Review of Youth Work in England: Interim report

Author: Alex Tiley
Published: 27.07.21
Categories: Uncategorised

The APPG on Youth Affairs has been holding a short review of the progress across statutory and voluntary youth services, following on from an extensive inquiry into youth work and recommendations in 2019. The interim report can be found below:

APPG Youth Affairs
Interim Report: a review of youth work in England


July 2021


Introduction

APPG Youth Affairs led an extensive inquiry on youth work, publishing its final report and
recommendations in 2019. Two years-on, we review progress across statutory and voluntary youth
services and youth sector activities, and as we put young people at the heart of Covid-recovery.

  • The case for and role of youth work was made with cross-party support, after a year-long inquiry
    (2018-2019). There has been significant progress in the role and development of youth work,
    against our all-party recommendations (April 2019). The report led to the first government-initiated
    debate on youth work, on the floor of the House of Commons (July 2019), and related manifesto
    commitments from the parties in the general election (December 2019).
  • The Government acted to restore grant funding for youth work training and qualifications, including
    bursaries for entry-level youth work; undertook consultation on the statutory duty and guidance for
    local authorities to secure sufficient youth provision in their area; and announced a new £500m
    Youth Investment Fund across the parliament for innovation and capital investment, and the
    development of local youth partnerships.
  • However, Covid-19 stopped much of that progress in its tracks. The government review of statutory
    guidance halted, and the requirement for local authorities to report on spending on youth services
    was suspended until 2022. The Youth Investment Fund was subsequently delayed, with the
    substantive funding now due from 2022. While the nation quite rightly prioritised its response to the
    pandemic, it overlooked the significant role that youth work could – and would go on to – play, in
    supporting young people.
  • Defined in legislation as ‘educational leisure time’ or known as non-formal education, at the start of
    the pandemic youth work was classed as ‘leisure’ and youth centres closed. Many local authority
    youth workers were redeployed and voluntary sector staff were furloughed, and there has been a
    large-scale drop in the number of adult volunteers which youth services and charities have yet to
    recover. Where they could, youth services and related activities moved online, and there was
    greater reliance on street-based or outreach youth work within Covid-19 restrictions; but overall we
    witnessed some 1 million young people fall off the radar.
  • At the same time the number of vulnerable young people (aged 8-19 years old) in England rose
    from an estimated 1 million up to 3 million. The strains on schools, colleges, mental health and
    social services were also apparent, with national concern for mental wellbeing, education catch-up
    and loss of socialisation, and the long term impact on a young person’s social development and life
    chances.
  • The youth sector response was united and consistent, backed by Government, through Covid-19
    guidance specific for youth services and out of school activities. This supported the role of youth
    work as a distinct form of education. As the disproportionate impact on young people became
    clearer, and the lifting of the first national lockdown, the Government moved to class youth services
    as an essential service (August 2020) and recognised qualified youth workers as essential ‘key’
    workers (January 2021). The Government also provided emergency funding for national and local
    youth charities, to shore-up provision during the pandemic.
  • There remain significant concerns for young people and challenges to the youth sector in its
    capacity to respond – whether statutory or voluntary services. DCMS took the initiative to carry out
    sector-wide consultation including young people in a review of priorities for youth services and out
    of school activities, as part of its remit. This concluded in June 2021 and will inform the
    government’s spending review and cross-departmental discussions on the wider role for youth
    work. The government review of statutory guidance for local authorities will resume in 2021, for
    April 2022.
  • At the same time, working through the National Youth Advisory Board, the youth sector will publish
    a longer, ten-year strategy. Meanwhile the Children’s Commissioner for England has completed
    and will report in September on the Big Ask Survey, with over half a million young people taking
    part. In tandem, the 2021 National Youth Sector Census will be published by NYA which will map
    for the first time youth services and out of school activities in England.

