Question for Short Debate
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what action they are taking to ensure the provision of high quality youth services for young people in England.
My Lords, I am delighted to open this debate on youth services in England and I start by thanking noble Lords who are taking part. I appreciate that we were given very little notice when this debate was slotted in, but we have quality over quantity. I also thank those organisations which have sent me and, no doubt, other noble Lords information and briefings on this subject.
Let us get this out of the way straightaway: of course we have seen massive cuts in youth service funding. With the reduction of finance to local authorities, it was a relatively easy target and 90% of English councils have cut funding for teenagers. It is worth remembering that in 2010 we spent £1.2 billion, whereas last year we spent £358 million, which amounts to a 68% cash-terms cut. Perhaps most concerning of all is that at local authority level, the most deprived areas have seen the greatest cuts. At the same time we have seen a rise in alcohol and substance abuse, crime and anti-social behaviour, and mental health issues. I wonder whether there is any link.
The voluntary sector makes a fantastic contribution to our youth provision, from the big national organisations to local uniform and sporting clubs, church and cultural organisations. Next week, for example, both the National Youth Agency and UK Youth are bringing young people to Parliament to meet parliamentarians and talk about their personal worries and concerns. The week before last, OnSide had a reception to celebrate its youth zones, with the slogan, “Somewhere to go, something to do and somebody to talk to”. If anyone has not seen a youth zone in operation, please do so. They are state-of-the-art facilities for young people, funded by a combination of private and public support, as well as charitable trusts and grants.
In preparing for this debate I was particularly taken by the Local Government Association’s Bright Futures: Our Vision for Youth Services. Here I ought perhaps to declare an interest, as I am a vice-president of the LGA. Its vision for an effective youth service has six guiding principles. First, it must be youth led: young people’s voices are central to the provision offered to them. The second principle demands inclusivity, equality and diversity: young people should feel included in the local area and be able to access the support they need as they progress towards adulthood. Then there is respect: young people are a valued and respected part of the community. The fourth principle is quality, safety and well-being: good-quality services are provided by staff with appropriate training, linked to a wider network of support. The fifth principle is empowerment: services empower young people to progress and engage in employment, education and training. Finally, there is positivity: services are based on strengths and focus on developing the skills and attributes of young people.
I suppose the question has to be asked: do we really want a youth service, and if so what would it look like? Do we need a youth service? Well, look at the headlines in Monday’s Times. On the front page it says that 30,000 young people are being drawn into criminal gangs. Never mind Fagin in Victorian London; these are criminal gangs involving young children in 21st-century Britain. Anne Longfield, the Children’s Commissioner, said that an analysis by her office showed that 80,000 youths aged up to 25 were feared to be part of a gang network and a gang culture.
Do we need a youth service? Knife crime and carrying offensive weapons are almost out of control in London and our major cities. The number of children treated for stab wounds in England has increased by 69% since 2013. Do we need a youth service? A survey carried out by UK Youth of its members found that 77% of them face at least one personal barrier, the most common of which are: coming from a low income family; not being in education, employment or training; having special educational needs; being a carer; and having a mental health challenge. With social mobility on the decline and intergenerational injustice on the increase, we can see why youth services are so needed.
The most worrying aspect is that the lack of provision has a particular effect on young people from poorer backgrounds. The evidence shows that cuts to provision have hit those who often need youth services the most. I just do not understand—perhaps somebody could simply explain it to me—how when a young person enters the criminal justice system it costs us, the taxpayers, over £200,000 per person, yet if support is given to stay out of trouble it will cost a fraction of that sum.
I would like to talk a little about what we had, and more about what we have, but mainly about what we need. As your Lordships know, I cut my professional teeth in schools in Liverpool, but was acutely aware of the value of youth services to young people. My first political job was chair of Liverpool’s youth committee. The young people at my schools were sent to secondary schools and then to work. A few of them went to FE, only a handful to university, but many of them went on at 15 to work in local industries—BICC, Pilkington’s, et cetera.
