Government research reveals the bleak consequences of youth work funding cuts

1 March 2024

Local authority youth provision funding in England has fallen by over 50% in 10 years.

Research reveals that young lives are being put at risk because of youth work funding shortfalls running into hundreds of millions of pounds over the last ten years. This pioneering analysis, which you can read here, provides incontrovertible proof of the life changing impact of youth work and reveals that it has an unquestionably positive impact on young people’s health, wellbeing and employability, with the positive effects lasting well into adulthood. 

Published this week by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, three new studies followed participants for decades, discovering that young people who received youth work support as teenagers were happier, healthier, wealthier and more active in their communities as adults than those who did not. And conversely, when preventative support was not available, they were more likely to get involved with criminality and anti-social behaviour. Reductions in local youth provision were associated with a rise in certain types of crime and anti-social behaviour, including: increases in the number of children cautioned or sentenced, the proportion of young people who reoffended, bike thefts, weapon possession offences and shoplifting. 

Drastic cuts to funding and youth service availability in recent years are also documented and deeply worrying. The research was led by policy consultancy SQW, in partnership with UK Youth and the universities of Warwick and Essex. Jacob Diggle, Chief Impact Officer of UK Youth said, “These funding changes have immediate effects – hundreds of youth centres closed, thousands of youth work jobs lost, and young people less safe. As well as this short-term pain, the cost of these missed opportunities will last for decades. 

“At a time when young people are facing severe challenges – to their mental health, employment prospects, hope for the future, even physical safety… youth work is a proven solution to the challenges young people are facing but it is being ignored. We cannot afford not to invest in youth work. Youth work is setting young people up for life.”

The government’s youth guarantee promises all young people safe places to go, meaningful things to do, and access to experiences which allow them to develop and give back to their communities. This research shows that organisatons such as Oxfordshire Youth are providing vital support to help young people navigate the challenges they face. However, funding for youth work has fallen by more than 60 per cent in a decade. From 2011-21, local authority youth provision funding in England fell in real terms from £1,058.2 million to £408.5m, while the number of youth clubs operated by local authorities nearly halved in number. This is the bleak reality for young people.

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