The 2021 Budget – the realities versus the rhetoric

The 2021 Budget – the realities versus the rhetoric 

The good news?

In a blog piece posted at the end of September, I suggested that ‘though of course, the government won’t be using the word … for many public services another era of “austerity” looks inevitable’. I based this on predictions that in the current financial year there’d be a gap of £234 billion between public spending and government revenue, resulting in planned future spending on public services being cut by between £14 and £17 billion.[1] 

Rishi Sunak

If the Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s budget statement on 27 October is to be believed [2], these predictions were seriously mistaken. Rather than announcing further cuts, he promised that by 2024-25 total spending by government departments would rise by £150 million or 3 per cent a year. This he described as:

… the largest increase this century, with spending growing by 3.8% a year in real terms. As a result of this Spending Review, and contrary to speculation……there will be a real terms rise in overall spending for every single department. 

From a youth work perspective, two sentences buried deep in his speech were particularly significant:

As we level up public services, we’re also levelling up communities – restoring the pride people feel in the places they call home.

To do that, we’re providing £560m for youth services, enough to fund up to 300 youth clubs across the country.

And the not-so-good news

Positive though all this seems, penetrating beyond the Chancellor’s rhetoric and his manoeuvring with the stats reveals a rather less encouraging picture. 

For services overall… 

Given that so many public services have to be provided by local authorities, the Chancellor’s promises need to be seen in the context of what has happened to their funding since 2010 – that for example:

  • Between 2010 and 2020, they lost 60p out of every £1 of Government funding for those services. 
  • By 2020 almost half of them – 168 – were no longer receiving any Revenue Support Grant funding from central government.
  • According to a 2018 Local Government Association report, by 2019-20 funding for council services overall would have been reduced by further £1.3 billion, or 36 per cent.[3] 

One of the key commentators on the Budget – the Institute for Fiscal Studies – did confirm that the promised increases in public spending were ‘real and substantial’. However, it also drew some much less positive conclusions, some with significant implications for young people.[4] These included that:

  • ‘For many areas … spending will still be substantially less in 2024-25 than it was in 2010’.
  • Because of the strict limits on what councils can raise through council tax and the demands of the social care system, the next few years ‘could still see some local authorities having to cut services’.
  • ‘Over the whole of the period since 2010 … education spending (will have increased) by less than 3% – in contrast to a 40% increase in spending on health’. As a result – presented by the Chancellor as some great achievement – it will take until 2024 to return schools’ spending on each pupil to 2010 levels. 
  • ‘Spending per student in FE and sixth form colleges will remain well below 2010 levels’.

and for open youth work specifically

 Of the funding allocated specifically for ‘youth services’, at least £500 million – that is, nearly 90 per cent – of the promised £560 million is far from the new money suggested by the Youth Minister Nigel Huddleston in his speech at the NYA ‘Youth Work Summit’ conference earlier this month.[5] Much of it in fact is what the Director of Social Change has labelled ‘money recycling’ – the, in effect, third ‘launch’ of a Youth Investment Fund originally announced by the Chancellor’s predecessor way back in September 2019 and over those two years left largely unspent.[6]

Also needing to be highlighted here is that over the next three years one-third (£173 million) of the Chancellor’s promised £560 million for ‘youth services’ will be going to the National Citizens Service. When compared with the ninety-five per cent (£634 million) of government money for these services which it was reported to be getting in 2018 [7], the £158 million it was allocated in 2020 and £100 million in the current financial year, this represents what is being called a ‘significant reduction’ in its funding. This moreover comes at a time when, targeted still at just 16- and 17-years, it is about to launch a new ‘year-round’ offer to replace its current model. This it describes as

participants spend(ing) two weeks away from home in small teams, guided by a dedicated, trained adult team leader. They then spend an additional 30 hours working in their communities in their own time.[8] 

However, with these past programmes in 2019 ‘reaching’ just 600,000 of the age group [9], NCS surely still needs to be judged alongside the up to 1.5 million 10-15-year-olds (plus some older teens) who, I suggested in my last blog post, might each week be going to a local a youth club – if such a facility still existed.[10] 

Welcome though any young people-focused funding is in the present circumstances, this also needs to be set in the context of the continuing impacts of those ten-plus years of austerity cuts. For example:£560 million, averaged out over three years at around £186 million a year, falls well short of the £1 billion cut from local authorities’ spending on Youth Services in England between 2010-11 and 2018-19 [11] with a resultant fall in their spend per young person from an average of £136 to around £54.[12]

