Youth services are currently facing tough times. Financial cuts are widespread across all sectors, and youth services in particular are being affected. This has, quite understandably, put many youth workers and supporters of youth work on the defensive. There are calls for a statutory youth service, with an early day motion and petitions supporting this. Whilst a statutory youth service would be a highly positive step, it must be considered how this would be applied practically. Financial cuts are not going to be reversed; the current government has decided that they do not prioritise youth services and are spending money elsewhere. This is a reality that must be addressed within the sector; if a statutory youth service is enacted, it would be within the current financial constraints, which would mean it would likely be ineffective and not able to overcome the current problems facing youth work.
Positive and effective youth work cannot be done on the cheap, and so we must look to other and new sources of funding if youth services are to continue in any capacity. Currently, other viable sources of funding include social enterprise partnerships and work with businesses with an interest or involvement in young people. Whilst a resistance to this is understandable, due to the political and philosophical underpinnings of youth work, seeking outside funding is a practical necessity, as it is not going to come from local authorities any more. Of the 151 local authorities in England 115 are decreasing their budget for youth services this year. A higher proportion of these cuts are directed at targeted youth services; local authorities want to use their remaining funding to reach as many young people as they can, meaning that universal services are their priority. The outcome of this is that young people with specialised needs are less able to access help, and the expertise of those who worked within these services is not utilised.
Whilst raising awareness of the issues facing youth work is important, there is also a need to ensure young people are supported at the same time. There is worth in finding other sources of funding to allow services to continue, even if an aim for the future is to create a fully funded statutory youth service. Youth work is under increased pressure, and there is a need to adapt so that services and the profession survive.
The cuts that are currently impacting youth services, and will continue to impact services into the next financial year are reprehensible, but they are not going to be reversed. It is also unlikely that a statutory service or ring-fenced funding will be implemented in the next parliament. Conservative ministers have been outspoken in their disapproval of these ideas, and whilst individual Labour members may have voiced their support, there is no mention of youth services in the party manifesto, and no clear pledges to improve youth services. To ensure that young people do receive the support that they need and that youth work continues, alternative approaches are necessary, the way in which we approach youth work needs to change. Not doing this and relying upon local councils and government to be responsible for youth work will see services further reduced.
The debates surrounding youth work provision are heated and highly partisan. However, those who the services benefit often become lost in these discussions, and the need to maintain support for young people can be forgotten. In the long term, questions of where funding for services comes from is minor compared to questions of whether young people are receiving support or not.