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Funding for Youth Services

Volume 746: debated on Wednesday 28 February 2024

I beg to move,

That this House has considered trends in funding levels for youth services.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairship, Mr Twigg. The significance of good youth services for our young people’s development cannot be overstated. They provide essential building blocks for a full and rewarding life, a safe place, acceptance, guidance, friendship, physical and mental health support, academic support and employment skills. Youth services set young people up for a healthy, happy and confident life as part of communities across Britain, acting as an indispensable component of our national infrastructure. I have seen that at first hand in my constituency of Luton South. I want to say a huge thank you to everyone in Luton supporting our young people. They are a credit to our town and play such an important part in giving the best start in life to our young people.

Luton Council does an excellent job working with our voluntary and community sector to ensure that all young people enjoy their lives and reach their full potential. Whether it is the Scouts, the Guides, Tokko youth centre, the Centre for Youth and Community Development, Next Generation Youth Theatre, Youthscape, various cadets or sports clubs and our excellent music service, our young people have a variety of activities that they can get involved in.

That support and meaningful activities for young people have arguably never been needed more, with challenges such as loneliness and societal pressures stemming from the global health pandemic and the cost of living crisis making it harder for our young people to get on. In some cases, youth services are about ensuring that a young person is guided away from being drawn into gangs or other negative activities. However, more often than not, they are about nurturing the confidence, resilience and skills of our young people.

The benefits of well-resourced youth services are obvious for all to see, but rather than just reel off stats and facts, I want to use this opportunity to amplify our young people’s voices. Here are some testimonies of young people, as given to the YMCA, about the importance of youth services. Sam, 16, said:

“I wasn’t keen on the idea of attending a youth club at first, it was quite out of my comfort zone but since I started attending, I have grown in confidence and have begun speaking to people more often...Attending YMCA has made a real difference to my life.”

Rachel, 16, told YMCA:

“It was around a year ago that I started to struggle with anxiety and depression and at first, I did nothing. My older sister was already attending the youth club at YMCA and invited me along. I love it here. I feel very safe and supported in the company of the youth workers—they are very caring and always sit and talk with me when I feel upset or need to cry. Without YMCA, my mental health would be way worse as I would have no one to talk to and nothing to do.”

Idris, also 16, said:

“I suffer from anxiety and anger issues. I tried to battle it alone, but it didn’t work. A friend suggested I come to YMCA. I always have fun when I attend YMCA and it makes me feel really happy. It has helped me as I can take positive memories away from my time here and when I am feeling low, I can remember that I have Monday’s youth club to look forward to.”

There is no better testimony than from those who actually use the services and are reaping the benefit.

Unfortunately, today’s debate is an opportunity not just to sing the praises of our wonderful youth services, but to recognise the reality of a severely underfunded, under-supported sector that has been deprioritised by the Conservatives.

My hon. Friend has given fantastic examples of the importance of youth services and the work of the YMCA. Does she agree that one problem in society at the moment is that children in the more deprived communities are even less likely to be able to access the services that they need for the sort of support that she has described for her constituents?

My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. I wanted to have this debate so that we could press that point, particularly for constituencies similar to mine of Luton South.

After 14 years of the Conservatives cutting funding, local authorities are struggling under the substantial weight of funding pressures. Youth services are often one of the first services to be cut. Councils and councillors want to deliver high-quality youth services for young people, but the Conservatives have given them no choice. My local council, Luton, is a case in point: it has had £170 million cut from its budget since 2010.

The Local Government Association has stated that councils in England face a funding gap of £4 billion over the next two years just to keep services standing still. Significant budget pressures mean that there are few options available to maintain high-quality youth services. Children’s social care puts significant pressure on local authority finances, so general, more universal services for young people are compromised as the limited resources are targeted at ensuring that the young people most in need are kept safe and supported. It is a difficult decision that councillors of all party colours must make, but the Government are ultimately responsible, due to their swingeing cuts to local government finances.

I thank the hon. Lady for securing this important debate. My experience as a serving Somerset councillor is that investing in youth services is often seen as a preventive measure to address future social and economic issues. Somerset has seen an 80% reduction in real-terms spending on youth services over the past 12 years. Does the hon. Lady agree that cutting such services leads to higher costs associated with problems that could have been mitigated through early intervention and support for young people, and that local government needs to be adequately funded?

I thank the hon. Lady for making an excellent point. I absolutely agree, and I will address that later in my speech.

During the Conservatives’ time in office, youth organisations have fought to keep delivering great youth work, amid a £1.1 billion real-terms cut to local authority spending on youth services. I thank the YMCA and the National Youth Agency for their support in preparation for this debate. The YMCA’s “On the ropes” report found that drastic underfunding means that spending per head on youth services in England has suffered a real-terms cut of 75% since 2010-11, which means that it sits at £48 per five to 17-year-old. Although cuts have been significant across the board, there are clear regional funding inequalities. In 2022-23, the lowest spend per young person was in the west midlands, at £24, followed by the east of England and the south-east, at £38. In contrast, in London it is £69 and in Yorkshire and the Humber it is £71.

I am also concerned about the funding cuts to my constituency of Luton South since the Conservatives took power. The YMCA found that real-terms spending on youth services in Luton has been cut by 73%, with spend per young person sitting at £34.60. In the central Bedfordshire part of my constituency, spending per head for young people is £25.17—a 53% cut. Although passionate youth workers continue to battle to deliver high-quality support, many have had to leave the profession: there has been a 35% reduction in full-time equivalent youth workers employed by local authorities in England over the same period.

This should not have to be said, but all children, irrespective of background or geography, deserve high-quality youth services to support their development. After 14 years of the Conservatives, youth services are at breaking point, and too many young people have no access to youth services at all. Our voluntary and community sector has brilliantly stepped up to fill the gap left by the Conservative Government cuts, but that is not a long-term solution.

The physical and mental health support previously offered by youth services has been shifted on to schools and overworked, under-resourced teachers. Schools have their own pressures. According to National Education Union research, in Luton South per-pupil funding has been cut by £751 since the Conservatives took power—that is more than £14 million stripped from our school system. The case for greater resources for youth services is compelling. Youth work has proven, positive impacts on improving young people’s mental health and wellbeing, behaviour, engagement with education and attainment. Youth workers achieve life-changing outcomes for young people through intervention and prevention, building voluntary, trusted and educative relationships with the young people they support.

If the Minister needs to hear an economic case for youth services, for every pound the Government invest in youth work, the benefit to the taxpayer is between £3.20 and £6.40. Youth work saves £500 million annually by preventing incidents of antisocial behaviour, knife crime and other associated criminal justice costs, according to UK Youth and Frontier Economics. To pre-empt what the Minister might say in response about Government funding directed at specific youth club buildings: as welcome as any capital funding is, there is a pressing need for additional support for training and sustaining well-qualified youth workers. There is an absence of a co-ordinated strategy across Government Departments, leading to fragmented and insufficient funding for targeted youth services.

