The latest report from the National Youth Sector Census, managed by the National Youth Agency, shows that a fifth of youth work organisations have a waiting list of between three and six months and are struggling to meet demand. Despite undeniable need for these services, a quarter of voluntary sector organisations delivering youth work have less than six months’ of reserves.  

The National Youth Agency has been tasked by the Department of Culture, Media and Sport to manage the Census and create a reliable dataset to help demonstrate the impact of youth work and improve the knowledge and insight for the youth sector and policy makers.   

The report provides an analysis of the data received from 920 youth work organisations between March 2022 and April 2023, providing a snapshot of the Sector for the third time since the Census was launched in 2021. Of those youth work providers included in the data, 754 were from the Voluntary and Community Sector (CVS), 92 from Upper Tier Local Authorities (UTLAs) and 28 from district councils, metropolitan boroughs and unitary authorities.  

The VCS continues to deliver the lion’s share of provision, primarily through a weekly youth club, but also through targeted activities such as physical and mental health support, and employment and training and activities to address violence and crime. The report also highlights that UTLAs are nearly three times as likely to prioritise activities designed to address exploitation as VCS organisations (92% compared to 31%). Whilst across the board, 84% of youth work organisations provide targeted activities to support mental health and wellbeing reflecting the growth in mental ill health amongst the younger generation highlighted in the latest NHA Digital data, which states that 18% of children aged 7 to 16 years and 22% of young people aged 17 to 24 years had a probable mental disorder.  

The Census data is mapped against a range of other data, such as the Index of Multiple Deprivation showing the correlation between provision and the needs of communities. It highlights that whilst nationally, youth work appears to be meeting the needs of young people in deprived areas, some regions proportionally have more provision in deprived areas than others – for example in the North West, Yorkshire and the Humber, the North East and West Midlands.  

The Census helps the National Youth Agency to map where youth work is taking place, as well as better understand the different ways in which it is being delivered and commissioned and where the sustainability of provision is at risk. Of the 59% of UTLAs providing direct delivery of open access youth provision, 64% are involved in contracting /commissioning and 51% provide infrastructure support, and just over half (51%) provide grant funding to youth providers.  

Funding continues to be the hot potato of youth work with VCS organisations getting over half of their income (52%) from self-generated or trading income, compared to 35% for UTLAs. VCS organisations also report that they receive 61% of their income from a local authority grant or are commissioned to deliver a service and Some 81% receiving income from charitable donations, compared to only 14% of UTLAs. 

About a third (35%) of VCS organisations report having reserves that would allow them to 

operate as normal for less than six months, a quarter (26%) have reserves of between six and 12 months, and one in five (21%) have reserves of over 12 months. More than one in 10 (14%) of organisations indicate that they do know how long their organisation would be able to operate for as normal with their current level of reserves. 

Alex Stutz, Head of Knowledge, National Youth Agency, said: “The Census provides vital knowledge for those working in, commissioning and funding youth work. This snapshot report reinforces what we already know from our network – that the voluntary and community sector is carrying the can, delivering services with and for local authorities, but often they are operating within the context of an uncertain future, unable to plan from one year to the next. 

“But we need an even more accurate a picture of youth work. It’s imperative that all those working with young people complete the Census, including those local authorities who weren’t included this time around, as well as youth workers funded by allied sectors, and small grassroots organisations, so we have the most accurate dataset to help inform commissioning and funding decisions.” 

Other key findings from the Spring Snapshot Report include: 

  • Of the 920 youth work organisations analysed in the cut of data, 57% are operating in the most deprived postcodes.  
  • Those working in the most deprived areas have higher expenditure and predicted expenditure that those in the least deprived areas.  
  • 66% of Census respondents offer traditional centre-based (open access) youth work; 52% offer Social action and volunteering; 49 provide Leisure activities; 42% facilitate Youth voice (in which young people are supported to influence decisions in their community) and 13% provide Spiritual and faith-based development. 
  • Organisations value professionally qualified staff and tend to have a higher proportion of employed staff with a youth work qualification than not.  
  • In the most deprived areas, organisations are more likely to have a higher number of paid staff, but a lower number of volunteers.  
  • Over two thirds of organisations (69%) indicate that they do not currently have a waiting list or struggle to meet demand. 20% indicated that they had a waiting list of up to three months, 8% have a waiting list of between three and six months 

On mean expenditure (average) last financial year was £443,000. Predicted expenditure is considerably higher for organisations operating in the most deprived areas, with average budgets highest in London (at £193,000) compared to £30,000 on average in the East Midlands. 

The Census is located on the Youth Work One platform at The census is reported alongside an interactive dashboard which allows individuals to drill down into the census dataset in more detail. Youth Work One is a one stop shop for those working with young people, hosting guidance, resources and a forum to help youth workers improve their practice and network with their peers.  

Read the Census Spring Snapshot

To ensure that your organisation is counted in the National Youth Sector Census’ work, please click below to complete your organisation’s submission, or to update last year’s submission.

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