After Theresa May’s last PMQs, on Wednesday 24th July, the House of Commons debated for the first time in years the state of youth work in the UK, with a dwindling attending from MPs.

The Government called this debate in response to the publication of an enquiry by the APPG (all-party parliamentary group) on youth affairs, which was published in April. MPs who managed to stay spoke passionately about young people and the role of youth work in helping them to keep away from crime and to reach their potential, in cross-bench agreement. 

Building trusting relationships

The impact of youth work comes from building trusting relationships with young people, relationships whose impact ripples through entire lives. We saw this in the debate when Labour MP Lyn Brown acknowledged she would not be standing in the chamber without the support of youth workers:

“Youth services are about so much more than just fixing crime. I remember going to a youth club when I was young. It was at St John’s in north Woolwich. I received validation of my rights as a young person that I did not get from anywhere else. I do not think I would have got the confidence that has eventually led to me being here without that youth service. I want to publicly and belatedly thank Esther Wilson, Anne King, Nick Nicholls and Dave Butcher. I would not have made it without them. “

In fact, there was very little disagreement from all involved that youth services are a key service supporting young people. Representatives from all parties also agreed that youth work had suffered huge cuts over the last 10 years.

One MP pointed out that as a non-statutory service it had been one of the first services to be cut by many local authorities. Vicky Foxcroft MP summed up for the Labour Party and listed grim statistics that illustrated the change:

"Spending on youth services has fallen by 70%, 760 youth centres have closed their doors and over 14,000 youth workers have lost their jobs in the last decade."

Of course, this is only the tip of the iceberg and we cannot know how many young people have missed out as a result.

Decline in youth work training

Youth services are a profession in decline and some may argue that we have reached a tipping point where the loss of skills, training programmes for youth workers and  loss of youth centres mean this is no longer attracting skilled staff which in turn reduces the quality of the work. 

All in the debate agreed this decline had contributed to the rise in knife crime, loneliness, isolation and mental health issues in young people. They highlighted too that piecemeal funding does nothing to prevent problems arising or keep a core service in place. It is particularly difficult for smaller organisations.

They highlighted the role played by charities in keeping services going despite local authority cuts and MPs praised the entrepreneurial approach many charities, like Creative Youth Network, use to keep services open but, this is a fragile way to run a service.

Project work can’t replace long term, sustained youth work

Several MPs pointed out that 95% of youth spending goes on NCS (the National Citizenship Service) – that’s £1.5bn since it started in 2016, a similar amount to the cuts faced by youth work in the UK.

Many argued that although NCS is a perfectly good programme, it is a poor investment in our young people, as it’s only for 15-17 year olds and does not provide the long term support needed by many young people.

NCS has also been under-spending because it has not hit recruitment targets. £50m could be reallocated to youth work immediately and the Minister for Sport and Civil society, Mims Davies, promised to look into this but with no commitment.

She promised too to undertake a review of youth services and introduce a new Youth Charter – articulating the Governments commitment to young people. The review will take place over the Autumn. 

However, there was no promise of new funding or resources. Nor was there a promise to look at putting youth services on a statutory footing, offering a guaranteed minimum service. This feels like words with little action.

Given the new Government priority to deliver Brexit, it seems unlikely anything will change soon. But the mood music is changing and there is a cross party realisation of the value of youth work and the role it plays in helping young people reach their potential.

This is why we are joining the youth sector ask calling on Boris Johnson PM for new investment of £50 million (primarily reallocated from NCS underspend) into positive activities for disadvantaged young people to enable them to reach their potential.

We believe this is a necessary first step in ensuring crucial emergency and preventative services are in place, investing in the future of our country. What do you think? Let us know in the comments below.