The YMCA has set out the following recommendations to support youth services. It mentions:

“sustained and long-term revenue funding to bolster universal and open-access youth services, catering to all young people throughout the year”,

a cross-departmental strategy for youth services,

“fostering a long-term vision for nationwide provision”,

and enforcing

“a duty on local authorities to ensure that all young people can access youth services in their respective areas, with necessary government support and resourcing.”

Will the Minister respond to each of those recommendations in his closing remarks?

I want the impact of this debate to be that the Minister, his officials and other Government Departments reflect on the true value of our youth services. I do not doubt that the Government recognise the good those services do in our community, but I ask that additional actions be taken to ensure that they receive the support they desperately need. Will the Minister outline what recent discussions he has had with colleagues in the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, the Department for Education and the Home Department about long-term resources for youth services? Will he also outline what steps the Government are taking to increase the number of full-time equivalent youth workers across the UK to ensure that all young people receive the support they deserve?

Labour recognises the need for a long-term, co-ordinated approach to revitalise the delivery of youth services. At our last party conference, we announced a 10-year programme to bring together services and communities to support young people, providing new youth mentors and mental health hubs in every community, and youth workers and pupil referral units in A&E, along with a programme of public sector reform to help to deliver that. Communities will come together to transform the lives of children, giving them the best possible start in life. Will the Minister explain why the Government have not implemented such a scheme during their 14-year tenure?

I look forward to hearing the contributions of Members from across the House. Together, we must continue to call for Government action to ensure that young people in our constituencies get the best possible start in life. That means supporting our local youth services and youth workers.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Twigg, I believe for the first time. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Luton South (Rachel Hopkins) on securing this important debate. It is a fact that, as a direct result of cuts, more young people are being enticed into crime, and we have seen a rise in antisocial behaviour across our communities. We have heard about the new YMCA report, which highlights the striking challenges in funding youth services. I have no doubt about the importance of those services for building young people’s confidence, resilience and skills.

Based in Darlington, Tees Valley YMCA plays a vital role in providing affordable housing and engaging youth programmes, and promoting overall community resilience. I pay tribute to it, and to other charities, churches and community groups that work with young people. Just as well that they do, because publicly funded services have been decimated by 14 years of Tory rule. Perhaps the fact that there are no Conservative Members here sitting behind the Minister to contribute to this debate illustrates where the Government and the Conservative party are when it comes to youth services.

The YMCA report shows that councils’ funding for youth services has been slashed by a real-terms average of 73% across England over the last 12 years, with an average of just £47.79 now being spent per child. The north-east has one of the lowest overall averages, at just £44. I am pleased to say that in Stockton-on-Tees the figure sits at £101.79 per child, but that is half what it was in 2012. In Redcar and Cleveland, it decreased by 79%, in Hartlepool by 84%, in Darlington by 89% and in Middlesborough by 94%. Meanwhile, in the City of London, average spending per young person is £493.67. Young people are our future, but the Government are not investing in them, particularly not in the north-east of England. Our young people are robbed of opportunities to learn, grow and, perhaps more importantly, play.

Between 2011-12 and 2022-23, the number of council youth centres in England fell by 53%, from 917 to 427. The number of council youth workers is down by 25%. Funding of youth services is not mandatory, and the localised nature of provision has meant a wide variation in spending on youth services across the country; I have already illustrated that. As reported in the Department for Education’s local authority and school expenditure for the 2022-23 financial year, local authorities increased expenditure on youth services by 3% in 2021-22, but that was easily swallowed up by inflation. Examining 2022-23 spending levels, the figures still represent a £1.1 billion real-terms reduction in local authority expenditure since 2010-11. In the north-east and the west midlands, for example, real-terms cuts over that time have exceeded 80%, while in Yorkshire and the Humber, the east midlands and the east of England, there have been cuts of more than two thirds, with a reduction of 68%.

In 2019, there was a debate on the Floor of the House on youth services. The Minister of the day, recognising similar concerns, spoke of what was being done to improve the situation for youth workers. She said:

“On training for youth workers, we will renew the youth work curriculum and national occupational standards. We will also renew the entry level qualifications into youth work, and I am pleased to announce today that we will establish a new level 3 youth work apprenticeship. We know that these are particularly valuable to frontline youth workers—paid workers and, importantly, volunteers—and we are doing this because we know the power of a trusted relationship between a young person and an appropriately trained adult. This can absolutely transform a young person’s life.”—[Official Report, 24 July 2019; Vol. 663, c. 1370.]

I ask the Minister of this day: how has all that gone? Have those things happened? Are the Government’s measures having the predicted impact? Sadly, I fear that there are no real positive answers to the questions I have posed this morning.

Youth services also play a vital role in tackling youth violence. In Home Office questions earlier this week, I told the House that

“Children as young as 12 are being”

paid “pocket money” by dealers in Stockton to

“deliver class A and class B drugs”—[Official Report, 26 February 2024; Vol. 746, c. 8.]

No one else is offering them anything, and they are in thrall to these criminals, who act with impunity. Less wealthy communities see more crime and are more likely to be victims, creating a disparity and inequality. With an average of 3,000 incidents of antisocial behaviour recorded every day, communities feel abandoned by authorities and increasingly unsafe.

The Youth Endowment Fund’s November 2023 report says:

“Many teenage children are changing their behaviour due to feeling unsafe, with 1 in 5 saying they’d skipped school, and most that commit violence are not getting the support they need.”

Another key finding was:

“Children whose parents made some of the most difficult changes in response to cost of living pressures had higher rates of victimisation. Victimisation rates were 31% among those now using foodbanks, 29% for those whose parents asked them to wear old clothes, 25% for those not allowed to go on school trips and 23% in households where parents skipped meals or reduced portion sizes.”

The report also says that

“48% of perpetrators of violence were also victims. This increases to 64% for children receiving free school meals, 81% for children in gangs and 87% for those who had contact with the police about a suspected offence.”

Importantly, the report also says:

“Only 16% of children who perpetrated violence were offered support or training to control their behaviour, meaning that 84% received no support”

whatsoever, and that

“more vulnerable children…were even less likely to receive support (12%)”.

I know that there is cross-party support for improving youth services in recognition of their impact, but after 14 years of the Conservatives the country needs change. They have failed on the economy, failed on public services, failed on living standards and failed our young people.

A report from the Select Committee on Levelling Up, Housing and Communities entitled “Financial distress in local authorities” has stressed that a fundamental review of local authority funding must take place following the next UK general election. Our young people cannot wait, though. They are being exploited now. They are being criminalised now; they are being bored into antisocial behaviour. The Government have failed them. We need that election now. We really need action for our young people.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Twigg. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Luton South (Rachel Hopkins) on introducing this absolutely fantastic and timely debate. I endorse her comments and those that my hon. Friend the Member for Stockton North (Alex Cunningham) just made, including the figures and statistics that he provided about the challenges that we have with our youth services and with what is happening to young people, especially from working-class and poorer communities. He described a picture very similar to what is happening in my constituency of Bolton South East, which, in the indices of social deprivation, is 38th in the country, so I genuinely thank him for the facts and figures that he highlighted. I will not repeat them, but I agree with everything that my two colleagues said.

