The 1 in 5 Myth: Are youth services value for money?


It is easy to look at the figure that only 1 in 5 young people (20%) use youth clubs and think something is wrong, but there’s a lot going on beneath a simple headline. Statutory youth services are only one part of an offer to young people, and that in fact the highest use of youth clubs in the E.U is Ireland where ‘26% of young people in Ireland participate in youth clubs or organizations.’ (NYCI, 2012) Yet the same report found youth service were excellent value for money. So what lies behind the 1 in 5 number?

Read more from Informally Youth

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.



Another Happy New Year?

The first day of 2012…

I am not religious, and do not usually take note of what religious leaders say but I do make an exception to this rule with Dr Rowan Williams (the Archbishop of Canterbury), who I believe, actually gets it… and it was good to hear him use this prime time 5 minutes to further argue the case for young people, as he has already done several times over the last 18 months.

Dr Rowan Williams in his New Years speech referred to the August riots as “horrific”. But he argued that these riots showed us a face of our society we don’t like to think about – angry, destructive, lawless. He sees the riots and the behavior of those young people involved as being one facet of a bigger and much more heartbreaking problem. The young people involved in the disorder on the streets may have looked many, but he suggests, are a minority of their generation – the minority whose way of dealing with their frustrations was by way of random destructiveness and irresponsibility.

He asks us to wonder what kind of society we have that lets down so many of its young people? That doesn’t provide enough good role models and drives youngsters further into unhappiness and anxiety by only showing them suspicion and negativity.

I know what kind of society we have currently. One that is being driven by a coalition government, a government who were not voted into power, but one that has taken it in their hands to change the society we live in for ever. Their actions over the last 18 months show just how damaging their course is and will continue to be.

With over one million young people unemployed, EMA abolished, tuition fees tripled, Connexions under attack and youth services to be got rid of or to be sold off to the highest bidder, it is no wonder young people feel that this government, this society does not care about them.

The Archbishop urged us to recognise how our own actions can make a real difference to society:

“… being grown-up doesn’t mean forgetting about the young. And a good New Year’s Resolution might be to think what you can do locally to support facilities for young people, to support opportunities for counselling and learning and enjoyment in a safe environment. And above all, perhaps we should just be asking how we make friends with our younger fellow citizens – for the sake of our happiness as well as theirs.”

This then, our New Year’s Resolution? To actively support our local youth facilities and opportunities which, he argues, play a crucial part in a healthy society. We must not only fight and campaign for the hundreds of youth clubs under threat as a result of the current government’s policy of austerity, but that we do whatever we can to ensure others are aware of the devastation being felt by young people, by workers as a result of the swingeing cuts being implemented in youth services and other services for children.

This is a truly urgent task we all need to take ownership of before it is too late for our young people, too late for our youth workers and too late for our society.

Watch the Dr here and let me know what you think…