Steps to combat youth work closures due to Covid-19

Kayleigh Wainwright
Friday, January 29, 2021

At the beginning of November, we launched the UK Youth Fund – Covid Relief.

A £2m lifeline pot backed with funding from the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), Pears Foundation and Paul Hamlyn Foundation as part of the Government's £750m charities package.

During the application process, we collected data to build a current and comprehensive picture of the state of youth services today, and address the lack of insight into where specific needs are in the wake of ten years of cuts brutally exacerbated by the pandemic.

Unfortunately but unsurprisingly we found Covid-19 has had and is continuing to have a substantial, negative impact on young people, particularly regarding their wellbeing, mental health and the impact on their futures. In turn, already struggling youth organisations are seeing an increased demand for their services.

Despite initial resilience and innovations, such as adapting services to reach young people online and turning to outreach work, many smaller youth organisations are simply unable to meet the increased demand for their services.

Several reasons cause this; drastically reduced income, government restrictions, efforts to reduce expenditure, leading to a loss in staff and increased costs as youth organisations strive to adapt their services. Along with this, young people face a range of barriers to accessing provision that youth organisations can offer, including digital poverty.

Smaller organisations, with an annual income below £50,000, are feeling the brunt of the fallout and are most desperately in need of financial help. They are less likely to have accessed Covid-specific funding and less likely to have been able to reduce expenditure by reducing staff or benefitting from the furlough scheme. Perhaps subsequently, they are more likely to be temporarily closed and report the more imminent risk of closure.

These vital local and community organisations that provide support and hope to young people are under threat and desperately need financial support to continue. Without financial support, 66 per cent of youth organisations we spoke to are at risk of closure in the next 12 months.

It’s worth noting findings also pointed to the impact of fundraising on delivery of services, i.e. diverting time spent with young people to having to fundraise, so longer term funding commitments are needed to allow youth workers to do what they do best.

The sector needs fast and continued investment to enable organisations to bring back youth workers, engage volunteers and develop programmes that will equip young people with the skills, confidence and aspirations to regain their future. Whilst we're still in the midst of the pandemic, we need investment in digital solutions to enable young people and youth organisations to stay connected.

There are more than 11 million young people in the UK; they make up over a fifth of the population and represent Britain's future. They are the next generation of workers and leaders of society, yet now more than ever, they face a range of significant barriers to success.

There needs to be a long term strategy that brings different sectors together with young people, youth workers, funders and government to identify key outcomes and ensure a more joined up approach. The strategy should address the inequality faced by some young people, particularly those from a BAME background, young people with disabilities, LGBTQ+, and young carers.

Like with any socio-economic crisis, it's those from the most disadvantaged areas and communities who will suffer most from the pandemic's fallout. However, it's outrageous if we accept this narrative as inevitable. Young people should be at the heart of the Covid-19 recovery, and local youth organisations, who know their young people, are best placed to do that.

Kayleigh Wainwright is joint director of engagement at UK Youth

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