Many other Members will touch on this later. We know that youth centres and places like them provide support to young people as safe places to socialise, develop and learn new skills and gain new experiences. In Bolton, we are blessed with many fantastic youth services that do amazing work, but they are all voluntary. I have seen at first hand how these groups allow children in Bolton to go on trips that they might not normally go on, as my hon. Friend the Member for Stockton North said, or to gain access to sports facilities, music and art equipment—an experience that they would not otherwise get.

We have national groups such as the YMCA and the Scouts, which are doing fantastic work in Bolton. The YMCA has just invested £6.1 million in its new Y-Pad building, which is providing community space and housing for young people leaving foster care. They are another group of young people whom we ignore massively; we do not have full and proper provision for them when they leave foster care. Those groups are filling gaps left by the cuts to local authority and Government budgets. We have also seen brilliant local services such as the Bolton Lads & Girls Club, Be The Change, in Farnworth, and Zac’s Youth Bar, in Kearsley. These services are driven by local need and run by dedicated volunteers.

These organisations and their volunteers help in combating antisocial behaviour and improving young people’s mental and physical health. Why, then, have we seen a stark reduction in their funding? The benefits of youth services are very clear. It is also clear that they are undervalued and have not been funded properly since 2010. In addition, as a result of covid, the levels of stress and mental health problems for young people have increased massively. Along with the elderly, they were one of the groups that in some respects suffered the most.

We need a sea change in the Government’s approach to youth services. Young people are a very easy target. We often hear that they are lazy, are glued to their Xbox, are social media addicts and other expressions of that nature, when we know that that is not correct. We need there to be safe outdoor and indoor spaces to enable young people to play sports, socialise and engage with the real world.

I thank the hon. Member for allowing my intervention. Volunteer-led Somerton library has recently been highlighted as excellent in a review of public libraries. It plays, as the hon. Member was suggesting, a crucial role in engaging young people. However, the national crisis in local authorities’ finances will threaten the future provision of libraries in places around the country, such as Somerton. Does she agree that this is a vital service, and that we need to ensure that our local authorities are adequately funded to provide those crucial services for young people and wider communities?

I totally agree with the hon. Lady. We need properly funded youth services because they are the key to unlock the potential of many young people, especially in communities like mine. The young are our future. Most of us here are heading towards retirement—well, some are. We need young people to be the workers providing for us in 10, 15, and 20 years’ time. We need to invest in them because they are our future. If we do not want to do it for a moral reason, let us do it because of straightforward economic reality. We need good young people who have been trained properly and educated, and are able to look after themselves and contribute to our society.

I will end on one particular aspect of youth services. Throughout my life as a barrister practising in criminal law, I dealt with many young people coming through the criminal justice system. A lot of them had problems within their families, or were subject to violence or abuse, and had an addiction problem. Over the past 10 years or so, we have seen a massive reduction in provision for rehabilitation centres for drug and alcohol intoxication. At the moment, trying to get a place in drug or alcohol rehab can take months and months. I ask the Government to look at this, because when some young people unfortunately end up in the criminal justice system, it is often because of an addiction to alcohol and drugs. There are not facilities at the other end to help wean them off this drug and alcohol addiction. I hope the Minister is listening to us, and I hope that we get some real commitment to providing funding to youth services and to tackling the issues of drug and alcohol rehabilitation centres.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairship, Mr Twigg. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Luton South (Rachel Hopkins) on securing this debate. I do not think there is enough chance to talk about youth services in our parliamentary debates, so I am really glad to have this opportunity. Youth work is so important, and I am surprised not to see more Members here—there are no Members here from the Conservative party except for the Minister. It is an issue for all our constituents throughout the country.

I would like to pay tribute to some of the youth work that goes on in my constituency: Regenerate; Group 64 at the Putney Arts Theatre; Free2B for LGBTQ+ young people; the many church youth workers we have; the Ahmadiyya youth movement; the Girl Guides, Brownies, and Scouts; sea cadets; sports clubs; SW15 Music, which provides affordable music lessons; and Love to Learn, where I used to work, which provides youth work for children from an asylum-seeking refugee background. I also pay tribute to Wandsworth Council and all the youth workers, especially in Roehampton Base, for all the amazing work they do with our young people in increasingly difficult circumstances. I will focus on those difficult circumstances today.

In the 1990s, I was a youth worker. I worked for the Methodist Association of Youth Clubs, working with young people across the country. I have been a passionate advocate for youth services since then, because I saw the essential work that youth workers do to enable access to skills, mental health support, and support for families and good relationships. It can be a safe space to boost self-esteem, have fun, try out challenges and skills, and potentially help young people see a different future from the one they have around them, because they are meeting up with other young people and having a range of experiences.

Regenerate is a fantastic youth work centre in my constituency, and it describes a stool with three legs—families, school and informal youth work. We need all three of those legs, but I feel that currently one of those legs has been cut off. We have been hearing the statistics from other Members. According to reports by the National Youth Agency and the YMCA, youth services have been cut by an astonishing 73% since 2010. Annual spending has dropped by £1 billion and 4,500 qualified youth workers have been lost from the frontline. In London, over £240 million was cut from youth services budgets between 2011 and 2021, and those cuts continue. Half of young people across the country do not have access to a youth service and do not know what is available in their area. Where voluntary and community groups have sought to fill that void, there is a crisis in volunteer recruitment, which was made worse by the pandemic, with a shortfall of at least 40,000 adult volunteers.

That amounts to 14 long years of our young people being let down. There is no more damning indictment of 14 years of Conservative cuts than the closed and decaying Alton and Roehampton youth club buildings in the middle of one of the most deprived estates in Wandsworth and in London. Every day, we walk past a building where there used to be a youth club, but it is sitting there completely closed. Youth workers I have spoken to said they had built up great relationships and trust with local families that cannot be rebuilt quickly, if at all. It is going to take a long time to rebuild our youth services.

The Government cannot talk about social mobility and levelling up without also talking about supporting youth services. Not only have they failed to invest in youth services and community spaces dedicated to them, but their approach is fragmented and unco-ordinated. The Home Office funds some youth services aimed at reducing violent crime. The Department for Work and Pensions commissions some employment-focused youth programmes. The Department for Culture, Media and Sport funded some of the building of new youth centres.

There does not seem to be a streamlined strategy to look at this in the round. Add in all the cuts to local government, and there is a perfect storm of failure of our young people. There should be a streamlined strategy to ensure a base level of universal open-access youth services. Young people must be a priority; it is imperative that the Government act to prevent missed opportunities for young people to get the support they need, from which we all benefit as a society.