In the 1970s, there were youth clubs, youth workers and voluntary sector activities including the Scouts, the Guides, cadets of various sorts and a whole range of sports clubs. The golden age of youth work, if ever there was one, has gone. Although local authorities have a statutory duty to ensure the provision of a service in the area, how much they spend on the service is a matter for local decision. Inevitably, how much each local authority spends on the youth service depends on what it thinks the needs are and how much it can afford. After almost a decade of austerity, spending on the youth service has shrunk after successive salami-slicing budgets. Traditional provision is now left more and more to the voluntary sector.
Defining what we need is a real philosophical challenge, to say nothing of a financial one. There is no government strategy for young people, and there needs to be one. Perhaps the new civil society strategy, due to be published before the Summer Recess, is an opportunity to embed youth services. Perhaps the Minister will confirm that we are still due to get the strategy before the recess. There is supposed to be a statutory youth service. Currently, quality and provision varies from local council to local council. As I said, it depends on how much resource is left. Effective youth services require an infrastructure to deliver, and local authorities and the VCSs are best placed, with their capacity and skilled work force, to deliver. There needs to be a clear commitment and demonstration to youth services, rather than being overly focused on youth social action. How does the NCS fit in with this—perhaps as a catalyst in support of wider youth services?
I said at the beginning how much I like the Local Government Association’s Bright Futures programme. The Minister will also be aware of the National Youth Agency’s proposed new covenant. Rather than create new duties or burdens, the covenant provides a shared language and understanding of the opportunities and challenges for young people to guide policymakers and align services to secure positive outcomes for young people. The unique selling point of all youth work in future—universal or targeted—is increasing face-to-face interaction between children and young people, facilitated by the provision of interaction brokers and places where all young people have the opportunity to interact.
I remember the futurologist Alvin Toffler, author of Future Shock and The Third Wave, talking about people living in electronic cottages. Reality always overtakes the fantastical, as is the case here. Many teenagers, particularly those who do not relate to their peers, could in their own terms live some sort of life without ever leaving their online room. Social media can provide a full social life, with online friends and experiences available 24/7.
I end on a positive note, however difficult that might be in the age of austerity—although we are told that austerity is over. I suggest that we establish with young people what type of offer to them would be most helpful and useful and how it should be delivered. As well as tracking cuts to youth services, the Government need to identify and quantify trends in the number of youth workers over the past 10 to 20 years. Can this be charted against the change in youth crime, et cetera, over the same period?
We have dedicated people working in the youth service, and they need to be thanked and recognised for the contribution they make. In my view, we should make it an all-qualified profession. There are numerous dedicated volunteers helping in all sorts of ways, from Brown Owl to mums and dads running sports teams. Have we put too many hurdles in the way? Should we not at least pay for their safeguarding requirements as a thanks for their voluntary work and make the process quick and simple?
Bringing back Friday-night youth clubs with table tennis and snooker and ending with a disco will not cut any ice with the current generation of children and young people. Doing nothing and leaving them to their own devices—nothing to do and nowhere to go— will make it far easier for those wishing to use children and young people for their own profitable but illegal activities. That is definitely not an option.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Storey, for this debate; it may be a small one, but the topic is certainly not. We see young lives being lost daily through knife and gun crime across our nation. A moral panic has begun, arousing social concern.
After the loss of my late husband, Garry Newlove, I was asked what I wanted to do. I had never been in the national spotlight, so to speak, so at that time I did not have an answer. However, I wanted to ensure that Garry would be known as a wonderful father and husband with a wicked sense of humour. The chair of the Warrington Wolves Foundation, Terry O’Neill and the CEO, Neil Kelly, kindly agreed for me to shadow their work on charities and, more importantly, to work with young people, albeit in sport. That being said, the sport was rugby, which runs through the veins of all Warringtonians. I did not take it up but watched from the sidelines.
Having wonderful support locally as well as nationally led to the girls and I creating Newlove Warrington, and I was honoured to have Peter Kay and Rick Astley as our entertainment when raising funds on the opening night. The three goals for the campaign were to inspire people to lead a purposeful life, to motivate people to enrich their lives, and to provide opportunities for positive interaction with our communities.
Alcohol- and drug-fuelled crime was rife in 2007, so I knew I also had to do my homework to understand why young people get into criminal behaviour and what they want to change. I travelled around the UK making documentaries about youth offenders, visiting youth offending teams and going into youth offender prisons. This led me to believe that 99% of our young people are good; it is only the 1% that are feral. By that, I mean that their personality and lack of respect for others will never change and, of course, there can be only one route to go down.
