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.
If the Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s budget statement on 27 October is to be believed , 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.
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.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. 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.
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 , 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.
However, with these past programmes in 2019 ‘reaching’ just 600,000 of the age group , 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.
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  with a resultant fall in their spend per young person from an average of £136 to around £54.
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.
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 ; 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.
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. 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’.
In the run-up to the Election I ponder – where is youth work; where is the Youth Service?
General election campaigns don’t usually put much of a focus on youth work or local Youth Services. And – perhaps this time particularly – why would they? Alongside, say, voters’ experience of waiting six weeks for a GP appointment or of schools struggling to put text books on their kids’ desks – to say nothing of the ‘let’s just get Brexit done’ syndrome – why would cheeky teenagers’ complaints about having nowhere to go in an evening be seen as a priority.
Yet a number of top-down Youth Service/youth work policy initiatives have been in the pipeline over the last two-to-three months. They of course come with no guarantees that any of them will be picked up by a new government, and certainly not that they’ll be turned into effective action. Nor can they be treated uncritically by those of us committed to a practice which is open to any young person who chooses to engage and open to ‘outcomes’ as those young people might define them.
Nonetheless as markers that for the first time in at least a decade national policy-makers might just be taking that practice seriously, it seems worth reminding ourselves of some of those interventions and of their pros as well as their cons. Because if we don’t give them some prominence in the run up to the election, who will?
Throughout the post-2010 austerity period, ministers have made repeated gestures to filling the gaps left by their demolition of local authorities’ year-round youth work provision. In comparison to the ninety-five per cent (£634 million) of government money for ‘youth services’ which by 2018 was going to the National Citizens Service (NCS) , these new ‘Funds’ – ‘Big Society’, ‘Youth Investment’, ‘Youth Engagement’, ‘Early Intervention’, ‘Life Chances’, to name but a few – have offered small amounts of funding for usually time-limited programmes. Often, too, allocated through competitive tendering, this has proved highly divisive, nationally and also within a local area. Significant proportions anyway have gone to government-favoured organisations and schemes such as Step Up to Serve’s #iwill ‘social action’ programme and uniformed youth groups, including ones linked to the armed services.
Examples of such recent gestures include:
An allocation of £4 million in August 2019 towards the development of an OnSide ‘youth zone’ in Grimsby – part of a wider government ‘Town Deal’ regeneration programme .
A new £500 million Youth Investment Fund, first announced by the Chancellor Sajid Javid in his Spending Round statement in September. In response to the loss since 2012 of some 760 youth buildings and 4500 youth work jobs , this is offering money for 60 new youth centres, refurbishing 360 existing ones, providing 100 mobile youth facilities and ‘an investment in the youth workforce’ .
£12 million allocated by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) to help address ‘urgent needs in the youth sector – £5 million again for the #iwill programme and £7 million for a new ‘Youth Accelerator Fund’ to ‘expand existing successful projects … delivering extra sessions in youth clubs, and promoting positive activities in sport and the arts to help young people develop skills and contribute to their communities’.
Civil Society Strategy
In August 2018, the government published a Civil Society Strategy ambitiously sub-titled ‘Building a Future that Works for Everyone’ . Framed by ‘a vision of the UK with better connected communities, more neighbourliness, and businesses which strengthen society’, it defined civil society ‘… not by organisational form, but in terms of activity, defined by purpose (what it is for) and control (who is in charge)’. More specifically it saw the term as referring‘… to individuals and organisations when they act with the primary purpose of creating social value, independent of state control’ – with, in this context, ‘social value’ understood as ‘enrich(ing)lives and a fairer society for all’.