The real-world impact of the cuts and patchwork approach to provision of youth services is damning. Some 24% of young respondents to a recent survey by the youth charity OnSide reported that they do not have a safe space to go where they feel they belong. With nowhere else to turn, and without the guidance, encouragement and mentoring that young people crave and youth workers are excellent at providing, they are abandoned to those who do not have their best interests at heart, and often make bad decisions, lacking the support they need to stop crime and antisocial behaviour in our communities.

As the all-party parliamentary group on knife crime made it clear in a report, each reduction in the number of youth centres corresponds to an increase in knife crime. Research by the University of Warwick bears that out. It found that crime participation among 10 to 15-year-olds increased by 10% in those London boroughs most affected by youth centre closures between 2010 and 2019. Those cuts have mental health and skills costs, because they have gone hand in hand with cuts to careers advisers in schools, and they have a social cost. They have a deep economic cost, too, because youth work saves £500 million of public spending through crime reduction alone.

Instead of letting down yet another generation of young people, Labour has a plan. Young Futures will be a new cross-Government national programme aimed at giving Britain’s young people the best start in life. Each community will be offered a Young Futures hub, which I cannot wait to see opened in my constituency. They will bring together mental health specialists, youth workers and neighbourhood police officers to finally give young people the start in life they deserve but have been missing for far too long.

There is a serious crisis in youth work, caused by years of cuts and of not valuing youth work, youth workers and young people. That has stopped young people achieving their potential. Youth work reduces crime and enables access to skills, engagement in education, good relationships and whole-family support. It improves mental health, physical health and, yes, happiness. Action must be taken to value and invest in youth services.

At the end of my speeches in this Chamber, I normally say to the Minister, “Please can we hear your plan?” However, I do not believe that he will have a good plan, so I can only hope for a Labour Government to start changing our youth service investment as soon as possible.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairship, Mr Twigg. I place it on the record that my husband is the chair of YMCA Liverpool, which is a non-paid role. I pay tribute to all the organisations and volunteers who provide youth services in my constituency of Liverpool, Wavertree and the city of Liverpool, in particular Harthill Youth Centre, which does incredibly innovative work in my constituency.

I also pay tribute to my good friend, my hon. Friend the Member for Luton South (Rachel Hopkins), who spoke eloquently about the desperate need to reinvest in youth services. I agree with her that we must nurture the confidence, skills and resilience of our young people and ensure that they get the best start in life.

Austerity has been a political con, and we live with its consequences today. We see them everywhere in our communities and in our public sector’s depleted resilience. Our children and young adults have borne the brunt more than most. The economic decisions taken post 2010, particularly between 2010 and 2015, have gutted the ability of the state to help people to help themselves. Local authorities have become beleaguered vessels of the British state: owning nothing, running nothing and commissioning everything—and very little at that. In the bonfire of austerity, young people and the services they relied on were always the most expendable for the coalition Government.

The record of the last Labour Government on children and young adults is a proud one. The likes of Sure Start and the Connexions service were truly radical ideas, which showed the value of a social democratic Government that prioritised the needs of future generations.

In the late 2000s and in government, the Conservative party droned on and on about dependency and waste in the public sector. That was rather insulting for those, like me, who worked in local government at the time. The rhetoric never matched the reality of the well-funded services that my colleagues and I worked hard to deliver. Youth services were about career advice, housing support, assistance for those with learning disabilities and so much more besides. They were about social inclusion, removing barriers, and helping young adults to get into education or training in a post-industrial society in which a job in the local factory was no longer guaranteed.

The economic vandalism of austerity was most pronounced in our cities. I suppose it was those pesky Labour funding formulas that, according to the Prime Minister, used to stuff all the money into deprived areas rather than into the likes of Royal Tunbridge Wells. According to the YMCA, the cuts have meant that Liverpool City Council has lost 86% of its youth service provision since 2010. That has brought its spending to just under £40 for each young person. In comparison, the Prime Minister’s North Yorkshire constituency can spend over double that: £89 per young person. This is not about playing one area off against another, but those numbers betray the fact that this Government have no regard for and no interest in equality of opportunity, despite all their claims to the contrary. Young people in Liverpool, and across all our cities and towns, deserve better.

Behind those numbers is an entire generation of young people who are blissfully unaware of what they have lost and what their predecessors were afforded. Whether they are gen Z or millennial—or, indeed, just under the age of 40—our people know that for 14 years they have been subject to a Government whose ability to cement intergenerational inequality has never been surpassed, with no youth clubs or youth services, violent crime up, social isolation, a lack of mental health provision, tuition fees trebled, no homes, a housing crisis, people unable to afford to buy or rent, minimum wage discrimination, no action on the gig economy, precarious work, underemployment, and a low-wage economy. The age-old offer that each generation will have it better than the last is in the dustbin, and now we have the grim spectacle of over 136,000 of our young people homeless, with nowhere else to go. There is no plan to tackle the scourge of youth homelessness that the likes of Centrepoint and the New Horizon Youth Centre in north London are calling for.

The cuts to youth services and youth provision have been the tip of the iceberg for the prevailing attitude that many politicians do not care about young people. The young people of the noughties have gone on to become the 30 and 40-year-olds waiting so very keenly to vote in this year’s election, and they, like the people in my home city of Liverpool, have exceptionally long memories. The same will no doubt be true of gen Z, who will not have any reference point for the likes of Connexions or the importance of the youth club and youth workers in their local communities, but they are angry for other reasons. Quite frankly, they have every right to be.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Twigg. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Luton South (Rachel Hopkins) for securing this important debate and highlighting this key issue, which all of our constituents are facing.

I would like to start by paying tribute to what the voluntary sector is doing in my area—but it is just not enough. I grew up in Birmingham, where youth services were a lifeline for many young people. Those services provided lifetime friendships. They were a place to keep warm, eat, do homework, play, listen to music or just talk; a place to help young people develop cooking skills; a place to think, read or just have time alone, if that was what you wanted to do. Those places do not exist today. Young people are locked in bedrooms on their computers through no fault of their own. It is undoubtedly one of the hardest times in history to be a young person. They have lived through the covid pandemic, they are struggling with the cost of living, and they are unable to afford to rent or buy. That is why it is vital that we invest in youth services and support.

Since the last Labour Government, real-terms spending on youth services has fallen by 73%, which equates to £1.1 billion lost. Since 2011, youth services operated by local authorities have reduced by 53%, and since 2012 there has been a 35% reduction in full-time equivalent youth workers employed by local authorities in England. At the same time, and under the same Tory Government, child poverty has soared. It is shameful that 4.2 million children are now growing up in poverty in the UK. That is nine children in a classroom of 30 who are growing up without consistent access to warm homes, a warm dinner or a warm coat.

Like many colleagues here, I have been contacted by numerous constituents about how their children are facing the cost of living crisis. One contacted me as her disability means that she cannot walk her children to school, and the school is not able to assist with pick-ups. As a single parent, all her income goes on paying for a house that leaks, rising gas and energy bills, and a high premium on her car insurance. She is constantly cut off by the gas supplier, which takes days to switch the gas back on after she has spent ages on the phone to it. She uses her local food bank, as she spends all she has trying to keep her home warm. It is a sad fact that that case is not unique to Erdington, let alone the rest of the UK. Each of those circumstances is a reason why constituents like mine need access to better funded child services to give them the support they so desperately need.