Just how do we move forward to change the lives of our young people? This is why this debate is very important. We have to encourage them to stop arming themselves with weapons of life destruction and instead to arm themselves with tools that will upskill their hidden talents to change their pathways to a brighter future. We need quality facilities that communities respect and own. No more street postcode barriers, but freedom to share with one another their skills to bring about change.
This brings me back to the next chapter of my journey before I was honoured to have a seat in your Lordships’ House. In 2008, I was delighted to be given a tour of a fantastic facility in Bolton, named Bolton Lads and Girls Club. This was a state-of-the-art facility. I had the pleasure of being shown around by the young people who use the facility daily—young ladies speaking about the facility in their own words, with their faces full of pride for what the building gave to them. I decided that I wanted one for Warrington. Why should the young people and communities not have such a facility on their doorstep?
While I recognise and acknowledge the funding that the Government have invested over the years, initiatives are well placed but they come and go. Now is the time to roll our sleeves up and put our money where our mouth is. There is a statutory duty on local authorities to secure, as far as is reasonably practicable, sufficient positive activities for young people. Local authorities are best placed to secure services that meet the needs of young people within the budget that is available to them. I appreciate that all areas have unique needs and there will be councils that simply do not put youth services at the top of their agenda. However, I believe that we must invest to get the best and at times we must be flexible and risk-averse to achieve that. Research in this area of providing youth services is, I am sad to say, sparse and feels out of date. Some measures do not get captured. By that, I mean the value of youth work and linking youth services to personal health, family health and well-being.
I therefore ask my noble friend the Minister: has there been any recent rigorous research to show that youth clubs effectively reduce unemployment, crime and drug use? The time has come where I believe that there is only one youth facility. As the noble Lord, Lord Storey, mentioned, they are OnSide Youth Zones. As I have said, I recommend that noble Lords go and see these facilities, as did the noble Lord, Lord Storey. Seeing them is completely different from reading about them. In fact, they have even been endorsed by His Royal Highness the Duke of Sussex. He was blown away by what these facilities achieve for people who have mental health problems as well as everything else.
OnSide Youth Zones are local facilities, a national network of local, independent youth charities which provide safe, affordable, warm and inspiring leisure-time facilities. They are iconic, best-in-their-class, multipurpose buildings and facilities, demonstrating the value a community places on our young people. They are community assets for the benefit of young people, local partners and residents. Most importantly, they all work with a wide range of partners including police, health, sports and disability charities, providing a platform for all. Up to 250 young people attend each session; they are open seven nights a week and have direct access youth provision. They give our young people somewhere safe and, more importantly, somewhere fun to go when they come out of school. They deliver more than a 200% return on social investment and 400% on the investment from the public purse.
Speaking in their own words, the young people say that they get better marks on their schoolwork; 72% are staying out of trouble because of attending and 80% of members are now thinking about life after school and going to college. More importantly, on the hot topic of obesity, 70% now exercise more regularly. Surely that says everything. What I really like is that it costs only 50p a visit. They get a hot meal, which some young people do not get at home; it raises their aspirations and builds their confidence.
I am also chairperson of a collaborative learning circle with Kier Group, as set out in the register of interests. We are looking to link in with OnSide Youth Zones and communities to create a fantastic facility which will enable apprenticeship opportunities. Indeed, at yesterday’s Question Time, my noble friend Lord Baker of Dorking was spot on when he raised the issue of youngsters at 16 who will not be employed as apprentices by companies because at school all they are studying is a narrow, academic curriculum and all technical subjects are being squeezed out of our curriculum. The time has come to place more emphasis on technical subjects. Yes, there is a cost in creating new ideas and being risk-averse, and austerity makes people very nervous when making decisions, certainly when having to sign that cheque. However, 1 believe if you put in the hard work and give young people something brand spanking new, then they will feel that you respect them and they will respect the very environment which they designed, where they can gain practical and academic skills. More importantly, they can gain confidence to go out into that big wide world.
