A new parliamentary report on the role that youth work plays in tackling knife crime has called on the government to invest £1.5bn to ensure youth services can offer specialist support to the victims and perpetrators of violent crime.
The report by the all-party parliamentary group (APPG) on knife crime and violence reduction looked at how trained youth workers can provide vital support for young people affected by violent crime, and identified effective interventions and initiatives.
In addition, the APPG undertook research to identify reductions in youth service spending by local authorities, which it cross-referenced against levels of recorded crime.
A Freedom of Information request to all councils in England asked for data about spending on services for young people over the previous three, five and 10 years. The group received 106 responses enabling it to compare spending by councils from 2014/15 to 2017/18.
It found that 86 per cent of respondents had reduced spending, amounting to a 40 per cent reduction in funding over four years. One in 10 councils had reduced spending by 70 per cent or more.
When asked about how these cuts had impacted on provision, 71 local authorities responded, of which 87 per cent had seen one or more youth centres shut since 2011. In total, there was a halving in the number of youth centres between 2010/11 and 2017/18.
This information was compared with police data on the number of offences involving a knife in the years between 2014 and 2018. Correlations were then sought between changes in knife crime and in youth service provision in the corresponding council area.
The report authors used the “Pearson r correlation coefficient” which has a range of between 1 and -1. A coefficient value that is greater than zero means there is a positive correlation: when one variable changes, the other variable changes in the same direction. A coefficient value closer to one, the stronger the positive relationship between the variables.
In measuring the relationship between changes to youth centre closures and changes to knife crime, the reported correlation coefficient is 0.7.
“This suggests there is a strongly negative association between closures to youth centres and increasing knife crime – every decline in the number of youth centres is associated with an increase in knife crime,” the report states. This is represented in the scatterplot graph (below).
The findings bear out concerns raised by youth work experts and campaigners for a number of years (see expert view). Earlier this year, Dorset police and crime commissioner (PCC) Martyn Underhill identified cuts to youth services in the county as being responsible for a rise by a third in the number of young people entering the youth justice system.
In a report, Underhill states: “The PCC remains cautious about the current provision of youth services in Dorset and acknowledges the accepted evidence base that has linked this reduction to the challenges of youth offending and serious youth violence, particularly knife crime.”
He calls for more to be done to address the link between cuts to youth services and more young people coming into the youth justice system. To address this, the APPG calls for the government to commission a national audit of youth services in England and introduce a “clear statutory requirement to local authorities for a minimum level of professional youth services provision”.
‘YOUTH WORK DELIVERS RESULTS AND NEEDS INVESTMENT FOR THE LONG-TERM’
By Mervyn Kaye, chief executive, Youth First
While I am grateful to see reports, such as the APPG’s, evidence of the link between reduced services for young people and a rise in the prevalence of social ills such as violence, is not news. Those of us in the sector have known for generations the benefit of youth and play provision, especially to the most vulnerable young people. A sector that countless reports have now shown, provides, when satisfactorily funded, a range of support which radically benefits society far more than it costs.
From the provision of safe and fun spaces for young people to gather and socialise outside of school hours where they can access trusted professional adults to targeted support for young people with already recognised challenges; youth and play work has long been known to be a societal good.
Youth work is a profession with proven praxis and those of us in the sector – at least those of us left after 10 years of austerity – can and have offered examples of lives positively changed. We have long argued that youth work must be seen as the other side of the coin to formal education and as such require even a modicum of the level of investment that is put into the former.
This is increasingly true in an economy that increasingly requires a workforce that excels in precisely the soft skills that are so brilliantly imparted in youth and play settings.
This is something Youth First has ourselves argued for from a local Lewisham context in our own Futures report.
So as the words of the APPG’s report gathers dust in the House of Commons Library the questions that require urgent answers are not why is the sector required but how and when will it be adequately funded?
In the post-Covid-19 world, the need for youth and play work will not be diminished. In fact, as this report shows, and as any youth worker will tell you, it will only have increased.