In 2021-22—I know more recent figures were highlighted earlier—the west midlands was the region where the least was spent on young people’s services. In that region an average of £33 was spent on every young person aged 11 to 19, compared with a figure of £77 in the east midlands. Eight councils since 2018 have issued a section 114 notice, signifying severe financial distress.

The Tories have wrecked our economy and plunged Britain into recession, and it is left to underfunded councils to pick up the pieces. It is therefore welcome that the Government’s response to their youth review provided further details on plans to level up and expand access to youth provision through a youth guarantee. However, people in my community know those promises too well. It seems that everywhere the Government promise to level up gets left behind, including in communities such as Erdington, Kingstanding and Castle Vale. Make no mistake: people in constituencies across the country will be holding the Government to their pledges—they are what children in our communities deserve.

Labour has a plan to break down the barriers to opportunity for young people, and child poverty reduction specialists are at the heart of our plans to support people from every background. There is absolutely no question of the value of youth services; they provide huge amounts of support and care for young people across the country. They need to be funded properly, sustained over the long term, and made accessible to everyone regardless of their background. Our young people deserve the best, which is what they will get under a Labour Government. I am confident of that.

It is an honour to serve under your chairmanship this morning, Mr Twigg. I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Luton South (Rachel Hopkins); she made a really good speech, as did all her colleagues who followed, and she has secured a debate on this really important topic.

Funding for youth services has experienced a downward trend, and that has been the case for a couple of generations. That trend in funding is a representation of a trend in the priority and value that society gives youth services. They are Cinderella services—local authorities of all colours often think youth services are the part of the budget for young people that they can cut most easily. It is easier to cut funding for those services than, for example, cutting funding for school provision and other forms of formal education.

At central Government level, youth services are not seen as significant or important enough, but the importance of youth work cannot be overstated. They provide a vital third space between home and school where young people can feel safe and experience new things to expand their horizons. The trend in the reduction of the provision of youth services around the country matches trends of increasing criminality and mental health crises among young people. I am not saying there is an absolute direct correlation, but there are massive links between the two.

When we are looking at a mental health crisis—and I think that we are at the moment—investing in something that builds the resilience of young people so that they can deal with the stuff that life throws at us when we are young, and not so young, is of enormous value. I am sure somebody has tried, but it is hard to put a price on the financial savings for the criminal justice system when young people are led into areas that are profitable—away from a life of crime and into one where they make a useful contribution to their communities. Youth services also provide a place where people can develop role models that may not be available in the home. Over the last two generations, there has been a slow decline in youth work, largely because its importance has been belittled, but when big financial shocks come, such as the 2008 financial crisis, it is the last thing to be saved. There is a reason why: too many people at the centre of Government and local government do not value it enough. Others have alluded to this.

I chaired and helped to run a youth club in my village just before I became an MP, when I was a local councillor in the village of Milnthorpe. One thing I picked up on was that the kids who do not come are the ones who actually need it. All the stats prove that people who come from relatively comfortable and well-to-do backgrounds have a much greater chance of attending some kind of youth organisation, whether to do sports or music club or whether that is one of the uniformed organisations. That is great; it is fantastic to have parents who have the time and the resource to encourage kids to do that and it is fantastic to be in social circles where that is the norm. The reality is that youth work fills the gap for so many people who do not have those opportunities. When youth work is in decline, those who miss out are the young people from the poorest backgrounds—always, always, always. The value that we can provide for younger people who come from more difficult backgrounds by providing decent youth work in those communities is absolutely enormous.

A couple of things occurred to me when we put together the Milnthorpe youth group 20-odd years ago. This was a setting where there was not a lot of public intervention; this was the early noughties, so there was probably more than there is now but certainly less than there had been previously. One of the issues we found was that we needed to be realistic in our ambition. To raise the money for a new youth centre, lots of kit and lots of staff would have held us up and taken us months, if not years, to achieve. We had low ambition and that allowed us to get good outcomes quite quickly.

We brought in a team of 20 volunteers and then tapped into organisations that already existed. Back then, the organisation we tapped into was Crusaders, now known as Urban Saints, which is the Church of England’s youth wing. It was absolutely invaluable to us. That it is a reminder that, today, after a period of cutbacks over many years, so much provision comes through faith groups of different kinds around the country. That is partly out of necessity because of the way in which the state has withdrawn to a large degree from this area, and partly because those people are motivated to provide that provision because of their faith. I hope that one thing we have learned from how much we relied on faith provision during the pandemic, not just for youth work, is that local authorities, health commissioners and central Government should be less sniffy about youth provision and be celebrating those people who, because of what they believe, work so hard at providing for those in their communities, including young people.

There are people who have spoken in this debate who represent areas far more deprived than mine, but one of the challenges that we face in our communities is rurality and the dispersed nature of populations. It is said that it takes a village to raise a child. That is kind of difficult if the village has been hollowed out and is full of second homes, and there is not that much community left to support young people. There is then the issue of the distance people need to travel to get from where they live to where their nearest youth provision is.

The lack of genuinely affordable housing and investment in social housing is a major problem in an area such as ours and around other parts of the country as well, as is public transport. I give absolute credit to the Government for the £2 bus fare—but a fat lot of good that is if there is no bus to spend it on. We need to make sure that we are investing in public transport and new routes in communities to connect young people to the provision nearest to them.

Housing and the cost of living is an extra burden for us in Westmorland, because trying to recruit youth workers to a place where the average house price is 11 or 12 times the average salary will not attract people. Westmorland and Furness Council does a brilliant job in offering fantastic free youth worker training, which helps to upskill people and bring them into the sector, but if people cannot afford to live in these communities they simply will not take up those jobs and provide the support that we desperately need.

What funding there is—this issue is mentioned by lots of youth providers around my constituency, both voluntary and full-time providers—is so often short-term. Youth providers can spend all their time applying for funds. For example, talk to the people who run Kirkby Stephen Youth Centre, which is absolutely amazing. So much of their time is spent chasing the next round of funding, the next short-term bid, rather than being able to rely on core funding that would enable them to serve the young people in their care. If every pot that people bid for is only for three years at most, there is a constant worry. Providers might build up relationships, as colleagues have already mentioned, and do wonderful work, but then it ends, just because that pot has dried up and funding has moved on to the next thing. And that is the situation at best.

I chair the steering group of the Kendal Youth Matters project, which came about because two or three years ago the police approached me as they were deeply concerned about young people in the town of Kendal, the largest town in our area, who were at risk of becoming involved with criminality and were not in training, education or work; indeed, some of them were too young to be in a position to make choices about those things. The police asked what could be done to reach out to those young people, on the understanding that very often the kids who do not go to youth provision are the ones who desperately need it the most.