The Strategy’s ‘Mission 3’ – headed ‘opportunities for young people’ – seeks ‘to change the culture of policy design and implementation so that young people are systematically involved in shaping the policies that affect them’. The aim of these policies are explained as to ‘broaden our approach so that all young people from an early age can access a range of positive and integrated activities including youth programmes, cultural activities, and volunteering’. Options are to be explored ‘for building on the cross-sector partnership created by the #iwill campaign, to identify how the existing offer for young people can be improved’. Also given strong endorsement, including via a ‘success story’ case study, are the National Citizens Service and uniformed youth groups.
As always in government youth policy statements of this period, one of the paper’s repeated emphases is on ‘ensuring … the most disadvantaged young people transition into work…’ and that they ‘… develop the skills and habits of social responsibility during their childhood and youth’. This is seen as applying, too, to what the paper calls ‘the transformational impact that youth services and trained youth workers can have’ which are described as ‘especially important ‘for young people facing multiple barriers or disadvantage’.
The Strategy also promised to set up a ‘Civil Society Youth Steering Group’ to ‘oversee the development and implementation of policies affecting young people’. Action on this came in February 2019 with a DCMS 12-month grant of £170,000 to the British Youth Council (BYC), to be used in part to establish a ‘Youth Steering Group’ and a ‘Young Inspectors Group’ .
In October 2019, a new Civil Society minister, Baroness Barran, published a review of progress in implementing the Strategy. In this she talked of ‘continu(ing) to invest in positive activities for young people to enable them to fulfil their potential and contribute to their communities’. Again given particular emphasis was the NCS programme ‘that helps build a more responsible, more cohesive and more engaged society’. ‘Investments’ in other youth programmes and organisations were confirmed. These included £5 million for uniformed youth groups such as Fire Cadets and Scouts to create over 10,000 new places for young people in ‘disadvantaged’ areas and £40 million for volunteering and community engagement through the #iwill Fund .
Just two weeks after the minister’s review appeared, the ‘election manifesto’ of the voluntary sector’s umbrella body, the National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO), suggested some significant gaps in the Strategy. For example, NCVO in called on the government to involve charities more in policy making and in particular to ‘strengthen its commitment to social value’. It made clear, too, that the sector required more, and more reliable, resources, specifically highlighting the need to ensure that lost EU funding to the UK was replaced at ‘a comparable level of investment’. It also proposed that some of the billions of pounds stuck in dormant bank accounts be used to set up a community wealth fund .
Review of the Statutory Guidance for Local Authorities on Services and Activities to Improve Young People’s Well-being
A policy initiative with the potential for longer-term impact on local authority decision-making – a review of the statutory guidance on the provision of local youth services – was also flagged up in the Civic Society Strategy paper. Though starting from the somewhat limited rationale that since the 2012 revision ‘much has happened to change the way these services are provided’, the aim was explained as to ‘provide greater clarity of government’s expectations, including the value added by good youth work’ 
Almost a year elapsed before the then minister for Civil Society Mims Davies restated the original commitment to it and a further three months for her successor, Baroness Barran, to make a call for evidence . With a closing date of 1st December 2019, this is now being gathered through an 11-page questionnaire for service providers, a 4-page questionnaire for young people and a 6-page ‘Tool for Conversations with Young People’ . The aim – set before the election was called – is currently for updated guidance to be published in the spring of 2020.
Any appraisal of these moves, however, has to start with some crucial cautions.
When the current statutory guidance was published in June 2012 even organisations whose ‘independence of state control’ was by then under growing pressure described the new guidelines as lacking clarity and the ‘objective measures’ needed for judging a local authority’s provision .
In line with post-2010 governments’ highly individualised ways of defining young people’s needs and problems, the 2012 revision of the guidelines narrowed the local authority’s duty from a more broadly educational one to one focused on just young people’s ‘well-being’.
Though within two years of this guidance being issued a Cabinet Office report revealed that 56 of the 97 councils surveyed were not fully adhering to it , it had taken another five years to persuade ministers that another revision might be needed .
