The end of youth services as we know it?

The Department of Education have signalled their wish to renounce all responsibility it has for youth service policy and instead suggested that it becomes part of the local authority remit. This at a time when the government has ensured councils have little money. With Birmingham’s grant settlement being cut by £79m, Leader of the Council, Sir Albert Bore has warned that the bleak financial outlook for council funding means it will have to make £600m in cuts by 2017, all being made in the ‘controllable’ part of the budget, potentially reducing its services to core “priority” areas such as adult social care and child protection. Albert’s predicted “end of local government as we know it” is borne out in a whole host of controversial reductions and cuts to services not protected by ringfencing, with youth services again bearing the biggest brunt of these cuts.

The Statistical Release from the Department for Education states that in the 2011-2012 financial year “[Local Authorities] spent a total of £876.6million (gross) on services for young people, a reduction of £307.5million (26%) compared to 2010-11”

.In response the National Youth Agency have said that “Analysis of the data shows that cuts to grants to local authorities have meant that 90 per cent of local authorities in England (137 out of 152) have reported a decrease in total expenditure on services for young people. However the scale of this change in expenditure varies hugely, from a 95.2 per cent decrease to a 65.5 per cent increase. Teenage pregnancy services and substance misuse services have been the worst hit, seeing a cut of approximately 43 per cent and 20 per cent respectively.”

A handful of authorities have axed their entire youth budget and the picture will only get bleaker this year and next year. A generation of young people are being deprived of the chance to benefit from the support of youth workers and are being punished by the Government’s failure to address the causes of economic stagnation.

Cuts to youth services do not make the news, but images of young people rioting do. Research undertaken by many have all determined the same conclusion. Cuts to youth services really is a false economy, yet they have been more severely cut than any other public service.

The positive impacts of youth work include; improved engagement with school and education; a positive impact on the incidence of crime and anti-social behaviour amongst young people; improvement in the wider learning and social skills of young people and helps to keep young people safe. This can be supported by ample evidence. For example, in 2004 the Youth Affairs Unit at De Montfort University found that “The interviews and case studies [of 600 young people] provided qualitative evidence of tangible outcomes which young people and workers attributed to youth work, including for example, reengaging with education or reducing drug use..”

Government Green Paper, Every Child Matters, 2003, paragraph 1.6, page 14 found that a child with a conduct disorder at age 10 will cost the public purse around £70,000 by age 28, a cost estimated to be up to ten times more than a child with no behavioural problems. Youth work and other positive interventions can help to avoid this.

In ‘Tired of Hanging Around’, the Audit Commission  argued that “Preventative projects are cost-effective. A young person in the criminal justice system costs the taxpayer over £200,000 by the age of 16, but one given support to stay out costs less than £50,000”. It costs around £35,000 per year to keep one young person in a Young Offender Institution compared to an annual average of £3,800 for secondary education and approximately £9,000 for the average resettlement package per young person after custody. None of this even begins to take into account the scarring impact the experiences of the criminal justice system has on the young person, their future prospects, and the detrimental impact on the wider local community.

A coalition of youth sector organisations and trade unions, Choose Youth argue that youth services need a national legislative and political commitment to creating a quality universal service for all young people aged 13-21. This should be protected in statute by dedicated ring fenced funding.

Labour has pledged to provide a statutory footing for youth services in its 2015 manifesto and is currently working on its youth policy. It cannot come to soon. Without a statutory base, the future for youth services is bleak. Youth services will continue to bear the brunt of the cuts as it is the easiest option. As Patrick Butler suggests, it’s a Big Society future for youth services which will be dependent on the ability, goodwill and resources of local people and the decreasing budgets of community chest.

This Tory led government is sticking two fingers up to our young people and treating them with utter contempt, relinquishing all responsibility for youth policy and effectively turning their backs on them. Our young people deserve so much more.