New research by the National Youth Agency (NYA) highlights major gaps in youth services across England
The latest National Youth Sector Census (October 2022) report shows the needs and expectations of young people are similar across the country – whether in the north or south, urban or rural areas. Young people are consistent in wanting: to socialise and have fun, with activities they are interested in; and support, advice and mentoring with someone they trust and can talk to.
This is mirrored by the Government’s National Youth Guarantee publicly committing to the importance of access to regular out of school activities which support skills for life and work, and for mental and physical wellbeing. The findings from the Census report identifies the current mix of youth provision and where there are gaps of provision or data.
What is clear is that youth charities and community groups are disproportionately providing, and being commissioned by local authorities to provide, open-access universal services and out of school activities with young people.
Many youth organisations work in partnership with others to deliver youth work, and to patch-up youth services. However, this is a sticking plaster with no consistent pattern or model, and an overreliance on short term projects or programme led funding. This leads to time-bound and restrictive funding unable to sustain youth work over the long term, across communities.
Leigh Middleton, NYA Chief Executive, said:
“Demand for youth services has increased dramatically through the pandemic and in the face of the cost-of-living crisis, affecting young people and their families across communities. Local authorities continue to face real financial pressure, and this has left an uneven patchwork of youth services and activities across England.
We want to make sure all parts of the system are supporting young people and making the youth guarantee a reality on the ground right across the country. It is imperative we continue to protect and grow youth work to meet the needs and create the opportunities for young people to thrive.”
The Government has committed funding to youth services, but more consistent, sustainable investment is needed in the local structures and organisations necessary to match the full potential of the youth guarantee. To meet the biggest challenge of equitable access to youth work requires a place-based approach with all local partners to invest in and grow youth services and opportunities with young people in their local area. Therefore, NYA is calling for immediate action to protect youth work from further local cuts and increased investment to create opportunities that grows provision across the country:
Listen to young people from the start, with young people involved in creating their local youth offer. The extent to which service design and commissioning is genuinely led by young people is variable.
Learn from local authorities who have some of the most comprehensive data sets and recorded outcomes for young people in their areas. There needs to be strengthened statutory guidance supported by peer review of councils to learn from each other.
Act now, for government and local councils to protect youth services and community provision, and to invest to grow so that all young people have equitable access to youth work.
In response, NYA will re-open the National Youth Sector Census to enable self-reporting by local authorities, voluntary organisations and community groups to support data and evidence that will help make the case – nationally and locally – for greater investment in youth work and improved outcomes for young people, across all communities.