With most of the review questions framed in very bland ways, they offer no prompts for locating responses in the wider resource and infrastructure problems which have led to open youth work’s widespread demise across England. For example, question 12 of the questionnaire for service providers’ offers only four tick-box options – from ‘Very well’ to ‘Very poorly’ – for judging how well the existing guidance achieves the aim of ‘advis(ing) local authorities on what to take into account when deciding what services and activities to secure for young people’. No encouragement is given therefore for commenting on how the guidance’ may have allowed local authorities to marginalise open forms of youth work – by for example, in its very first lines, effectively de-prioritising young people who, it says, have ‘the right supportive relationships… ’; and then by repeatedly insisting that the focus must be on the ‘vulnerable’ and ‘disadvantaged’ 
Some embedded assumptions in a later question, number 13, also need to be challenged if the guidance is to contribute to the reinstatement of forms of open youth work. One, for example, by baldly stating that ‘the leadership role of local authorities’ is just about ‘convening key stakeholders’, seems to rule out what will surely often be crucial in the future – that those authorities again act proactively as direct providers. Another – on ‘the role of qualified youth workers’ – not only limits this to ‘leading positive activities for young people’. It also skirts round the fall in the number of students on qualifying courses between 2011-12 and 2017-18 from 951 to 432  and, no less essential, the need for government and others also to re-establish the training routes for part-timers and volunteers.
One bottom-line demand, however, will need to underpin all such responses: the deletion of a phrase, used three times in the 2012 guidance (paras 2, 3, 5), which allows – requires? – local authorities to provide their ‘local offer’ for young people only ‘so far as is reasonably practicable’. Under the pressure of the major cuts to councils’ funding since 2010, particularly to their Treasury Revenue Support Grant, those six words have rendered the guidance largely meaningless.
The NYA: in support of government policy
Under similar financial pressures, the NYA has in recent years often seemed to be operating like any voluntary sector organisation – by for example jointly managing NCS programmes in the North East. However, it still describes itself as ‘the national body for youth work’ and carries out important national functions – particularly, through its Education and Training Sub-committee (ETS), the validation of the youth work qualifications in England recognised by the Joint Negotiating Committee (JNC).
In seeking to play this national role, over the last year NYA has taken a number of initiatives which, though at times seeming to tack to what is likely to appeal to ministerial thinking, have supplemented some of the government’s own policy responses.
In 2018, after urging that a ‘youth covenant’ setting out the government’s overall commitment to young people be included in the Civil Society Strategy, it has now published its own Youth Covenant .
Between July and October this year it ran consultation ‘roadshows’ in eight regions of England, one of whose agenda items was the DCMS’s review of the statutory guidance to local authorities. This was followed in October by a National Youth Work Summit attended by ‘80 youth sector leaders’.
Also in October it published a youth service’s ‘Sufficiency Statement’, with ‘sufficiency’ defined as ‘at least two professional youth workers and a team of youth support workers and trained volunteers …. for each secondary school catchment area’. It proposed, too, that such guidance ‘… be supported by a clear statement from government on the importance of providing a sufficient offer to young people’ to include ‘easily available … universal settings’ alongside other services. The statement also endorsed proposals by both the government and the Labour Party (see below) that future Youth Services be managed overall by local youth partnerships, to include representation from young people and the voluntary sector 
This month NYA launched the £500,000 scheme, announced by the government in July, to in its first year provide 450 bursaries for youth workers qualifying at NVQ Levels 2 and 3. Though greeted sceptically by the Chief Executive of London Youth for failing even to replace ‘the 800 youth work positions that have disappeared in London alone over the last decade’, the scheme was presented by NYA as part of its own ‘national initiative to grow the workforce’ .
In its own ‘High 5’ General Election manifesto NYA sought commitments from the political parties’ to its proposed Youth Covenant and local youth partnerships and to its definition of Sufficiency .
NYA seems, too, to be intending to embed open youth work more firmly in its own programmes by appointing JNC-qualified and experienced staff as a Director of Youth Work and a Youth Work Specialist .