I say a massive thank you to everybody who has been involved in the Kendal Youth Matters project, including different organisations, businesses, charities and youth workers, and in particular Brathay, which runs the outdoor education centre based near Ambleside. Its staff do a wonderful job in their day jobs, so to speak, by providing outdoor education provision for young people from the most difficult parts of the UK, giving them outstanding—indeed, life-changing—experiences in the heart of the Lake district. And their doing that work now for kids in Kendal has been an enormous blessing and an enormous advantage for us.

What we have been able to do through the Youth Matters project is to provide a regular base for young people in the centre of town, in order to bring forward existing and bespoke youth provision: ski club, climbing wall and uniformed groups. Some of these things already existed; other things were specifically created. The funding has mostly gone on detached youth workers to get out there and proactively find the kids who would benefit the most. If we just open the doors, frankly, only the middle-class kids will turn up. We need to go out and look for the kids who would benefit the most. So I say an enormous thank you to Brathay and everybody involved with it.

There are so many other groups as well in Kendal: Kendal Youth Zone, Kendal Lads and Lasses Club and all the other outfits that offer wonderful provision in Kendal. I have mentioned the Kirkby Stephen Youth Centre and there are things going on in the Kent estuary as well. However, places such as Windermere, Appleby and Ambleside lack such provision. It is because we rely so much on the voluntary sector that we depend on having people in the right place.

There is undoubtedly a mental health crisis. During my time in Parliament, the thing that I have noticed the most is the spiralling numbers of young people suffering from tragic mental health crises. The impact on them and their families is literally heartbreaking. I want us to provide support through child and adolescent mental health services that we are not able to provide at the moment; the investment in CAMHS is woeful. Why are we not spending more money and focusing more on investing earlier, so that we build the resilience of young people in ways that mean when a crisis comes, they are much more able to sustain themselves? We put effort into stopping people smoking and getting people to do physical exercise, so that they remain physically well, so why are we not investing in the same way in the things that we know will keep people mentally well throughout their lives, which undoubtedly start with youth work?

Before I come to a conclusion—I promise—I will say another quick word. I take advantage of the fact that I am among colleagues from the Labour party and a Minister from the Conservative party by making a plea—both in this place and, using colleagues’ contacts and colleagues, in the Senedd in Wales and in the Scottish Parliament. Sam Rowlands, a Member of the Welsh Senedd, and Liz Smith, a Member of the Scottish Parliament—they are both Conservatives as it happens, but please don’t hold that against them—and I are all presenting private Members’ Bills that seek to make outdoor education residential trips a guaranteed and funded opportunity for young people at primary and secondary schools. In that way, we could connect people with the outdoors, build their resilience and do those things for them that we know outdoor education does so well for everybody, and not just for those schools and kids who can afford it. I encourage Members here to encourage their comrades in both the Senedd and the Scottish Parliament to back those Bills, and I encourage the Minister to back my Bill in this place.

Finally, I have been involved in youth work in a voluntary capacity for a couple of decades or more now. I know that one of the dangers—probably second only to the lack of funding—is patronising people. We end up with people in their fifties designing youth programmes. It is so important that young people co-design new youth facilities. We should let them choose and let them come up with answers so that the provision meets their needs. A lot of what we are doing in the Youth Matters project is about connecting people to training and work so that there is real hope for the future.

Youth work is an investment. It is always seen, as I say, as the least important thing—the thing that gets cut first—yet the value to our society, the individuals, their families and our wider community is immense. Let us reprioritise youth work. It will pay us back in droves.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairship this morning, Mr Twigg. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Luton South (Rachel Hopkins) on securing the debate and on her excellent speech setting out the value of youth services and the devastating funding situation they face. I also thank all Members who have made the powerful case for youth services and paid tribute to those who provide them.

Over 85% of a young person’s waking hours are spent outside of school and formal education. Young people tell us that they want somewhere to go, something to do and someone to talk to. The importance of youth services and the value that they bring to young people, particularly those in disadvantaged communities, is widely acknowledged. YMCA talks about youth services as

“a vital resource for building young people’s confidence, resilience, and skills.”

The National Youth Agency says:

“Youth work has proven impacts on improving young people’s mental health and wellbeing, behaviour, engagement with education and attainment.”

I know we have all visited local youth clubs and heard from young people themselves about how youth services and youth workers have changed their lives. Members have rightly highlighted the many community, voluntary and faith organisations in their constituencies that are working to support young people. Their work is invaluable in every part of the country.

The Department for Culture, Media and Sport also recognises the importance of youth services. Its statutory guidance to local authorities, issued last September, states:

“Recreational and educational leisure-time activities can have a significant effect on young people’s development and well-being….Those activities can…support them to build their skills…improve trust and tolerance…help them become active members of society…champion their voice.”

We do not believe that youth services matter just because people tell us they matter: there is a wealth of evidence that demonstrates their positive impact. A Dutch longitudinal study highlighted the positive impact of youth work on socially vulnerable young people. Those who were recipients of youth work support for more than six months had significantly more extensive support from their social network, participated more in society, such as by volunteering, developed better social skills and had higher self-esteem. “Better Together”, the National Youth Agency’s 2023 independent review of youth work with schools, found that youth workers can support schools by:

“Engaging or re-engaging young people in learning and school, reducing exclusions and persistent absenteeism, and improving their wider wellbeing.”

It is well recognised that youth work can play an important role in preventing and reducing crime, including serious violence. A study by Carmen Villa-Llera at the University of Warwick’s Economics Observatory project the found that the closure of youth centres in London led to a 10% increase in crime among 10 to 15-year-olds and that young people in the affected areas were 12% more likely to be suspended from school. In 2020, the all-party parliamentary group on child criminal exploitation and knife crime found that a reduction in the number of youth centres corresponded to an increase in knife crime.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Luton South highlighted, 2022 research by UK Youth and Frontier Economics found that for every £1 that the Government invest in youth work, the benefit to the taxpayer is between £3.20 and £6.40, and that youth work saves £500 million annually by preventing incidents of knife crime and antisocial behaviour and other associated criminal justice costs. I think that is the number the hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Tim Farron) hoped someone had calculated.

Again, as the Department’s own statutory guidance states:

“Young people’s involvement in such activities can also make an important contribution to other objectives, such as economic, social and environmental improvements, community cohesion, safer and stronger neighbourhoods, better health and increased educational attainment and employment.”

That is precisely why it is so important that youth services are properly resourced and that every young person has the opportunity to access them, and why this debate is so necessary and timely. As we have heard, since 2010 local councils’ expenditure on youth services, whether delivered directly or in partnership with charities and voluntary organisations, has been cut to the bone. There has been a £1 billion real-terms cut in spending by local authorities in England, which the House of Commons Library briefing confirms

“have most of the responsibility for providing youth services, but are not obliged to fund them.”