I have had tremendous supporters back home—Nick Hopkinson MBE and John Connell, to name two—who fight for Warrington and our young people. I can say that, after 10 years of hard work, fighting with the council and having many meetings, Warrington youth zone becomes alive in 2019. It is something I am really proud of. Speaking as a former champion for active and safer communities and in my role over the last six years as Victims’ Commissioner, speaking to children who are so vulnerable and feel at the bottom of nothing, surely it is only right and fitting that we now need to knuckle down and create a vision that is sustainable and creates better communities together, because young lives matter. A life is not a practice run. We must enrich our young ones into better pathways and not into the pathways of guns.
My Lords, I am sure we all want to thank the noble Baroness for those remarks. It was great to hear that she is not content just to talk about the issues, but gets dug in in her local community. I have to declare an interest at the outset because I was—for nine years at one time—president of the YMCA. That organisation is deeply involved in all this. It is so deeply involved that when it speaks, it speaks with the authority of engagement and therefore it is terribly important for what it says to be taken seriously.
The way the noble Lord, Lord Storey, introduced the debate was very challenging—not for the first time, coming from him. Criminal gangs are where some young people find that they make their homes, because they have no other home experience to speak of. Then there is knife crime and mental health, and there are zero-hour contracts and all the other employment pressures. I shared with the House before how a retired chief constable, who was working as a volunteer for the YMCA in a young offender institution, told me about encountering a young man who burst into tears. He said, “Why are you crying?”, and the young man said, “Because I’m about to be released, and I’m fearful of what will be waiting for me when I get out of this place”.
The YMCA has recently produced an analysis entitled Youth & Consequences. I hope the Government have studied it, and I would be very interested to hear their comments this evening. The YMCA underlines:
“In 2010/11, Local Authorities in England reported spending £1.18bn on youth services, with this work accounting for an estimated 13% of total local spend on all children and young people’s services”.
It tells us:
“By 2016/17, spend on youth services in England had reduced by £737m, with Local Authorities spending in this area reported to be £448m last year. This reduction in Local Authority spend in England is equivalent to a 62% cut since 2010/11”.
The analysis also tells us:
“Local Authorities in the West Midlands have cut spend on youth services by 71% since 2010/11, while in the North West cuts over the same period amount to 68%. Young people living in the East of England and South West have fared best. However, even in these areas, the annual spend on youth services has more than halved since 2010/11”.
The report goes on to say that in Wales—my noble friend Lord Griffiths is responding to this debate—
“it is young people in Mid Wales who have faced the biggest cuts to their youth services. Local Authorities in Mid Wales have almost halved (48%) their spending on youth services since 2010/11. Those young people in South West Wales have been more fortunate, with cuts to youth services in this region totalling 23% since 2010/11”.
Very fairly, the analysis asks:
“Do new funding sources offer hope? While Local Authorities remain the primary source of funding for youth services, it is important to acknowledge that providers access funding from a range of sources. The most prominent new funding source that has emerged since 2010/11 is for the National Citizen Service … Between 2010/11 and 2016/17, an estimated £630m was spent on the NCS, and as a local provider, YMCA”,
wants to put on record that it,
“recognises the positive impact that NCS can have on young people’s lives”.
However, the services and the work of the NCS do not cover the whole of England and Wales, and we ought to remember that.
I ask the leave of the House before I finish to quote rather extensively from the conclusions of the YMCA survey. The report re-emphasises:
“In just six years, Local Authorities have cut their expenditure on youth services in England and Wales by more than £750m. As this research demonstrates, the long-term benefits of youth services are far too often overlooked by Local Authorities, as they seek to meet more immediate financial and statutory pressures, even within services for children and young people. It is as a result of these cuts, many young people are now missing out on opportunities outside the school setting to engage in positive activities that support their learning and development, opportunities previous generations took for granted.
It is difficult to imagine any other services in England and Wales that could be on the receiving end of cuts of more three fifths of their total budget over such a short period of time, with little or no scrutiny to the long-term impact this would have on our communities and the individuals missing out. Unfortunately it is not until news of young people being isolated or incidents like the recent knife crimes in London hit the headlines, attention seems to go to the role of youth services … To halt and redress these continued cuts which are seeing increasing numbers of young people miss out, it is critical the importance of youth services are recognised in statute”—
I emphasise “in statute”—
“nationally, and in funding locally. Linked to this, it is critical that Local Authorities are better accountable on how spending on youth services is allocated, particularly in England where existing reporting requirements are extremely limited. YMCA is calling on the Government to: protect youth services from further cuts by committing to maintain spending at current levels of expenditure; improve accountability by reclassifying youth services as a statutory service and requiring better reporting of local expenditure and delivery”.
