Youth services are key to tackling violence – but they need support
Years of local authority cuts have left the youth service sector hollowed out. If we are to tackle youth violence we need a serious strategy, writes Vicky Foxcroft
For the last two years, I have chaired the Youth Violence Commission, a cross-party group of MPs seeking long-term, evidence based solutions to tackle the root causes of youth violence. As part of the Commission’s research, we held several evidence sessions in Parliament – the first of which was dedicated to youth services and community work. We invited a cross-section of the industry, including large national organisations, grassroots charities, academics in the field and young people, to tell us about the challenges facing the sector and the impact they felt youth work could have on reducing youth violence.
This can be tough to measure – how can you prove that a specific intervention in a young person’s life has really made a difference? The difficulty of measuring success was raised several times in this evidence session, and has been echoed in conversations I have had with youth workers up and down the country.
Unsurprisingly, the impact of funding cuts shadows much of these discussions. Over the last eight years, nearly every local authority has made substantial cuts to its youth services. Youth services were some of the first to suffer in the initial round of cuts in 2010 and in London alone at least £39 million has been cut from council youth service budgets since the Conservatives were first elected eight years ago.
With local authorities struggling with devastating cuts from central government, most councils are left with little option but to cut any non-statutory service. Youth services are an easy target and the sector has been hollowed out as a result.
Youth services are on a downward trend and have become increasingly unregulated, inconsistent and competitive. In the past, youth services were inspected by Ofsted. Nowadays the sector is largely an unregulated marketplace and it is young people who lose out, especially those from vulnerable backgrounds who often rely on these services the most.
Earlier this year, the Youth Violence Commission conducted a nationwide survey of young people to find out more about how violence manifests in their lives. We heard from over 2000 young people from schools, Pupil Referral Units, Youth Offender Institutes and youth clubs across the country. In answer to the question “if there was one thing you could change that you think would make young people safer, what would it be?”, the most popular response was the provision of more youth centres, sports clubs or other activities in their local areas. Yet these services are disappearing faster than ever from their communities.
This week I have secured an Adjournment Debate on the role youth services play in tackling youth violence and I will be using this opportunity to raise some of the Youth Violence Commission’s specific recommendations with the government.
Our recommendations focus on funding and consistency. We have called for the establishment of a National Youth Policy Framework, which would make the provision of youth work a statutory duty for local authorities and central government. The framework would set nationally recognised, professional standards for youth workers and centres. Reform is also desperately needed in current funding arrangements. In the voluntary sector, large organisations are far more likely to get funding than smaller, local charities – even though the latter might be doing excellent work on the ground.
Youth services have an undoubtedly important role to play in tackling youth violence, but consistent funding in this area is only one part of a much larger picture. The Youth Violence Commission has proposed a number of recommendations which we’ll be raising with ministers in adjournment debates over the coming months. If the government is serious about tackling youth violence, I hope they will pay attention.
Vicky Foxcroft is Labour MP for Lewisham Deptford. The Youth Violence Commission’s interim policy report is available at www.yvcommission.com/interim-report