It would be easy to say that youth services have been decimated, but that would be massively underplaying the scale of the reduction. As we have heard, funding has been cut not by a tenth but, as the National Youth Agency reports, by 73%, with more than 4,500 youth work jobs lost and hundreds of youth centres closed. As the financial crisis in local authorities intensifies, youth services face still deeper cuts. The National Youth Agency found that a third of local authorities reduced their youth provision spend between 2021-22 and 2022-23, with Worcestershire spending zero in that year. It is reported that Kent County Council is planning to cut its entire youth offer from April.

Youth work now faces historic national underinvestment. As the YMCA reports, half of young people do not have access to a youth service or do not know what is available in their area. The reduction in funding has very real consequences for young people and society more broadly, because it is entirely short-sighted and counter-productive. The small savings that may be made initially will always be outweighed by the loss of facilities, damage to young people’s social development and far higher costs that result from an increased need for additional interventions. As the Department itself explicitly acknowledges:

“Not securing such leisure-time activities can mean young people miss out on opportunities to reach their full potential. Those activities can act as a supportive measure that can prevent costly interventions later on. This is true for all young people but is particularly important for the most disadvantaged and vulnerable young people who might need specific, additional, or early support.”

It is not like the Government do not know exactly what is going on.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Mrs Hamilton) noted, the savage cut to youth services has coincided with an unprecedented increase in the challenges faced by young people. There is a mental health emergency with, according to the NHS, as many as one in five children and young people in England having a probable mental health disorder; there is rising social isolation and loneliness; and there are serious problems with school attendance, with one in five pupils persistently absent, according to the Office for National Statistics.

There is a growing risk of online harms, particularly as the possibilities of artificial intelligence increase exponentially; a cost of living crisis and financial worries; and, as my hon. Friends the Members for Stockton North (Alex Cunningham) and for Bolton South East (Yasmin Qureshi) spelled out, the risk of exploitation and crime, with too many young people carrying knifes and county lines and gang conflicts affecting too many young people where they live. These challenges demand more, not less, investment in youth services, but it needs to be effective investment.

The Department for Culture, Media and Sport is promising to level up and expand access through its “youth guarantee”, but it is doubtful whether that can begin to fill the gap left by more than a decade of cuts. Where the Government have provided funding for youth services, it has been mostly in the form of funding for capital costs or short-term initiatives and pilot programmes. The hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale highlighted the extra drain on voluntary organisations, which have to constantly bid to secure new funding.

The lack of sustainable, long-term support for universal youth work services means that providers do not have enough funding for the staffing and other resources they need to deliver youth services. In my city of Nottingham, as in many others, we have youth centres lying empty. As my hon. Friend the Member for Putney (Fleur Anderson) said, the Government’s approach to youth services is fragmented and unco-ordinated, with the Home Office, the Department for Work and Pensions, DCMS and DLUHC operating in silos.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Paula Barker) reminded us, it was not always this way and it does not have to be. Last October, Labour announced our plan for a national network of Young Futures hubs to bring local services together, deliver support for teenagers at risk of being drawn into crime or facing mental health challenges, and, where appropriate, provide universal, open-access youth services. It will be a major reform that focuses on prevention rather than sticking-plaster policies. It will bring together services and communities to support young people and ensure that they all have access to the opportunities they need to thrive and get ready for work and life.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Twigg. I thank the hon. Member for Luton South (Rachel Hopkins) for securing this important debate, and all other Members for their extremely passionate contributions.

I recognise the importance of youth services. As the hon. Member for Nottingham South (Lilian Greenwood) said, more than 85% of a young person’s waking hours are spent outside school, and it is during that time that thousands of youth workers and volunteers make a tremendous difference to young people’s lives. The unique nature of youth services—one that builds a long-term, voluntary relationship with a trusted adult—is incredibly important. Youth services have been proven to have positive impacts on young people’s wellbeing, confidence, social skills, political awareness and citizenship, and they can help with the development of specific skills.

I am glad that a number of Members mentioned our important work on loneliness. As the Minister responsible, I know how important it is that we look at loneliness, particularly for young people. In fact, this week—it may even be today—we are launching our latest campaign, which is targeted at helping young people who are particularly affected by loneliness. We are particularly looking at the issue of stigma; loneliness is part of life, and it is fine for somebody to admit that they are feeling lonely and seek help.

Last year, I had the privilege to visit the Lift youth centre in Islington, where I saw at first hand how transformational youth services can be. I spoke to youth workers who had previously attended the youth centre themselves and were so inspired by their own youth workers that they had entered the profession themselves. I also spoke to a number of young people, who definitely put me to the test when it came to table tennis. They told me that the youth centre gave them a safe space to meet friends, try new activities and speak to trusted adults. The impact of such activities, safe spaces and trusted relationships cannot be underestimated.

Ensuring that all young people have access to youth services is a top priority for me and the Secretary of State, but before I turn to the details of Government funding, it is important that I set out the wider context. A wide range of youth services operate in this country, funded from a wide variety of sources. UK Youth estimates that there are 8,500 organisations involved in delivering youth services, with a total expenditure of up to £2 billion. I thank them all for what they do. In addition, much of the funding delivered through our public bodies, such as Sport England, Arts Council England and the National Lottery Community Fund, benefits young people, although it is not formally counted as youth service spending.

I am a big fan of what the lottery has achieved in so many parts of the country, and it supports many sports clubs in my constituency. Despite those clubs’ work and outreach, many of the most vulnerable children never get the opportunity to go to them, and nor can they afford the small subs. Does the Minister agree that we need greater outreach from clubs that are benefiting from the money that we all spend occasionally on a lottery ticket?

The hon. Gentleman makes an important point, which I was going to come to later but will touch on now. One of the important things we are doing in the Department is our sports and physical activity strategy, which looks specifically at people who are not particularly active or engaging. We have established a taskforce that brings together the national governing bodies of various sports, which have a huge network that includes grassroots sports organisations up and down the country. The taskforce will see what more we can do to reach those who are not participating for a variety of reasons, one of which may be the cost.

As colleagues have said, local authorities play a key part in delivering youth services. That is reflected in their statutory duty to provide sufficient leisure time activities and facilities in line with local needs. Some areas have faced challenges in meeting that duty. In recognition of the pressures, the local government settlement was increased to more than £64 billion this year, and an additional £500 million will be dedicated to ensuring the continued provision of crucial services and early intervention for communities, in particular for children and young people.

We are also committed to ensuring that disadvantaged young people have holidays that are full of experiences and opportunities. We are providing £200 million a year to local authorities and their local partners through the holiday activities and food programme. Through our reforms to social care and family help, the Government are investing in new approaches that will see spending rebalanced towards more preventive measures. I want youth services to contribute to and benefit from those reforms.

We are also taking further steps to support local authorities to uphold their duty. As was mentioned, we recently updated the statutory guidance that underpins the duty for local youth service provision so that we can support local authorities to better understand their duty and how to deliver it. We are also funding a peer review programme, which provides local authorities with the opportunity to learn from each other and share best practice. By working alongside organisations in the community and voluntary organisations, local authorities can secure high-quality youth provision that meets the needs of the young people in their areas. The programme is working especially well in areas that have developed local youth partnerships, which we are continuing to support.