The opposition parties: where is the youth work?
The Liberal Democrats
Albeit without any noticeable pre-campaign build-up, in a sub-section in their Election Manifesto headed ‘A Public Health Approach to Violence’, the LibDems’ commitment to youth work is explained as:
Invest in youth services. We will provide a £500m ring-fenced youth services fund to local authorities to repair the damage done to youth services and enable them to deliver a wider range of services, reach more young people and improve training for youth workers 
The Green Party
Also framed as a primarilypreventative – especially anti-crime – practice, the Green Party’s election commitment to youth work is expressed as:
Invest in youth services and centres, to help turn at-risk children away from crime. All the evidence shows the cuts in youth services have increased crime, especially knife crime. To end knife crime once and for all we need to invest in specialist programmes provided through youth centres .
The Labour Party vision
In two separate sections of its Manifesto the Labour commitments are presented as:
We will rebuild our youth services and guarantee young people’s access to youth workers.
… Too many young people now have nowhere to go, nothing to do and no one to help them with their problems. Labour will build a properly funded, professionally staffed National Youth Service, and will guarantee every young person has access to local, high-quality youth work .
In Labour’s case, however, these two bald statements have to be seen as emerging from a process which, starting in late 2018 with a consultation exercise, led a month before the election to the publication of Only Young Once, Labour’s detailed 35-page ‘vision for rebuilding Youth Services’.This has now been followed by an 8-page ‘youth manifesto’, The Future is Ours . Both in its grasp of the defining features of the practice and in its actual proposals, Only Young Once offers the most comprehensive and convincing blueprint yet of how, both strategically and on the ground, open youth work might be genuinely re-embedded in any future ‘youth offer’. Indeed, if Labour’s proposals ever actually get to be implemented, itcould come to be seen as the Albemarle report for the 21st century .
As I have already offered my response to the paper , what follows focuses on the conclusions and proposals which, in the run up to the Election, seem particularly worth restating and on some issues needing further clarification and debate.
Starting from a recognition of the damage caused by the demolition of local Youth Services since 2010, the paper for example:
Tasks Youth Services with recognising ‘the agency young people have as a group to be empowered’; with helping to ‘realise their full potential and live successfully in their communities’; and with ‘address(ing) social inequalities … including discrimination and racial disparities…’.
Defines the main purpose of the practice as ‘to provide non-formal education that supports the personal, social and political development of all young people…’.
Describes this provision as ‘based on relationships of trust between young people and trained youth workers’, with ‘voluntary participation … applying across all levels’ and ‘interaction … negotiated with young people from the outset’.
Locates this practice ‘in a range of contexts and settings in which young people choose to be…’.
Identifies youth workers as contributing ‘vital forms of skilled support…’, including to ‘groups with specific identities, such as LGBT+ people, young people with special needs, young women, or specific religious communities’.
To help ensure that – ‘in its own right’ and ‘independent and complementary to other services’ – this open youth work provision is reinstated, Labour’s proposal include:
Appointing ‘a Minister for Children and Young People responsible for the national youth service (to) sit within the Department for Education supporting the Secretary of State’.
New legislation setting out local authorities’ statutory duties which, rather than offering ‘a get-out clause: that the youth work activities … be provided only “so far as reasonably practicable”’, instead ‘clearly defines a base level of (youth work) sufficiency’….
Long–term, stable funding for youth services to ensure all young people have access to high quality youth work provision that matches their needs’.
The development of ‘a national youth workforce development strategy’.
In relatively open-minded ways the paper also addresses two on–going youth work dilemmas:
How to develop methods and processes of evaluation which ‘fit’ with the practice’s young people-led and ‘on the wing’ approaches and interventions.
How to ‘professionalise’ the work and its workforce by, for example, establishing a formally endorsed ‘licence to practice’ while at the same time continuing to recognise and indeed give credit to the huge contribution made by volunteer youth workers.
