Youth work cuts in north some of the highest nationally

Over a decade of austerity measures, and subsequent cuts to youth work services, has led to a sharp rise in poverty and inequality in the Yorkshire and Humber region according to a report led by the University of Hull.

The report, State of the Region’s Youth Work Sector and the Work of the Youth Work Unit Yorkshire and The Humber 2022, highlights that young people in Yorkshire and the Humber region live in some of the most deprived wards in the UK but have also sustained the highest levels of cuts to youth work provision.

Researchers emphasise that the overall decline of youth work services in Yorkshire and the Humber comes at a time when young people in this area are already experiencing significant issues and challenges. The pandemic has compounded existing regional inequalities, impacting those living in the most deprived communities in this region more than in other parts of England.

Christine Smith is a Programme Director in Education Studies at the School of Education, University of Hull, and the report’s Corresponding Author. She said: “Austerity measures have affected young people disproportionately, with deeper cuts to youth services in the north of the country, including the Yorkshire and Humber.

“Young people living in this region are growing up in unprecedented times where transitions into adulthood are marked by significant differences in terms of space, place and opportunities that will impact across their entire lives. Over a decade of deep cuts to youth services has meant variable and often limited access to support. Not only are there young people in this region that are experiencing shocking levels of poverty, but the most deprived have the least amount of access to services.”

A region of contrasts, the Yorkshire and Humber region is made up of urban, rural, and coastal areas with high levels of deprivation as well as affluence. The report aimed to explore youth service provision across this complex environment – which encompasses 15 local authority areas – to assess the impact of a decade of austerity and the pandemic upon youth services and young people in the area.

The researchers found disproportionate differences in access to youth work provision across the region. They also discovered a lack of coherence and guidelines in terms of data collection as well as limited strategic guidance for the delivery of youth work services. The report calls for urgent and explicit frameworks to ensure a consistency of approach in terms of data measurement to help inform needs-led services. It also calls for a regional strategy for youth policy and resources that supports all sectors working with young people to develop their capabilities to thrive and maximise life chances.

Christine added: “Local authorities have a statutory duty to provide youth services but there is a lack of clarity on what that should include.  How can we have a Levelling Up agenda if there is no shared guidance on the how statutory bodies deliver these services and no common understanding of the baselines that are required? Although there is a lot of data available about young people, youth work and services, there are issues around gaps, accessibility and quality. This makes it difficult to identify trends, inform planning and advocate for resources.

“Our call is that as part of the Levelling Up agenda we urgently need new guidance for a coherent, data-driven approach to youth services that is needs led, peer led and that works at a regional level.

“We need to invest in young people and level up in terms of places for them to go, people to talk to and things to do – to drive down inequalities. For our region, this starts with a youth work strategy for the whole of the Yorkshire and Humber area. A strategy that at best eradicates, and at worst minimises, the postcode lottery in terms of access to high-quality youth services.”

The report found that the region’s Youth Work Unit has a key role to play in the strategic development of youth work strategy across the region.

Charlee Bewsher, Strategy Manager, Youth Work Unit, said: “Local youth services play a vital role in redressing inequalities and in enabling young people to develop capabilities to thrive in the future.

“This research highlights the important contribution youth work makes not only to young people, but to their communities and our partner sectors. The report examines the role of the Youth Work Unit in supporting an ever-evolving dynamic youth work sector and has laid bare the challenges we face. Which in turn challenges us to do better for the young people we serve.

“We urgently need to ensure that all young people living in the Yorkshire and Humber have sufficient and consistent access to high-quality youth work provision. Investment in the Yorkshire and Humber regional Youth Work Unit is critical to support local areas in redeveloping youth services post lockdown to drive up quality.”

The report provides a comprehensive overview of existing research, reports and data, as well as qualitative insight into the perspectives of young people on the issues that are important to them – and calls for a longer-term plan for peer research to be included as an integral part of a regional youth work strategy.

William Solomon, one of the report’s young Peer Researchers, said: “Part of this report included young people to conduct research about an area we are passionate about. This report shines a light on the failings in the system, where we can do better and how society needs to change its attitude to youth work and young people. Youth work is incredibly important and consistently underappreciated.”

The Warren, a Youth Project based in Hull, have developed infographics and a film to provide an alternative way of presenting the research that is more accessible to young people.