YOUNG people are suffering as a result of years of cuts to local-authority youth services in England and Wales, a new report by the YMCA says.
The report, Generation Cut, published this week, shows a disparity in spending per head between Wales and England. 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 has reversed: spending per head in Wales is now double, at £91 per head, compared with £45 per child in England.
The report examines local-authority spending on youth services for each financial year since 2010-11, and converted it into real terms to compare with today’s figures. The financial and cost differences are then analysed at national, regional, and local level, to reveal the highest and lowest levels of cuts. The West Midlands recorded the lowest spend, of £27 per head, while Mid-Wales had the highest spend, of £109 per head. Five other areas of England spent less than £50 per head on youth services, including the north-east, north-west, south-east, south-west, and the east of England.
It says that in England there has been a real-term decline of more than 70-per-cent spent per head on youth services over the past ten years. But it also shows more encouraging findings in Wales, where, despite a four-per-cent real-term drop in 2020-21, as lockdowns hindered delivery, funding overall had increased to an annual total of £41.3 million in 2021-22 .
The YMCA, the oldest charitable provider of youth services in England and Wales, says that youth services have been brought to their knees over the past decade. While the report finds that local-authority funding for young people in Wales has increased by 12 per cent over the past year, in England it has risen by just four per cent, it says.
The chief executive of YMCA England and Wales, Denise Hatton, welcomed this increase, but said that it was minute in terms of the amount of funding lost, and should not overshadow the scale of need after a decade of cuts.
“The sector is on its knees following a generation of cuts to youth services, and, ultimately, young people have paid the price. We need a strategic vision — similar to that demonstrated in Wales — in order to ensure there is a delivery of principled support services for all young people, from all walks of life,” she said.
At East Surrey YMCA, the family services and youth work manager, Stuart Kingsley, said that they had been forced to seek National Lottery funding for their youth services, when local-authority funding dried up.
“There are less services available for young people, and services that are available have become a bit more specialist and targeted. So, the numbers of young people being supported is less, because you work with less children at a time,” he said.
The report calls for the Government to provide ring-fenced funding to give all young people year-round access to youth services. It says that the reduction in youth services comes at a crucial time, “when young people are faced with navigating the biggest shift in how we live in decades”. It also says that the full effects of the pandemic, with lockdowns and school closures, are not yet known, but studies are revealing how the well-being of young people was severely affected.
“We run 12 sessions of youth club a week,” Mr Kingsley said, “and we’re seeing 300 to 350 young people a week coming to the sessions; so there is a need. We’re seeing a lot more young people coming to youth clubs with support needs around emotional well-being. I’ve been doing youth work for 35 years, and I have never seen mental-health needs as much as these. Since Covid hit, it has easily quadrupled.”
The YMCA believes that youth services are a vital resource in building young people’s confidence, social skills, and resilience. The report calls for further and sustained investment in young people by local authorities, and more government funding.