Unavoidably, perhaps, given its scope, the paper does leave some important questions unanswered. Two which, for me, stand out are:
Within Labour’s proposed highly ambitious open youth work offer, what is to happen to resource-hungry NCS programmes which have regularly failed to meet their recruitment targets?
For actually delivering this offer in the young people-focused ways envisaged, can local authorities’ often inflexible internal power relationships, structures and procedures adapt – perhaps radically – to work with and through the paper’s proposed ‘collaborative partnerships at local, regional, national and international level’?
Even allowing for these ambiguities – and assuming of course that Labour manages to get a handle on power – Only Young Once suggests that buried within those two brief Manifesto sentences are the best prospects we’ve had for a very long time for sustained and appropriately focused state sponsorship and funding for open youth work.
1. Neil Puffett, 2018, ‘“NCS found to Account for 95 per cent of Government Youth Service Spend”’, CYPN, 22 June
2. Neil Puffett, 2019, ‘“Government announces money for new youth zone”’, CYPN, 16 August
The event which arguably most shaped governments’ economic and social policy-making in the second decade of the 21st century was the near-collapse in 2007-08 of the world’s banking system – often described more abstractly, if evasively, as ‘the global financial crisis’. Though the roots of this lay in the dominance over the previous three decades of neo-liberal thinking and assumptions, in the UK at least these and their often damaging consequences only began to attract a more critical public debate after the 2016 EU referendum delivered the ‘wrong’ result. Scrutiny here focused particularly on how, far from prompting the promised ‘trickle down’ of wealth through society, neo-liberalism’s highly individualistic, competitive and market-driven priorities had deepened economic inequality and exacerbated social exclusion, in the process providing a breeding ground for often extreme forms of anti-democratic ‘populisms’.
Evidence from a range of
sources revealed, for example, that by early 2019 the equivalent income of the
richest one percent of the population was seven times the average; that in the UK one
child in three was living in poverty;
and that by 2021 that figure
would be nearer fifty per cent.
The ‘freedoms’ of neo-liberalism had also contributed significantly to a
climate change crisis on which young
people, increasingly and in increasingly organised and activist ways, were voicing their concerns.
Nor was it just the usual left-wing suspects who were putting out these messages. One early, at least partial and rhetorical, convert to them was the Governor of the Bank of England Mark Carney. In December 2016 for example he noted that
… many citizens in advanced economies are facing heightened uncertainty
… and losing trust in the system… Rather than a new
golden age, globalisation is associated with low wages, insecure employment,
stateless corporations and striking
By early January
2019 Christine Lagarde, speaking as the head of the International Monetary Fund, was also advocating some very non-neo-liberal
There are more members
concerned about inequality – which is excessive in many areas of the world –
and how to remedy it… We have surveyed all the mission chiefs and asked them
whether social spending was likely to be macro critical and were happily
surprised that 80% said it was’.
By then, as part of her prime
ministerial commitment to work for ‘a country that works for everyone’, Theresa May
had felt the need to assure her party’s 2018 annual conference that ‘a decade
after the financial crash … the
austerity it led to is over…’
As, nine months later she was forced out of office, she sought to bolster her
political legacy by urging her party to commit to ‘welfarist’ policies such as
reinvesting in further education and restoring grants for some
higher education students.
The depth and reach of this
rethinking was however limited, particularly within those elite groups
to control most of the policy making
processes. In anticipation of the damage Brexit could do to the British
economy, for example, at the same party conference at which May had claimed
austerity was ending her Chancellor made it clear that he was far from
committed to making this happen.The same report that encouraged May to re-embrace student grants also recommended that government support of
university courses should take account not just of their cost but also of their
economic and social value.
