The Youth Work world is now on tenterhooks for what may come following the 2019 General Election. Each of the main political parties have articulated manifesto pledges to invest in Youth Services, but how has this come to be, what does this look like for each of them and what is likely to emerge?
The state of play
Current figures reported on by Children & Young People Now magazine show a real-terms £1billion per year cut to youth services since 2010 – 73% of the former budget. The sector has certainly struggled under the weight of such disinvestment, as have its beneficiaries…
Issues have been mounting for young people, such as declining wellbeing, poor psychological health and less satisfaction with their leisure time, as outlined in ‘The State of the Nation 2019: Children and Young People’s Wellbeing Research report’ released last month. The report also acknowledged that “seeing friends and feeling safe in their neighbourhood” were consistent protective factors for positive psychological health across adolescence. Unfortunately, the closure of 760 youth centres since 2012 and a youth violence epidemic means that those protective factors have been steadily eroded for many over their teenage years.
Analysis by the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Knife Crime in May 2019 found that the areas suffering the largest cuts to youth work spending have seen bigger increases in knife crime. This seemed to be the proof that politicians were waiting for, and the motivation that was required to look again at youth work spending.
So, what are the commitments of the major political parties to Youth Work if they should get to form the next Government?
The Conservative Party
The current Conservative Government announced a new £500m ‘Youth Investment Fund’ at the end of September 2019, adding some of the detail to the notional support given in the Chancellor’s Spending Round announcement at the start of the same month. This fund is expected to be spent over a 5-year parliamentary term.
According to the Government’s website, the new Youth Investment Fund (YIF), is intended to:
help build 60 new youth centres across the country, refurbish around 360 existing youth facilities, and provide over 100 mobile facilities for harder to reach areas. The fund will also support the provision and coordination of high-quality services for young people, and an investment in the youth workforce.
Whilst the sector welcomed the news at the time, it was also acknowledged that without requisite revenue funding for youth workers, we may be in danger of creating beautiful, shiny, yet empty youth work buildings.
An additional £12m was offered by Nicky Morgan for the Youth Accelerator Fund and #iwill campaign.
The Liberal Democrats
On the 13th November 2019, the Lib Dems announced that they would launch an annual £500m youth services fund to tackle knife crime and youth violence using a Public Health model. This would seem to greatly extend the work already started by the Tories who currently fund ‘Violence Reduction Units’ across the land at a cost of £35m, based on the Public Health principles of interdisciplinary, evidence-based activity.
The Labour Party
Labour launched it’s Only Young Once vision for rebuilding youth services in October this year, which offers more detail than other parties so far on their plans for the profession. Their party manifesto published Thursday 21st November shows a £1.1bn per annum proposal (by 2023/24); over ten times what the Tories are offering. Funding would resource a ‘National Youth Service’, including infrastructure, training and delivery costs across the state and third sectors.
The Green Party
Sian Berry continues to be the leading proponent in The Green Party for support of youth services. Her regularly updated reports on London’s Lost Youth Services have continued to shine a light on the ways young people have lost out through cuts over the years. However, the party does not seem to have evolved its policy on youth work beyond their 2015 General election pledges, which were to:
- Create 2,000 new Young People’s Centres, and
- Invest an extra £1.1 billion annual funding in youth services
What may come
Where enough detail exists to discern them, themes have emerged across the various manifestos which include:
- Reducing youth violence – Funding of youth work (through Violence Reduction Units, or otherwise) as a means to reduce violent crime will require providers and training organisations to form appropriate responses, particularly as they relate to emergent Public Health Models. Whilst the sector is somewhat used to articulating targeted interventions for young people, it is also a model that very much sees young people in deficit, a problem to be fixed; there may be some resistance from the purists in the field.
- Local Youth Partnerships – At least two of the main parties are seeking to instigate new Local Youth Partnerships to help oversee and commission youth services in the future. Rationales for LYPs vary between parties, with differing ideologies unusually reaching the same conclusion here. Whichever party gets to launch them, there will be questions about ow they link to existing and future infrastructure.
- New statutory guidance – At the moment a review is underway, led by DCMS, as to how they might better articulate the guidance for Local Authorities on how they should deliver sufficient youth work in their areas of responsibility. Some parties are pledging to go much further and give youth work a proper grounding in unambiguous statute.
- The National Youth Agency – The link for the NYA, with the Chair of the APPG for Youth Affairs being a former employee, has certainly helped locate them at the heart of the youth policy work of late. Credit to them for driving the agenda now, but what role will they be able to carve out in new national youth work infrastructure to come, and will the rest of the sector feel that they are being brought along for the ride?
Whatever comes next is likely to represent a change of gear for the youth work sector. I look forward to playing my part through the work of the Institute for Youth Work and supporting its role in a collegiate, sector-wide approach to the challenges ahead.
For more information about joining the Institute for Youth Work, or even putting yourself forwards to join the IYW Council, please visit our website www.iyw.org.uk.
Chair, Institute for Youth Work