Cancer Trust — but there’s something about teenagers that means they don’t pull at people’s heartstrings the same way that children do, so raising money is that bit more difficult. You could say that teenagers don’t have the ‘Bambi effect’. When it comes to children under ten people think ‘God, what a shame’ and the money flows in. But five years later, when they are nearly six foot tall, it becomes a different ball game. Teenagers’ health complaints are too often dismissed as simply overdoing it or having growing pains. This means, unfortunately, that they often get diagnosed late. It’s also likely that many may have gone undiagnosed during lockdown. We just don’t know the number yet.

The Teenage Cancer Trust is a classic example of something the government should be doing. Instead it’s a charity and we have to raise the funds. Every year we make millions of pounds by holding shows at the Royal Albert Hall (a week of events there can raise up to £2 million), and through various other community fundraisers such as treks, runs and swims. But because of current restrictions, all these avenues are closed to us. We’ve had a brutal drop in income of £6 million. If we don’t make up this shortfall, it could mean that we are forced to reduce our support for teenagers with cancer or stop services entirely. For young people’s mental, emotional and physical health while going through cancer, at a time when they are immunocompromised during a pandemic, that would be terrible.

I got involved with the charity 30 years ago after my GP, Dr Adrian Whiteson, set it up with his wife Myrna. A lot of people in the music business became patrons early on because, frankly, we owe our livelihood to teenagers. They buy The Who’s records and come to our shows. They’ve been coming for 55 years and I’m eternally grateful that every new generation seems to carry the torch forward from the old and dives into the stuff we’ve been playing since the 1960s. Since 1956 when Elvis burst on to the scene with ‘Heartbreak Hotel’, teenagers have been the beating heart of our culture, from music to film to fashion and everything in between. We owe them a lot.

I don’t think people realise how big a role charities like ours play within the NHS. We aren’t just some add-on. The Teenage Cancer Trust has 28 hospital units across Britain, employing 100 nursing specialists and support workers. And we have an outreach programme for all the youngsters who can’t get into the main cities for treatment. I recently called Michael Gove to let him know just how dire our situation has become and to ask for government support. ‘We need some dosh,’ I told him. He was very sympathetic — but we have not received a penny yet and I am not holding my breath.

We’re pushing to put on a show at some point with social distancing, but having been in this business all my life I can tell you that having even half the capacity won’t cut the mustard. The fact that in 2020 we still need charity to bankroll specific wards and treatments for teenagers is maddening. It should be a part of the NHS — sadly that’s not the case.

For the past three decades I have been energised by the thousands of teenagers I have met through my work with the charity. They inspire me — they never feel sorry for themselves, even when they’re on their last legs. It has been the most rewarding thing, every bit as good as being on stage.

That’s why we’ve got to ask whether the government is really doing the right thing — they’re crashing the economy, and our charities too. Our teenagers’ lives are at stake.

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