A new report published by Police and Crime Commissioner Kim McGuinness calls on the Tories to urgently invest in youth services, if they are serious about levelling up.
Kim’s research shows for the first time how youth services in Northumberland, Tyne and Wear are at breaking point after years of Tory cuts.
One youth worker said they know of young people who have never even heard of a youth club saying “they just don’t know what one is”.
This statement, along with other findings, reveal the true toll budget cuts and the Coronavirus pandemic have had on youth services.
Kim said: “Across Northumberland, Tyne and Wear the Tories have staged a full on assault on neighbourhoods, and hardest hit have been young people from poverty-hit households.
“Our North East urgently needs investment in young people. We cannot continue in a situation where those from a prosperous background succeed and those from a poor household are left to struggle.
“Cuts to youth services lead not just to a bigger risk of young people turning to crime, but a much wide risk of missed life chances. Our neighbourhoods deserve better, especially, the most deprived.”
In fact, 71% of the youth organisations surveyed have seen their funding cut or reduced since 2011. Overall there has been a 75% decrease in local authority spending on youth services in Northumbria since 2011. This means funding has been slashed by £31.5 million pounds, with Northumberland being the hardest hit. One organisation cited suffering a “100 per cent cut to funding in 2014”.
The report, which pulls together the views of almost 100 North East youth work organisations, has prompted the Commissioner to call on the government for an urgent rescue strategy, to save the youth sector and young people from losing their way.
It features a series of key recommendations on how Government, local authorities and PCCs can come together to support future generations. These include:
The Government should appoint a minister who has a portfolio focussed on youth services.
Youth services should be backed with urgent Government investment in the next Comprehensive Spending Review.
The Government should devolve the funding and powers needed to create localised youth strategies in collaboration with young people themselves.
People working with young people have shared their thoughts on topics such as funding cuts, staffing levels and concerns for future generations.
82% of respondents believe safe locations for young people to gather and meet would help prevent those involved from falling into a life of crime.
77% stated that there needs to be an increase in youth services in their local area.
63% said that more employment and skill development opportunities were required to prevent youth criminality.
Northumbria Police and Crime Commissioner, Kim McGuinness, said: “These findings spell out very clearly how young people struggle to find support throughout the North. We have charities giving their all, putting everything into making young people’s lives better but some are having to fundraise for every penny that comes in. They need real help.”
One organisation said: “Youth services are at breaking point. There is not enough money to support the essential services never mind the more specialised help some young people need.” While another worryingly revealed “Finances are tight and we will soon be at a point where we need to start an exit strategy, if no additional funding is found by October 21”.
As organisations emerge from the pandemic restrictions, there is concern about the increased vulnerabilities and needs of young people too, and the impact on youth services. 68% of respondents stated that it is very likely that referrals and service demand will increase to support the additional vulnerability amongst young people. Feedback from one organisation was that although they “tried to deliver remotely that didn’t attract those most in need”. Another reported that “200-300 young people did not return to projects that they previously attended” and they are now conducting an exercise to find out where they are.
Kim continued: “The aftermath of the pandemic is a crucial time for us to be getting things right – we can’t afford to let young people down so we all need to come together on this.
“Resources have never been so scarce. It’s time for some serious levelling up for young people in the North not only in our towns and cities but in our rural areas. It starts with funding youth services, funding youth workers and making young people and their futures at the top of the agenda. If we invest in young people, we are investing in the future and the whole criminal justice system can reap the benefits of this. Research has shown a growing link between cuts to youth services and the country’s knife crime epidemic and we’ll need to work together to turn this around. If we improve lives we prevent crime.”
Clare Williams, Regional Secretary at Unison said “The work undertaken by PCC Kim McGuinness shows the reality behind the rhetoric of the Government which talks about levelling up when actually our young people across communities in our region have no access to youth services. This is because the Government has for the last 10 years cut local funding year on year. Unison has been calling on the Government to listen to the evidence and to provide adequate funding.”
A separate report by the Audit Commission into the benefits of sport and leisure activities in preventing anti-social behaviour by young people estimates that a young person in the criminal justice system costs the taxpayer over £200,000 by the age of 16. But one who is given support to stay out costs less than £50,000.
To read the findings in full and the recommendations set out by the PCC please visit:
Voices from the Frontine – A report into the future of youth services