More broadly, the ‘pitch’ of some of the candidates in the Conservative Party’s
leadership election in June and July 2019 included proposals to reduce
taxation, in one case specifically for higher earners; cut corporation tax (28 per cent in 2010) to 12.5 per
cent; and abolish university tuition fees for graduates who subsequently
Given their long reign, neo-liberal ideas were clearly going to be very
hard to uproot from the political (and indeed public) mind-set and from the
wider political and economic culture.
The ‘lost youth services’ – the rhetoric…
Nonetheless, this somewhat more open post-Referendum environment did create space for some public agonising about the ‘lost youth services’ of the previous ten years and the resultant gaps in many young people’s out-of-school lives. One high profile All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Youth Affairs, explicitly focused on ‘The Role and Sufficiency of Youth Work’, concluded for example that, even though they could be ‘transformational’, open access … youth services have all but disappeared’. A month later a second APPG report, while largely ignoring evidence that many of the causes of knife crime might lie in the structural conditions which neo-liberalism had helped create, directly linked its rise in Wolverhampton, Westminster, Cambridgeshire and Wokingham to those councils’ up to 91 per cent cuts to their Youth Service budgets.
Often the rationale for
reinstating Youth Services was a need to tackle other ‘youth problems’
as well as knife crime – young people’s
growing mental health
pressures; ‘employment, training
and education issues’; reduced ‘healthy’ summer
holiday activity programmes. Nonetheless, government and Labour Party policy statements as
well as some media reports and newspaper articles did begin to point, sometimes
in detail, to the loss of hundreds of youth
work jobs and buildings across the country and to the need for youth
work to be reinstated at least
as a ‘preventative’ intervention.
… the continuing realities …
Occasionally an example of rhetoric being turned into action did emerge. After cutting its Youth Service expenditure from £2.1 million in 2011-12 to £400,000 in 2017-18, Newham Council announced in June 2019 that – in its own neo-liberal terms – it was ‘committed to investing in our young people’. It thus planned, as a first stage, to extend its ‘universal youth offer’ by increasing from 12 to 20 per cent the proportion of 9-19 year olds accessing the Service. An extra £1.4 million was to be provided to increase the number of sessions at its four youth hubs, open four more hubs, appoint a detached youth team and create a range of roles for ‘senior’ and ‘junior’ youth workers. The proposals also aimed to ensure that SEND, looked-after and LGBTQ young people and young carers had enhanced access.
Much of the
bottom-up evidence, however, suggested that material change of this kind
was likely to be rare – and was going to be very hard to achieve. Two days
before May’s 2018 Conference speech, the Local Government
Association (LGA) had highlighted that, with the
Treasury cut to their Revenue Support Grant already estimated at 60p in every
£1, half of local authorities (168) were assuming
that the Grant would have disappeared completely within two years. As a result,
the LGA predicted that in the financial year 2019-20 funding for council services
overall would reduce by a further 36 per cent (£1.3 billion). By then, too, austerity measures already in place were predicted to bring
cumulative cuts to social welfare progammes exceeding some £27 billion – that is, the equivalent of some £800 a year
for every working-age person in the country.
In order to help find resources to keep public services running between 2014-15 and 2018-19 local authorities generated some £9.1 billion of income by selling off more than 12,000 ‘public spaces’ – including no doubt, as well as school playing fields, some of the 760 youth centres closed since 2012. Even so, throughout this period ‘children and youth services’ remained under severe, growing and sometimes contradictory pressures. DfE figures released in the same month that May made her conference speech revealed, for example, that in 2018-19 local authorities were expecting to increase spending on children in care by £370 million to a total of £4.16 billion; while at the same time – presumably to help fill this gap – reducing their ‘youth service’ spending by £31.4 million.
Other reports published towards the end of 2018 and in the first half of 2019 added to this evidence:
A September 2018 County Councils Network (CCN) report indicated that in 2019-20 of the 36 authorities surveyed were budgeting to cut their children’s services budgets overall by an estimated £918 million.
