Youth services in England and Wales ‘face being decimated’

·3-min read
<span>Photograph: agefotostock/Alamy</span>
Photograph: agefotostock/Alamy

Youth leaders are calling for the recruitment of an additional 50,000 youth workers and volunteers to meet a tripling in levels of need during the pandemic.

Cuts to public spending, which analysis shows have gone deeper in the most deprived areas, coupled with the depleted reserves of youth charities mean that failure to give more support “will see youth clubs and centres close, the youth sector decimated and lost opportunities for young people”, said Leigh Middleton, the chief executive of the National Youth Agency.

Local youth leaders also said young people were facing increased vulnerability to organised crime gangs, in particular county lines drug dealing operations, and sharp declines in self-esteem and self-confidence resulting from reduced interaction with other people during the pandemic.

Related: Youth club closures put young people at risk of violence, warn MPs

Unemployment among 16- to 24-year-olds in the UK this summer remained 8% higher than for May to July 2019, Office for National Statistics labour market figures revealed on Tuesday.

Youth leaders have previously estimated that one in four youth centres could face closure. In Southall, west London, 1,500 people have recently signed a petition to try to save one of only three centres in the London Borough of Ealing from demolition under a council plan to turn the site into housing. They are also reporting staff quitting for other roles due to the instability of funding for frontline services.

The NYA calculates that over the past decade, total youth service spending in deprived areas of England was down by about £90 a head, compared with about £50 in the most affluent areas.

“There isn’t much left to cut further, without losing it all,” said Middleton.

The YMCA has also calculated that youth services in England have suffered a 73% real-terms funding cut from local authorities since 2010.

“This dire situation is only set to get worse before it gets better, as a dramatically increased need for provision is met with further budget cuts locally,” said Denise Hatton, the YMCA England and Wales chief executive. “Every decision not to invest … forces more and more youth centres into perilous situations.”

Paul Oginsky, who runs Vibe, which operates youth services in Knowsly on Merseyside, said the pressure came as young people “have all felt the loss of relationships in their lives”.

“We are seeing young people’s self-esteem being damaged,” he said.

There had been an increase in criminal behaviour, “noticeably county lines and people being more readily violent to one another”, he said. A fifth of his staff left over the summer for more stable jobs, including in schools and prisons.

Mervyn Kaye, the chief executive of Youth First, which runs youth provision in Lewisham, south-east London, said pandemic restrictions meant the number of children it was able to help regularly had fallen from 1,300 in a normal year to the low hundreds, and was only recently rebounding. Annual council funding had also fallen steeply to £1.5m, although Kaye said that was still more generous than other council areas where cuts had been deeper.

“We weren’t meeting the quantity of need anyway and now we have to create relationships with children whose needs we don’t yet understand after Covid,” Kaye said. “We are stripping children of support to empower them to deal with the problems they are going to face.”

A spokesperson for the Department of Culture Media and Sport said it recognised youth services were “vital”.

“Over £100m from our unprecedented charity sector package has gone to organisations supporting children and young people during the pandemic, including the £16.5m Youth Covid Support Fund, which provided emergency funding specifically for youth services.”

They cited the £200m Youth Endowment Fund to protect young people at risk of exploitation or becoming involved in serious violence and the Kickstart scheme to help them into employment.

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