Positive for Youth, Positive for Society: The future of youth services

On the 24th May I attended and spoke at the Public Policy Exchange event Positive for Youth, Positive for Society: The future of youth services.

It was a brilliant event with fantastic speakers and an excellent turn out of delegates. No surprise really given that the youth service sector has seen dramatic budget cuts whilst the need of the service just continues to grow.

Youth services and youth workers play a huge role in the lives of young people, the people working in the sector are highly trained and skilled professionals with a wide set of tools at their disposal to support young people and the people around them to overcome barriers and challenges. You can read more about the science of youth work here.

As it becomes clearer that young people are worse off than any other generation and sometimes have insurmountable hurdles to overcome it is totally disheartening to hear about the decreases in funding to vital youth services. During the last decade youth services have been subject to large spending cuts, with research from the National Children’s Bureau, Children’s Society and Action for Children (November 2017) suggesting that central government funding for children and young people services has fallen by £2.4 bn since 2010. The Local Government Association (LGA) estimates that an additional £2 bn funding gap will have opened by 2020

Hearing from keynote speakers such as Kayleigh Wainwright (UK Youth), Kev Henman (Space), Leigh Middleton (NYA), Sharon Long (Partnership for Young London) talk about their work and the growing evidence for the need of youth services was both inspiring and worrying. It could not be more clear that we have to secure the future of youth services, yet where does the money come from? Paul Schofield from DCMS argued that this government is investing in youth services and the new civil society strategy will reflect this.

In the afternoon I joined the panel along with Amber DeRosa from National Children’s Bureau and a young participant from the programme as well as Rosemary Watt-Wyness from London Youth who was also joined by a young beneficiary and finally Dr Alexandra Turner from The Children’s Society who presented an excellent piece of research on youth services. It was great to hear from the two young participants who clearly believe that the youth services they have benefited from have had a positive and lasting impact on their lives.

In my own presentation I talked a little about the opportunity for the youth service sector to build up a local commercial proposition for its community. The impact that local youth services can have on a place and the future of its young residents is huge, in the absence of real investment from government perhaps that investment needs to come from the communities which ultimately want to see their areas thrive? I also talked about the need to work better together and utilise great resources so that money is not wasted reinventing the wheel. Take our Careers Hub and Young Professional resource as two fantastic free resources that youth workers can tap into to help young people develop skills and knowledge about the world of work.

This was the 2nd conference I had attended in a week where the need for careers education and youth services was clear to see, practitioners working in this space who understand exactly whats needed are being ignored. Particularly as the government is clearly looking for other ways to fund/reduce services. What it means for young people is patchy and varied access to what is available to them.

The government is calling on social enterprises like us to step in where funding has been pulled in the name of “big society”. I cant help but wonder what responsibility government is actually taking to improve social mobility and ensure that every young person has quality and equal access to the services they need the most.

The sceptic in me thinks that we are going to see a real shift in youth unemployment, social mobility and inequality (not a positive one) in the next couple of years. The unintended consequences of austerity and so much education/training reform will be that young people are left behind unless the community steps in. I believe the community should do more but I don’t think that it should take on the responsibilities of government. That just leaves me with big questions in how we ensure that funding is put in the right places in the right amounts and that we truly create a place for all young people to thrive in?

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