I want to put on record that there is an immense amount of voluntary work being done by the YMCA, as we have heard from the noble Baroness, and this cannot receive enough praise. However, at a time when the young face so many challenges, hazards and difficulties, and when it becomes clear from the press every day what appalling consequences there can be—not least suicide—it is absolutely essential that this is underlined as a national priority.
My Lords, this is one of those important debates when we have to look at ourselves and see what we have inherited over recent times. The consequence of an action taken—probably understandably at the time—has come back to sink its teeth firmly into our rear ends. If we cut services for the groups that have the least support and money in the home, and the least ability to access them outside it, there will be consequences. These people will not reach their economic potential and will be a social nuisance. There is an entrepreneurial group out there that will use them as a resource, whether for knife crime or drug crime—you name it.
In terms of support, we have cut away the fat and a fair bit of the muscle and we are now in danger of going straight into the bone. We have to stop doing that and we also have to look at what is out there to rebuild. The oval ball has done terribly well—the 13-a-side game got in there first with a mention from the noble Baroness. Rugby union has done this as well. We could go through the projects for all sports but it is a long list, so let us look at the School of Hard Knocks project in English rugby union. There are other projects out there. All sports seem to have the ability to reach those groups in ways that most other projects cannot. As my noble friend said, the youth club—with its ping-pong and high-minded things and the little disco at the end—was probably out of date even when it was created. It is just one of those things that does not really appeal. It may have come at a pertinent moment, when there was nothing else out there, but now it is dated.
Sport seems to have the ability to engage people in a way that other structures do not. Probably the most successful of all these sports in engaging people is not, I am afraid, rugby union, rugby league or any of the others, but boxing. Boxing is wonderful because the idea is that it is a tougher sport. It is, let us remember, the martial art reinvented. It is a martial art. There are rules, regulations, training and discipline. Okay, there is no Buddhist chant or somebody in pyjamas—which seems to be loved by the West and taken as read by the East. It requires a degree of discipline and focus, and it seems socially acceptable for those groups to get involved in it. However, you can overplay this. At the APPG for Boxing, we had someone saying, “Wait a minute, we can’t solve everything but we can engage”. You find what is culturally acceptable. I am sure it was the same for Warrington with its sport. Rugby league is very much based on strength and weakness. If you find what is culturally acceptable, you can get into people and engage with them. All these activities and sports seem to improve schoolwork, improve interaction and cut down on violence. Boxing cuts down on violence—now there is a thought to carry away with us.
If we can get in and get people involved, we are achieving something. This is all motherhood and apple pie so far. The question for the Government is: how are they going to make sure it is easier for these outside groups to get access to this? If local government is struggling financially, as it clearly is, how can national government come in and help, at least in structural terms? How can local government make sure that the facilities for these activities are readily available? You will not always have the right club in the right place to make the interaction. Often you will, but not always. If you want to introduce something new, remember, sports actually like going into new places. It improves their base and their interaction. They have some interest in this as well.
How can you do it? First, try to make sure that all of the school system is available to sports because it has space, time, halls and playing fields—you name it, it is there. It may not be perfect, but it is there and it is something. Making sure that we are not running our schools predominantly through local authorities—that academies and free schools take on part of the burden—really has to come from central government. I cannot see anyone else who can do it. Even if it is only encouraging the sponsors of those institutions to take sport on as a relevant social activity, it is something that should be done.
Now we can go on for far too long about the wonders of sport. I know there are projects where music and dance achieve the same things, as will other activities. I am not sure croquet will cut it in most of these fields. As an entrance point, I am sure that string quartets will not either. Where you go after that, who knows? However, we have to make sure that these groups that have a tried-and-tested model that is achieving success are encouraged to go on. When the Minister answers, will he tell us what the Government will do to encourage this to take place? If we do not utilise this, we will be missing an opportunity—an opportunity that is provided for somebody else more or less for free. It really would be stupid not to.