    Therefore, the APPG will seek further evidence over the summer and review findings with young
    people on parliament’s return from September.
    Initial findings
    APPG has heard representations from the Local Government Association, office of the Children’s
    Commissioner for England, Duke of Edinburgh’s Award, National Youth Agency as the regulatory body,
    a collective response from the youth sector through the National Youth Advisory Board, and PALYCW
    university lecturers in youth work.
    Further, evidence was provided by young representatives of British Youth Council involved in the
    DCMS youth steering group, UK Youth #iwill, NYA Young Researchers, and YMCA following
    consultation with MPs in local constituencies. A hearing was held with young people and the Minister
    for Civil Society, Baroness Barran, responsible for youth policy in government.
  • As a nation, we need a clear commitment for young people to be safe and supported in the
    present, confident and ambitious for the future. This includes clear expectations on what young
    people want and can expect from youth services and the role of youth work.
  • Since 2019 there has been greater confidence in the role and potential of youth work, identified by
    government in its principle aims to enhance young people’s skills for life and work, and mental and
    physical wellbeing.
  • The DCMS review of youth provision is informed by young people’s expectations for regular access
    to out of school activities, volunteering and social action opportunities, and adventure/ trips. This
    requires somewhere (safe) to go, something (fun) to do with friends and to learn new skills, and a
    (trusted) adult who knows what is needed, able to access specialist or targeted services.
  • It includes international exchange programmes to replace Erasmus+, with ongoing discussions
    between the four UK nations for youth participation, as the alternative Turing Scheme is open to UK
    organisations from across the formal education and training sectors only.
  • The importance of a safe space for children and young people, outside of school or college, has
    been stressed by local authorities and young people. This includes safe digital spaces, which is not
    a substitute for face-to-face provision but has seen increased use and provided additional support
    for some.
  • However, initial findings indicate 1 in 5 children, rising to 1 in 3 teenagers, are not happy with
    services and activities in their local area; with a limited understanding and clarity on what could be
    offered. There is a strong correlation between access to youth provision and poverty, with young
    people from low income households five times less likely to take part. Yet such out of school
    activity is one of the top ‘asks’ by young people.
  • Significantly, through Covid-recovery young people don’t feel listened to by politicians, they are
    feeling lost and let down. We need to find smarter ways to communication with young people to
    make them feel part of the recovery. Where young people have a sense of belonging, communities
    are stronger: valuing youth work and the relationships with young people
  • This isn’t just about providing out of school activities. It is about education, employment and health;
    improving life chances and healthy choices. There needs to be increased investment in youth
    services and youth workers to support that.
  • To be effective this needs to re-engage and focus on what youth services can offer in partnership
    with other local services; and the role that local youth services have for supporting young people in
    both statutory and non-statutory settings.
  • However the youth sector is an unstable part of services that run across education and social care.
    It needs to be put on a surer footing, with committed long term funding at the grass roots, levelling
    up opportunities across communities.
  • That lack of stable funding, often a reliance on short term project or programme-led funding,
    provides insecurity of employment, limited career opportunities, a consequent drop off in the
    number of university places at degree level for qualified youth workers and low levels of recruitment
    for youth workers, and insufficient adult volunteers.
  • This includes the need for clarity on the different forms of support, from qualified youth workers to
    entry-level youth support workers and up-skilled adult volunteers. Where 4,500 youth workers have
    been displaced in recent years; and a shortfall of thousands of adult volunteers exacerbated by
    Covid-19 has led to long waiting lists uniformed groups and other voluntary sector activities.
  • There is immediate action required to ensure we don’t lose what we have got, just at the time
    young people need youth work the most. Through Covid-19, 1 in 4 youth charities are at risk of
    closure. For every £16 cut on local authority services, £1 is youth work. With weak statutory
    guidance, under review, for local authorities to secure sufficient local services for young people, the
    estimated total £400m spending is under threat. (Source: NYA)
  • While the main source of funding comes through local authorities, there is interdependency
    between local authorities and voluntary sector providers, for commissioning or delivery of services,
    and shared practice or opportunities through local youth partnerships.
  • Yet great disparity exists between areas for funding of youth work. Ignoring extreme outliers, the
    range is an annual spend of £250 per head to just £25 per head, by local authorities, and divergent
    needs from urban to rural services.
  • A balance of funding by local authorities on youth provision is from central government and
    charitable foundations; with local business or fundraising at a local level. Currently, DCMS is
    responsible for some £350m annual funding for youth work and out of school activities, which
    includes the substantive part of the new Youth Investment Fund from 2022, the National Citizen
    Service, and funding from arts, sports and lottery bodies within the department’s remit.
  • However there is a disconnect between coordination of current government funding for out of
    school activities and for specialist and targeted youth services, where the legal responsibilities are
    largely held by the Department for Education and with local authorities.
  • This has led to a lack of long term investment and an estimated loss of annual expenditure of £1bn
    on local youth services. In turn, this has led to paucity of evidence about ‘what works’ beyond short
    term measures, and a circular argument about levels of funding and evidence of long term impact.
    We need to break that circle, to invest in youth work and commit to longitudinal studies on
    outcomes for young people.
    Interim conclusions
  • The Government has a primary role to ensure the health of the youth sector and a statutory duty for
    local authorities to secure sufficient youth places and activities across local youth services. This
    must also recognise that government is not the sole funder, and the youth sector includes a rich
    heritage of voluntary sector provision.
  • Therefore, it is the quality and impact of youth work that is our primary focus. This requires a
    commitment for quality youth work and continuous improvement of youth services, including
    levelling-up opportunities in areas of greatest need or disadvantage.
  • The opportunities to be gained from youth services and out of school activities, including local
    youth councils and young people’s active participation, support upstream funding and long-term
    investment in youth work, to fulfil our shared aims for young people of skills for life and work, and
    mental and physical wellbeing.
  • More can be done to amplify the quality and impact of youth work by better co-ordination and
    intentional spending across government which includes related departments for Home Office and
    Department for Work and Pensions in particular, although the strongest dynamic remains between
    DCMS and Department for Education.
  • Such coordination would support longer term funding and effective use of community resources
    and assets. To deliver this the youth sector needs to be put on a surer footing, to secure a baseline
    of open-access provision on which wider youth services and out of school activities can flourish;
    and for equitable access to specialist provision and statutory services.
  • This includes the role of local authorities for area needs assessments and to secure sufficient
    provision in an area, and local youth partnerships for a diverse range of providers. It is not about
    ‘picking winners’, funding national programmes or large-scale capital projects.
  • We need to sustain youth work, year-round. The priorities are to:
    o End a dependency on short term projects and programme-led funding, with a clear focus on
    investing in youth workers and adult volunteers, including safeguarding and training.
    o Provide safe places in communities, including digital and green spaces, where young people
    are and want to be; including small scale capital projects to repair, repurpose and open-up
    community spaces.
    o Leverage use of community assets and related activities, from sports and arts, and extended
    use of school sites, to embed and deliver youth work.
  • Fundamentally, it is the quality of the relationship between the young person and youth worker, and
    skilled adult volunteer that makes the difference. This provides a focus that is inclusive of urban
    and rural services, statutory, voluntary sector and community groups.
  • Critically, young people have the right to be involved in community development, co-design of
    services and funding decisions; and to ensure equity of access to quality youth provision.
    Draft recommendations
    The recommendations are drawn from evidence presented and from the 2019 report, updated.
    a) DCMS has retained the lead for youth services and out of school activities, with a Minister
    responsible for the health and vibrancy of the youth sector.