A February 2019 report from the Local Government Information Unit (LGiU) revealed that because of ‘budget restraints’ 24 per cent of councils were planning ‘to reduce activity in children’s care services’.
Later that month an analysis by a group of charities found that between 2011-12 and 2017-18 central government funding for children aged 0 to 19 had fallen by 32 per cent – from £813 to £553 per child.
Despite a warning from Ofsted’s Chief Inspector that such cuts were ‘a false economy, simply leading to greater pressures elsewhere’, by January 2019 the Department’s own returns were showing that in 2017-18 councils’ spending on children’s centres and the under-5’s had fallen by £110 million. The cut to ‘services for young people’ specifically had been £32 million, with the proportion of the overall spend on them dropping from 4.9 per cent to 4.4 per cent.
Two examples illustrated what such cuts could mean on the ground:
In February 2019 Derbyshire County Council’s announced that over the five financial years up to 2023-24 it would be reducing from £12.9 million to £4.3 million its funding for ‘early help’ – the provision into which authorities had often relocated youth workers when they closed down their Youth Services.
The following month the Green party co-leader and London assembly member Sian Berry’s updated enquiry into cuts to London borough Youth Services revealed that since 2011 the number of youth centres in the capital had fallen from 234 to 130; that 560 youth workers had lost their jobs; and that overall spending had been reduced by 46 per cent, with the cuts in 29 councils totalling £26.3 million.
… and the future?
As ‘the Brexit debate’ increasingly – and increasingly bitterly and divisively – diverted policy-makers’ attention from issues as crucial as growing staffing shortages in the NHS and schools’ growing reliance on parents and charities to fund core activities, youth workers were thus faced with a very challenging question: (how) could they persuade a government – even one which in opposition had committed to reinstating local Youth Services – to find the time, the money or indeed the will actually to do this?
 John Lanchester, 2010, Whoops! Why Everyone Owes Everyone and No One Can Pay, London,
Penguin; John Lanchester, 2018, ‘After the Fall’, London
Review of Books, Vol 40, No 13, 5
July; Aditya Chakrabortty, 2018, ‘Ten years on, it’s as if we’ve learned
nothing from the crash’, Guardian, 5
 See for example George Monbiot, 2016, ‘Neoliberalism:
the ideology at the root of all our problems, Guardian,
15 April; Katie Allen, 2016, ‘Mark Carney: we must tackle isolation and
detachment caused by globalisation’, Guardian,
6 December; Nikil Saval, 2017, ‘The great globalisation backlash’, Guardian, 15 July; Andy Beckett, 2017,
‘How Britain fell out of love with the free market’, Guardian, 5 August; William Davies, 2018, ‘Against Responsibility’,
London Review of Books, 8 November
 Joanne Parkes, 2019, ‘“Nearly half of UK children in poverty by 2021, UN expert warns”’, CYPN, 22 May; Danny Dorling, 2019,
‘Letters – Anti-Masochism’, London Review of Books, Vol 41, no 12, 20 June
 Katie Allen, 2016, ‘Mark Carney: we must tackle
isolation and detachment caused by globalisation’, Guardian, 6 December
 Larry Elliott, 2019, ‘Nations must protect spending on the vulnerable, says IMF chief’ Guardian, 14 June
 Helen Mulholland, 2018, ‘Youth work cuts leave young people out in the cold’, Guardian, 31 October; Joe Lepper,
2018, ‘“Call to boost after-school youth work to reduce risk of violence”’, CYPN, 11 October; Joanne Parkes, 2019, ‘“Mayor of London fund aims to
boost youth crime prevention”’, CYPN,
22 February; Joanne Parkes, 2019, ‘“Young people to develop youth charter with
government”’, CYPN, 11
April; Joanne Parkes, 2019, ‘“Mayor launches new £15m youth funding
round”’, CYPN, 16
 Nina Jacobs, 2019, ‘“Council invests £1.4m in youth
service to combat austerity”’, CYPN,