Matt Lent, former director of policy at UK Youth and a trustee at Young Barnet Foundation, was probably talking for much of the youth sector when he described latest figures showing the extent of cuts to council youth service spending as “sadly not a surprise”.
Latest analysis of official data shows English councils spent £398m on services for young people in 2018/19, a fall of six per cent from 2017/18’s total expenditure of £424m. The fall continues a trend that began in 2010/11, when total council spending on services for young people was £1.18bn.
The analysis by charity YMCA England and Wales suggests the fall in spending is even more marked than the official figures show, as these fail to take into account inflation – it’s report Out of Service suggests spending on youth services in England has reduced by £959m in real terms between 2010/11 and 2018/19. The level of cuts tops £1bn when factoring in reductions in Wales.
If the scale of the cuts are eye-watering, the reasons for them are well documented.
“Rising demand and fewer resources has made it increasingly difficult for councils to prioritise these preventative services, with funding being diverted to protect children who are at immediate risk of harm,” says Judith Blake, chair of the Local Government Association’s children and young people board.
Blake, leader of Leeds City Council, adds that local authorities are “doing all they can to protect services such as youth centres and youth work” which “make a real difference to young people’s lives”. Department for Education section 251 data shows that in her own authority, annual spending on youth services has reduced from £22m in 2010/11 to £3.3m in 2018/19, a fall of 85 per cent – a rate that is higher than the England average reduction and that for councils in the Yorkshire and Humber region.
The YMCA analysis shows spending has fallen most in councils in the West Midlands region, while the lowest average reduction is among East of England authorities (see graphics).
Considering the bleak overall picture, it is unsurprising that just two authorities – Kingston upon Thames and Peterborough – increased their spending on youth services between April 2010 and March 2019. Other councils to almost maintain spending levels were Hertfordshire and Hounslow, with reductions of two and three per cent respectively.
The section 251 data also reveals the authorities where cuts have been deepest. Since 2010, the amount spent on young people’s services in Herefordshire fell 98 per cent from £5.5m to £119,000, and in Norfolk it fell 92 per cent from £10.5m to £816,000. In addition, three councils spent nothing on youth services in 2018/19, while another spent just £2,000, according to the data.
Some experts have pointed to the government’s announcement of £500m more for services over the next five years from its Youth Investment Fund in response to rising levels of serious youth violence as evidence that the tide has turned. Meanwhile, others say that investment elsewhere in children’s services has benefitted youth provision.
The data shows the annual spending falls have reduced from 17 per cent in 2016/17 to six per cent in 2018/19. However, the increased government focus and spending has not protected against further cuts, even at councils that have maintained spending. For example, in January, Peterborough Council approved plans to cut £500,000 from its youth services budget affecting a range of services, while Hertfordshire has cut spending by 10 per cent in 2019/20.
“While the government’s promise of £500m investment in youth services is a step in the right direction, this report supports our call for an ambitious national strategy to support young people and the need for more sustainable, long-term investment,” adds Blake.