  • The promised ‘up to 300 youth clubs in England’, ‘targeted at areas most in need’, has to be seen alongside the closure across the UK between 2010 and 2019 of more than 760 youth centres.[13] 
  • Nor is there anything in the Budget to help fill the huge skills gaps left by the loss in these years of more than 4,500 youth worker posts [14]; to cover the salaries or other revenue costs of reinstating at least some of those jobs; or to reverse the fall from nearly 1300 in to 432 between 2009-10 and 2017-18 in the number of students on approved youth and community work courses.[15] 

New evidence from the National Youth Agency 

While this piece was being drafted the NYA published the initial (and appropriately cautious) findings of its youth sector ‘Census’ carried out earlier this year.[16] Its data – ‘collected from over 2,500 organisations or sub-units of organisations from all parts of the (youth) sector and the country’ – not only provides some significant additional insights into the current state of open youth work in England. It also helps expose the limitations of the Chancellor’s offer for open youth work. 

The NYA report for example reveals:

  • ‘… a large disparity in the amount and type of provision available to young people dependent on where they live’, with ‘… twice as much provision in the most affluent areas as opposed to the most deprived’; and ‘… twice as many buildings purpose-built for, or dedicated towards, young people in affluent areas’;
  • ‘… the units of national uniformed organisations, especially those affiliated to Scouts and Girlguiding, … made up 90% of all provision we were able to identify’;
  • voluntary and community sector (VCS) organisations which are not affiliated to national or uniformed organisations are, conversely, more concentrated in the most deprived postcodes’;
  • VCS organisations ‘are disproportionately providing (and being commissioned by local authorities to provide) universal services, while local authority provision is more focussed on targeted delivery’.
  • ‘15% of upper-tier and unitary local authorities… (said) that they offered no direct delivery…’      

On funding specifically, the Census also found that, based on their reserves, only 35 per cent of ‘youth services’ said they would be able to continue to operate normally for between six months and a year.

Given these realities, it’s vital that the Chancellor’s rhetoric be uncompromisingly called out – not least his ‘recycled pledges and commitments’. 


  1. LGA, 2018, ‘Local services face further £1.3 billion government funding cut in 2019/20’, LGA, 1 October,  accessed 29.10.21
  2. GOV.UK, 2021, ‘Autumn Budget and Spending Review 2021 Speech’, 27 October,
  3. LGA, 2018, ‘Local services face further £1.3 billion government funding cut in 2019/20’. 
  4. Paul Johnson, ‘Autumn Budget and Spending Review 2021’, Institute of Fiscal Studies,, accessed 28.10.21
  5. Nigel Huddleston, 2021, ‘Nigel Huddleston speech to Youth Work Summit’, Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, 1 November,–2
  6. Fiona Simpson, 2021, ‘Spending Review: Sunak’s pledges for children, young people and families’, CYPN, 27 October 
  7. Neil Puffett, 2018, ‘“NCS found to account for 95 per cent of Government Youth Service Spend”’, CYPN, 22 June
  8. NCS, 2021, National Citizens Service Prospectus, Cabinet Office/Department of Education, accessed 3 November  
  9. Fiona Simpson, 2021, ‘NCS sees funding reduction in Spending Review’, CYPN, 29 October  
  10.  National Council for Voluntary Youth Services, 2013, ‘Youth Report 2013’,; and Statista (2019), ‘Population of the UK 2019, by age group’,, accessed 29 June 2021.
  11. Neil Puffett, 2020, ‘Youth Services “suffer £1BN funding cuts in less than a decade”’, CYPN, 20 January
  12.  NYA/YMCA, 2021, Time’s Running Out: Youth Services inder threat and lost opportunities for young people, NYA, September, p 6   
  13.  Unison, 2019, Youth services at breaking point, April, 
  14. Unison, 2019, Youth services at breaking point.
  15. Derren Hayes’, 2017, ‘Youth work student numbers plunge by 28 per cent’, CYPN, 4 May
  16. Dan Parton, 2018 Youth work training figures reveal record lows’, CYPN, 14 August 
  17. NYA, 2021, Initial Summary of Findings for the National Youth Sector Census, 1 November,; Nina Jacobs, 2021, ‘Quarter of youth services “running on si months worth of reserves”, CYPN, 1 November 

Bernard Davies

November 2021