Whilst youth services have been cut by 77% over more than a decade, violent offences among young people remain at unacceptably high levels warn the National Youth Agency (NYA), in its latest report, The social cost of youth work cuts: Preventing youth offending through youth work, published at the start of Youth Work Week, from 6 -12 November. Despite these startling figures, it costs four times more for a young person to enter the criminal justice system (£200,000 by the age of 16), than it does for them to avoid it through youth work provision (less than £50,000). (1)

The social cost of youth work report provides an analysis of 74 sources of academic literature and research evidence relating to the impact of youth work on young people in contact with the youth justice system. The report shows a clear association between reduced funding for youth provision and an increase in crime rates for some young people. 

Despite this, open access youth service expenditure has been disproportionately affected by austerity cuts. Furthermore, young people themselves are crying out for safe spaces with 24% of young respondents to a recent survey by the youth charity OnSide, reporting that they do not have a safe space to go to where they feel they belong. (2)

Whilst convictions have fallen by a third, for every 1,000 children in the population, 4.6 are still in the youth justice system, and their needs are becoming increasingly complex in the wake of the pandemic, as mental health rates soar and amid a cost-of-living crisis. (3)

Meanwhile, youth work saves £500 million on public spending through crime reduction alone and social return on investment research reveals that £1 investment in youth work is estimated to return £3.20 – £6.40 of value. (4)

The report cites the 2020 All-Party Parliamentary Group for Knife Crime focused on the impact of youth centre closures across the country, which revealed that each reduction in the number of youth centres corresponded to an increase in knife crime. This trend is echoed in a PhD study, completed earlier this year, which reviewed London youth centre provision published in 2023 by Carmen Villa-Llera, in the Economics Observatory at the University of Warwick. The research found that crime participation amongst 10-15 year olds increased by 10% in those London boroughs affected most by youth centre closures between 2010-2019. Furthermore, young people in these areas are 12% more likely to be suspended from school since the reduction in youth provision. (5)

Examples of where youth work is having a positive impact on youth crime rates, include the Linx Youth Project, Middlesbrough, which saw a significant reduction in crime amongst young people as a result of youth workers delivering support in the community (detached youth work), with the number of first-time entrants to youth justice decreasing by 79% over a four year period from 2016 to 2020. Furthermore, the project evaluation found that the social impact value for the service is £5.50 for every £1 invested. (6)

Meanwhile a Redthread youth work team working in the Emergency Department at St Mary’s hospital has brought about a 59% reduction in young people’s involvement with violence, and 37% reduction in involvement with crime, as a direct result of their engagement with a youth worker in the hospital.  (7)

The launch of The social cost of youth work cuts report from National Youth Agency coincides with their annual Youth Work Week national campaign, which this year is focussing on the added value that youth workers bring to the outcomes of young people through providing their particular support in a range of contexts and professional settings.  

Leigh Middleton, Chief Executive, National Youth Agency, said: “A lack of youth work isn’t just failing our young people, it’s also putting a strain on the public purse. Where youth workers are working in partnership with other allied professionals such as prison officer, youth offending teams, healthcare workers and teachers, we know that they are able to use their particular set of skills to capitalise on that ‘reachable moment’ and work with, and for, the young person to help them recognise that they can make positive choices about their future lives. 

“The NYA is working to build back the skills and capacity of the sector working closely with our academic and training partners, and through schemes such as the DCMS funded bursary and leveraging the government’s apprenticeship levy to enhance opportunities to attract people to youth work and to retain and upskill those already working in the sector.” 

The social cost of youth work cuts

Preventing youth offending through youth work

In line with its commitment to growing the skills of those already working in the sector, the NYA manages the National Youth Sector Census which gathers data to map where youth work is taking place across the country. Additionally, it is opening a workforce survey for all those who deliver youth work to complete to gain an accurate picture of the sectors’ qualifications and skills across different types of organisations and geographically.  

To complete NYA’s workforce survey please click below.

Research references 

  1. Ministry of Justice, (2022) Official Statistics: knife and Offensive Weapon Sentencing Statistics: October to December 2022   
  1. OnSide (2023) Generation Isolation: onside’s annual study into young people’s lives outside school  
  1. Public Health England (2022) Fingertips Public Health profiles 
  1. UK Youth, (2022) The economic value of youth work. A report for UK Youth November 2022.  
  1. The Impact of Youth Centres on Crime research: www.carmenvillallera.com/research 
  1. The Social Value of Youth Work, Linx Hemlington Youth Project  
  1. Redthread Youth Violence Intervention Project: St Mary’s Hospital    


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