My Lords, it is an honour to follow the wise words of the noble Lord, Lord Addington, and perhaps I may focus on one thing that he mentioned. He described the importance of boxing to excluded young people. A care-experienced adult approached me a while ago. He had grown up in a very abusive children’s home. There are some excellent children’s homes but his was very abusive. When he was in his mid-20s he was approached by a police officer and was told that all the other residents there had died or were drug addicts or in prison, and he was the only one who had made his way through. The reason was that he had got involved with his local boxing club, where there were men who set him a good example. He had difficulties. He was in prison for a while and became a bouncer for a while, but later he learned how to read and write, and eventually he wrote the story of his life. He has been a successful author and a successful personal trainer, but it was boxing that really helped to change his life. Building on what works is such an important message.
I am grateful to the Minister for giving me the opportunity to speak to him before this debate. What he said was somewhat comforting and I look forward to hearing more along the same lines today. I am also most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Storey, for introducing this important and very timely debate.
The summary of the conclusion of the YMCA report given by the noble Lord, Lord Judd, contained a lot of what I would like to say. To my mind, it is very important thing to ensure that a strong youth work profession with great integrity is sustained over time. It is important that youth workers stay in their practice, gain experience over the years and pass on that experience to the next generation. We should have a very sound youth work culture in this country that informs policy—I see that as a very important way forward.
I would like to impress on the Minister the need to see youth work as a profession, in parallel with the teaching profession. The noble Lord, Lord Storey, would like to see an all-qualified youth work profession with a strong institutional base, and so would I. We heard about the National Youth Agency and another agency. I wonder how well they are funded and whether there needs to be an institution run by youth workers that sets guidelines for youth workers in general. How can the institutional base of youth work be strengthened, ensuring the quality of youth work? Whatever policy is developed in this area, I hope that there will be input and buy-in from all parties so that as far as possible we have a consistent policy from one Government to the next.
The current recruitment and retention crisis in the teaching profession, with no consistent policy for developing the teaching workforce, is a tragedy. It is important to develop a common policy and to stick with it. It is also important to recognise the difficulties of adolescence. Adolescence is a hugely challenging period for young people. They need guides and good exemplars to help them through that time. I urge the Minister to look at a statutory underpinning for youth services, as so many of your Lordships have said, to ensure that there is consistent funding, to get the basics right and to focus funding in particular on developing the youth workforce.
Why is there a need for youth workers? Perhaps before that, I will mention an article by the BBC questioning the value of youth work from a research base. Leon Feinstein, a well-respected academic, researched youth work a while ago and found that young people attending youth clubs were more likely to get involved in crime and other such activity than those who stayed at home—Margaret Hodge said that they would have been better staying at home—but in that particular example he said that the qualifications and the status of youth workers was unsound and doubtful. So it really hammers home that you have to have high-quality youth workers.
My Lords, I, too, was going to mention that research. The point was that bad youth services were what did the damage, not good ones.
Absolutely—that is what I was trying to communicate. It was the poor youth work in those clubs that led to the poor outcomes. Several years before that research was produced, a research report on Summer Splash activity schemes found that crime rates around the local area where there were Summer Splash activities went down during the summer because those activities were going on. So it works if it is of high quality.
When I think about the need for adolescents to have this support, I think of Anna Freud’s work. Some time ago, she wrote her paper on Adolescence as a Developmental Disturbance—the clue is in the name. She described adolescence as a period of revolt, when teenagers are trying to break out and rebel against their parents, and their peers become much more important. They undergo many sexual changes, which makes them ripe for exploitation by others but also can cause them to exploit others sexually. They are finding their identity. If you think again about the needs of these young people, many of them are growing up without a father in the home—one in five children in this country is growing up without a father in the home. Visiting young offender institutions over many years now, so often I hear from prison officers that I am the first father figure in this young person’s life.
