Youth organisations in England face wholesale closure
England faces a wholesale closure of youth organisations, leaving a generation of vulnerable young people without life-changing support, according to research.
Almost two-thirds of youth organisations with incomes under £250,000 say they are at risk of closure, with 31% saying they might have to shut in the next six months.
The forced withdrawal of support officially recognised as “essential” comes at a time when the pandemic has left more than 1.5 million vulnerable young people in critical need of help, the research by the charity UK Youth found.
The responses from 1,759 youth organisations in England revealed that 58% are operating at a reduced level, with a further 20% temporarily closed or preparing to permanently close.
The predicted closures come against a backdrop of years of chronic underfunding that has already forced at least 763 youth centres to shut since 2012. A further round of major cuts to local authority youth services is expected in the near future.
“There are 1.6 million children from a vulnerable family background for whom support is either patchy or non-existent. Just over half of these children are ‘invisible’ to services,” said Anna Alcock, the head of engagement and advocacy at UK Youth. “Youth work could be the only answer to helping these children; a preventative service that provides support before problems arise.”
The preliminary data, which will be at the centre of a more in-depth report published later this year, is in line with recent research by the National Youth Agency (NYA) which found many youth charities are “running on empty”.
“Youth services simply do not have the capacity or enough funding to meet young people’s vastly increased needs,” said the NYA’s chief executive, Leigh Middleton. “They have depleted reserves and incomes slashed by half or more.
“We are calling for greater investment in frontline youth services right now, sustained throughout any lockdown and regional tier emergency measures.”
Anne Longfield, the children’s commissioner for England, said the research was “shocking but sadly, not surprising”.
“A major funder said to me recently that he had wanted to substantially invest in youth provision but when he had sought applications, he found most of the services he wanted to support had already closed down,” she said.
Areas suffering the most significant cuts in spending on young people have recorded larger increases in knife crime and drug-related crimes, said Longfield.
“Youth services are the last line of defence for vulnerable children,” she said. “If these children have a bad time at home and don’t have the structure of school, for whatever reason, and then you take away youth services too, they’re completely on their own, with nothing protecting them from physical abuse, self-harm and drug use, being exploited and groomed.”
Tom Madders, the director of campaigns at YoungMinds, said: “For lots of young people, youth clubs are a lifeline. Without early support for their mental health, young people’s needs often escalate, sometimes resulting in crisis and more acute intervention.”
Just over £34m of the emergency £750m coronavirus fund for charities was directed to children and youth charities. The government’s £500m youth investment fund to help transform and increase capacity of the youth sector, confirmed in the Conservative manifesto in December 2019 and due to start in April 2020, has yet to be spent.
In addition, the government has delayed its review of the statutory duty for local authorities to secure local youth services until summer 2021 and has suspended reporting by local authorities on funding of youth services until 2022.
Matthew Hussey, the public affairs manager of the Children’s Society, said another missed opportunity was the chancellor’s spending review in December.
“It was a chance to place children’s services, which include council-led support for young people like youth work, on a sustainable footing and give councils the resources they need to rebuild the support so needed by children and young people,” he said.
A government spokesperson said: “We recognise the impact that the coronavirus pandemic has had on young people, which is why we recently announced a £16.5m fund for the youth sector and have provided more than £60m to children’s and youth organisations as part of a wider multibillion-pound support package for charities.”
But the NYA said that referring to a range of different funding pots and commitments to youth work “simply disguises the paucity of funding specific to the youth sector” and the limited ways funding can be used: the £16.5m, for example, can only be claimed against revenue/losses from the second national lockdown”.
Middleton said: “The government response confuses the picture by referencing general funding ‘for young people’.”
Collapse of youth services
There has been a 71% cut in spending on children and youth services across England in less than a decade.
Over the same period, local authority spending on crisis intervention services for children and young people has risen from £5.6bn to £7.2bn – a 29% increase.
At the start of the decade, crisis intervention accounted for 58% of local authority spending on children and young people’s services. This had risen to 78% by 2018 to 2019.
There is a north-south divide: between 2010-11 and 2018-19, spending in the north of England fell three times as fast as in the south: -9% compared with -3%.