I am keen to find solutions to some of the problems that have been highlighted today. That is why I recently met with the Young People’s Foundation Trust, which brings all the local organisations together and does joint bids for grants. That eases the burdens mentioned by the hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Tim Farron). I want to roll that work out, so that we have effective local provision.

I do not doubt the Minister’s personal commitment to youth services, but I ask him gently what conversations he has had with his opposite number in the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities. It is not as if local authorities do not understand the value of youth work or do not want to provide youth services. It is that they simply cannot do so: so much of their funding is now directed to statutory services for social care, child protection and homelessness that they do not have the money to provide the services that we desperately need.

I have regular conversations with colleagues in the Department for Levelling Up. That is why I was mentioning the local youth partnership work. The response from local authorities up and down the country to the updated guidance we gave them was very positive, and in some areas the sharing of best practice is going extremely well. I want the valuable work of bringing people together to share best practice to be rolled out across the country.

We also have an ambitious goal: our national youth guarantee that, by 2025, every young person will have access to regular out-of-school activities, adventures away from home and opportunities to volunteer. That came as a direct request from young people themselves; we contacted thousands of young people to ask them what their top priorities were, and those were the ones. That is why we are investing over £500 million in services to deliver that ambition, which builds on a £1 billion investment in England since 2015. Our funding is designed to complement the existing provision that local authorities and dedicated voluntary and community organisations are already providing.

We want to level up opportunities and ensure that every young person has somewhere to go, someone to talk to and something to do, as the hon. Member for Nottingham South said. We are creating and redeveloping up to 300 youth facilities through the youth investment fund. More than £250 million has already gone out of the door, supporting 226 organisations, to give thousands more young people access to opportunities in their community. We have also reformed the National Citizen Service programme into a year-round offer, with 120,000 young people taking part last year and thousands more already taking part this year.

We recognise the benefits of greater join-up between formal education and the youth sector. We are working with the Department for Education to expand access to the Duke of Edinburgh award in schools and communities across the country. More than 400 new organisations have already started delivering the programme, giving more than 30,000 young people the opportunity to challenge themselves, support their communities and learn new skills.

In addition, we are supporting uniformed youth organisations to recruit more volunteers, as has rightly been mentioned during the debate, to increase their capacity sustainably. More than 7,500 young people already have a new place in an existing group or one of the new 250 groups we have helped to establish. We are also supporting more than 10,000 young people to take part in outdoor learning that supports their personal development, through the adventures away from home fund.

I suspect the Minister is coming towards the end of his speech. I am concerned that we have all on this side raised the link between youth services and crime, so will the Minister address that before he sits down?

I will certainly come to that in a minute. It pre-empts the rest of my speech, but I am happy to take that intervention, as I have reached that point now. Many hon. Members have raised issues of antisocial behaviour and crime. There were interesting points about addiction services; I will raise that with colleagues in the Home Office and the Department of Health and Social Care.

In partnership with the National Lottery Community Fund, we are providing £22 million to youth organisations to deliver additional hours of support and positive activities for young people in areas where they may be at risk of antisocial behaviour. We have already invested £3.7 million of the million hours fund, supporting more than 400 youth organisations. We are also continuing to invest in the #iwill fund, to create around 60,000 opportunities for young people to make a difference in their communities through social action.

We recognise that some young people need additional support to reach their potential. That is why we are investing in dedicated programmes, where youth workers build that trusted relationship with a young person, helping to steer them along the right path. We have put £2.5 million towards disadvantaged children and young people accessing green spaces.

I welcome all funding for youth services, but will the Minister accept that this is a piecemeal, project-by-project approach rather than a place-based strategy that asks what young people in one area have access to? A more joined-up strategy for youth services is required.

I will come on to further work that we are doing. The hon. Lady is right, which is why I am listening to those areas that have joined together and are working in the same direction, rather than trying to find different pots of money and struggling. There is that local strategy, and I am interested to learn from those areas where that is working well, and see what we can do to roll out something similar in future.

Our summer jobs programme, which we will launch this year, will also support 2,600 young people at risk of becoming involved in youth crime, alongside the UK Year of Service, which will also provide meaningful work placements for those at risk of falling out of education, training or employment. I have met some of the young people who have been involved, and it has been so inspiring to see how their lives have completely turned around. In addition, we have invested £60 million in the Turnaround programme, which improves outcomes for up to 17,500 more young people on the cusp of entering the youth justice system.

I recognise that we have to do more in working with our workforce. I am glad that so many people have raised that. We are funding the National Youth Agency to maintain and improve youth work qualifications and to provide guidance on issues such as safeguarding. We work with it on the attractiveness of the career, but I recognise that there are challenges. When youth workers want to start a family, it becomes challenging financially for them to sustain that career. These are areas that I will be keen to continue to work on. It is why we are also continuing to fund bursaries for those who would otherwise be unable to undertake youth work qualifications because of cost. We have already awarded more than 2,000 bursaries, with a further 500 expected this year.

With all that said, to deliver the services that young people want and deserve, central Government, local government, and community and voluntary sector organisations—as well as the young people themselves—all have to work together on this. We need that collaboration in order to ensure that high-quality experiences are accessible for young people, no matter where they live or what their circumstances are. I can assure the Members here today that cross-Government work does happen. In fact, just yesterday I chaired the latest inter-ministerial group on youth, and I particularly wanted us to talk about giving youth a voice in relation to policy decisions and encouraging colleagues in other Departments to do what we have done. Whenever we talk about youth provision, whatever it may be, I always ensure that there are young people around the table, because this middle-aged, grey-haired man does not really know what they want today. I hope that I have been able to show that I am as passionate as other Members here today about increasing access to youth services and improving the outcomes for young people, because I recognise its value. I have seen it for myself, and the positive impact that it makes.

I conclude by saying thank you to everybody who does so much to support our young people in this country.

I thank the Minister for his closing comments. I do not doubt his sincerity in what he wants to achieve. However, it is notable that it was predominantly Members from the Opposition who wanted to come and raise important issues about youth services and youth workers here today. It was perhaps more by chance than design, but we have representation from the north-east, the north-west, London, the midlands, the east and the south-west, so this really is an issue that needs attention up and down England.

We are talking about the importance of a safe place to go and to be—to be a young person and feel safe—and one that is open access and universal, but also targeted, particularly at those who need it most, in some of our most deprived areas. Importantly, that means rural areas as well as urban areas. This is so important, and I hope that the Minister continues to work on that cross-departmental basis so that we really can see improvements in our youth services, because too many young people are missing out on things that could give them the best start in life. The Minister referred to the importance of the youth voice. As a middle-aged woman, I also want to champion the voices of our young people, who are our future, as so many other people have said today.

Question put and agreed to.


That this House has considered trends in funding levels for youth services.