    o Now: consideration should be given to this being a dual role jointly held at DCMS and DfE, or
    for a cross-departmental committee to be chaired by the Minister.
    b) The Government will review the statutory guidance for local authorities to secure local services and
    youth provision.

    o Now: this must be strengthened with a clear understanding of what is a ‘sufficient’ level of youth
    services for a local area, to support local plans and area needs assessments.
    c) Most funding of youth services and related activities is through local authorities, although the
    picture is inconsistent with a patchwork of youth provision across the country.

    o Now: to be effective, local youth partnerships should be established or developed, and
    incorporate young people in consultation and decision-making.
    d) A national strategy is needed to recruit, train and sustain qualified and entry-level youth workers,
    and adult volunteers.

    o Now: this requires long-term funding to create and sustain employment opportunities for youth
    work, open up career pathways across sectors, and mobilise adult volunteers.
    e) There needs to be a common language and shared outcomes to read across government, research
    and practice, readily understood by young people, for youth work.

    o Now: new ‘light touch’ inspection arrangements for youth services will help ensure the quality of
    youth provision, including safeguarding and equity of access by young people.

    Chair: Jo Gideon MP
    Co-Chair (Youth Work): Lloyd Russell-Moyle MP

    The All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Youth Affairs was established in 1998 to raise the profile of
    issues that affect and concern young people, encourage dialogue between parliamentarians, young people and
    youth services, and encourage a co-ordinated and coherent approach to youth policy making. The British
    Youth Council and YMCA England provide the secretariat for the APPG. Contact: appgonyouthaffairs@ymca.org.uk

The National Youth Agency (NYA) provided secretariat support to the 2018-19 APPG inquiry on youth work and
the subsequent 2021 review. Contact: jonathanh@nya.org.uk

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