Brexit ‘could cost' youth groups

Adam Offord
Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Funding for projects for young people could be lost if the UK exits the European Union, warn youth leaders.

In 2015, the EU Erasmus+ programme distributed funding to 230 youth projects. Picture: Flowgraph/Shutterstock.com
In 2015, the EU Erasmus+ programme distributed funding to 230 youth projects. Picture: Flowgraph/Shutterstock.com

On 23 June, the British people will vote in the referendum on whether to leave the European Union (EU).

While much of the debate on the pros and cons of leaving the EU has centred on the economy and immigration, there has been little mention of the specific impact it will have for young people.

However, the EU provides a significant amount of funding to youth organisations in the UK, which could be lost with a vote for “Brexit”.

EU funding

The main EU funding for youth groups and services is the Erasmus+ programme, an ¤86m (£66m) fund that supports education, training, youth and sport projects.

Howard Williamson, professor of European youth policy at the University of South Wales, says Erasmus+, which began in 2014, pulls together different funding streams across adult and higher education, youth initiatives and schools.

He says the ¤8.8m (£6.75m) allocated to youth projects under Erasmus+ is about 40 per cent more than the standalone previous youth programme, which had been in existence since 1989.

The programme funds youth exchanges, European Voluntary Service and training, and networking for youth workers. It funded more than 200 projects in the UK last year alone across activities such as arts and culture, the environment, sport and employment.

Examples of successful funded initiatives included Warwickshire Association of Youth Clubs’ environmental project for young people from deprived urban
areas, Bath YMCA’s European volunteer scheme and a youth homelessness project run by the Streetlife Trust.

Williamson says many non-EU member states such as Azerbaijan, Serbia and Moldova – “candidate countries” – can still access these programmes if they are partners in an initiative with other EU member states. However, there are many restrictions on how funding is used.

“There are many more limitations on what they are allowed to participate in and the amount of resources they can access,” he says. “That would happen to the UK [if the public votes to leave].”

A British Council spokesman says: “Although we are not in a position to speculate on what may happen after the referendum, when information relating to the Erasmus+ programme becomes available, it will be communicated as clearly and efficiently as possible.”

Anna Smee, chief executive of UK Youth, says the EU is “an important” source of funding for UK youth groups.

“This potential loss of funding is something we must prepare for,” she says. “It is likely to have a disproportionate impact on young people living in Northern Ireland, Wales and rural communities in England and Scotland, which have benefited from targeted funding streams in recent times.”

Policy and practice

Williamson says the EU youth agenda has done little to shape youth services in the UK or other major EU countries, although its impact has been much greater in the 13 countries that have joined the union this century.

Although the EU has had little influence on UK youth policy, Smee believes its value has been in developing and disseminating good practice across member states.

She also says the UK has had an important lead role in shaping and sharing best practice across the EU, with voluntary organisations also working closely with charities in other European countries.

Williamson agrees the EU has helped co-ordinate the sharing of good practice among member states, often through funding cultural exchanges and overseas visits for professionals and youths.

“It is easy to dismiss these as gravy trains and people going on a jolly, but for the most part, a lot of good exchanges of good practice take place,” he says.

Measuring impact

Smee says there has been a push towards measuring impact among groups and services, but cautions: “Everyone is at different stages of development in youth services – UK Youth is celebrating its 105th birthday this year. Other countries with different economic situations haven’t been doing the work for as long as that, so they are at a different point in developing it.”

Williamson says measuring impact is high on the agenda of all member states, but to date it has done little evaluation of impact.

Youth voice

Youth organisations say the EU has helped give young people a greater voice through encouraging their involvement in youth groups and politics at local, national and international levels.

Smee says: “It gives them an opportunity to get together and be proactive and the EU has been very proactive in engaging young people and championing the need to involve them and getting them to share how things operate at every level.

“It is crucial we use the EU referendum as an opportunity not only to consider the positive and negative impact a leave vote could have on the charity sector, but, far more importantly, to engage and empower young people in a pivotal political debate that will shape their lives for years to come.”

EU funding

€8.88m
Spent on youth worker mobility, youth exchanges and European Voluntary Service last year

230
Number of successful bids for youth funding under the programme in 2015

80%
Of successful bids in 2015 were for projects based in England }

Source: European Commission and Erasmus+

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