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YMCA finds councils who have spent nothing on youth services

15 February 2022

£1.1 billion has been stripped from youth service funding since 2010

istock

YOUTH services in England and Wales have been “gutted” over the past decade, and some local authorities have not spent a penny of their funding on supporting youth provision, a study published on Tuesday says.

The YMCA, the largest provider of youth services in England and Wales, examined local-authority funding over the decade and found that cuts in England had been particularly ferocious. Overall, £1.1 billion has been stripped from youth-service funding since 2010 (when the Coalition Government introduced its austerity measures): a cut of 74 per cent.

A decade ago, the average spend per young person on youth services in Wales was less than half the amount in England. Today, that position is almost reversed: spending per head in Wales is 30 per cent higher than in England.

The chief executive of YMCA England and Wales, Denise Hatton, said that the study showed up “the harsh reality of a generation and sector repeatedly devalued by devastating cuts.

“In addition to a decade of funding failures, young people have spent the past two years adjusting to periods of staying at home, limited social interaction, education anxieties, and a whole host of worries like no generation before. Simultaneously for the sector, the pandemic meant a shift in how youth services operated, placing significant pressure on their ability to support young people through these difficult transitions.”

Youth-service funding is managed by local authorities, and the YMCA’s study found wide variation between areas: the West Midlands and the north-east were worst affected.

Seven areas in England did not report spending any money on youth services in the past financial year. They include Trafford, in Greater Manchester, and the Isles of Scilly. At the other end of the scale, Stockport, a neighbouring borough to Trafford, spent more than £122 per head. Camden, in London, spent £151.

As a result, the YMCA said that young people faced a postcode lottery at a time when youth services were needed more than ever.

The policy director, Jason Stacey, said that youth services had been seen as the “soft target” by local authorities looking to make savings. “Youth services are often seen as an easy way to make savings — but you don’t see the impact of the cuts straight away.

“The decisions are often made by people who don’t see the value themselves of the services. But it’s no longer a ping-pong table in a draughty church hall: that is not what youth services are about any more.” Youth services provide targeted support for those who are vulnerable, including teenage-pregnancy advice, a youth-justice team, and drug and alcohol services, he said.

Charities are attempting to fill the gap left by the absence of local-authority provision. The YMCA welcomes around 20,000 young people through the doors of its 79 youth centres each year. But Mr Stacey reported: “We have been overwhelmed at times by demand during the pandemic, and this is only going to get worse.”

He urged the Government in Westminster to take a lead and adopt the Welsh approach of creating a national youth strategy.

The YMCA has welcomed the Government’s Youth Investment Fund, whose first £10 million has been released to areas of England most in need. But the funding can only be spent on capital projects — which is not what is most needed, Mr Stacey said.

“We need ongoing revenue spend, to fund salaries of experienced youth workers. We don’t need new buildings, but funding to put things on for young people inside centres.”

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