Visiting Rochester young offender institution a while ago, where there was a programme called Lions into Foxes, I found a 30 year-old BME man talking to a group of young BME lads about how to turn from lions into foxes—how to move from being impulsive and strong to becoming wily and thoughtful before acting. I visited a young offender institution recently where there had been a serious attack on one of the prison officers overnight. I visited one area of a prison and talked to two prison officers, who said that they had not had any serious incidents for the whole year. This was what was called a PIPE—a psychologically informed planned environment—where special attention is paid to the importance of relationships with the young people. Each young person has a key person relating to them, and with those relationships comes the ability to manage their behaviour, so that they do not act in destructive ways.
In conclusion, when we intervene late with young people, the costs can be huge. Last week I was talking to a provider of residential care for young people. A place in his children’s home, if you like, costs £250,000 a year—that is on the hard end, but they have many settings across the country—so if we do not get this right, the cost is huge. There is also, of course, human misery and human loss. So we need to get this right. Again, I emphasise those key issues to the Minister. I urge him to do what is necessary to make youth work an attractive profession; to ensure that there is a strong and well-funded institutional base for youth work; to try, if possible, to get buy-in from all parties in whatever strategy the Government are producing, so that there is consistency from one Government to the next; to look at the statutory underpinning for youth services; and to recognise that adolescence is a very difficult period, which was the point that Anna Freud was trying to make.
We ask far too much of teenagers, and we ask more and more of them as they deal with various things—social media and so on. We should provide them with guides and exemplars, men who they can see as good examples. As for me, if I want to think about how to behave towards women or about how to act towards work, I think back to what my father did and that gives me the guidance that I need. These young people need that kind of guide. I look forward to the Minister’s response.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Storey, for introducing this debate. I wish it was more populated and with a greater expression of experience and ideas. It is clear from his remarks that we shared the same innocent and golden period for work in youth clubs. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Addington, that table tennis was always a great fascination to me and the disco at the end livened me up ready for going home, so I cannot agree with him on that one.
I declare an interest as president of the Boys’ Brigade. It sounds masculine but girls are now very much a part of it. The Boys’ Brigade and Girls Association must get a snappier title now that they are together. With 45,000 children and young people in tow and 8,000 volunteer leaders, it is a great privilege to serve in this way.
Like the noble Lord, Lord Storey, I will begin with the headline in yesterday’s Times, which bears repeating. It was the main story on the front page. It said that 30,000 children in gangs were aged between 10 and 15. As he mentioned, Anne Longfield, the Children’s Commissioner, said that,
“criminals are preying on young people by taking the place of society”.
We must weigh those words. This is becoming an alternative, a parallel way of living their lives on the streets. The social structures within which too many of our children are growing up are provided by drug dealers and gangsters, who are operating in what the Children’s Commissioner described, chillingly, as,
“a systematic and well-rehearsed business model”.
What an awful thing that is to contemplate. She compared what is happening in the field she has been looking at to the Rotherham sex abuse scandal, with all its intricacies, substructures and ways of controlling young people in particular.
I mentioned that I am the president of the Boys’ Brigade and that ought to be a warning that there is a potential conflict of interest. In case anyone thinks I am about to plead my special cause—your Lordships must correct me if I do that—I mention it also for the positive reason that it gives me ample opportunity to be with young people rather a lot of the time. I listen to them carefully and I am impressed by them. The noble Baroness’s reference to our need to respect young people is predominant. They are often despised, marginalised or paternalised and it is incumbent upon us to find ways of getting alongside young people and listening to them.
As well as my work in the young people’s organisation I have mentioned, I have worked in the inner city in education for the past many years, with two schools—one in the borough of Islington and one in the borough of Tower Hamlets—in keenly disparate and mixed environments. All kinds of social problems ensue from that. On one occasion I encouraged a young man from one of those schools to write an account of his childhood life. I did that because he had been the victim of a gang attack when he was out with his best friend. The best friend was murdered on the street, in broad daylight, just 100 yards from where I was living while my young friend somehow escaped with his life. The tale he tells is horrific. This is what I asked him to write. He was in his young childhood, aged eight at the time. He and his best friend were kicking a ball around in a piece of parkland when they were surprised by two gangs that were fighting each other. They were using baseball bats and broken bottles. Then, in the little memoir that this young man wrote as part of the therapy that I thought might be useful for him as he got over his own brush with death, he said,
“myself and my friend were safely hidden in a bush afraid to come out of our enclosure. Right in front of our eyes … two teens had cornered one of the rival gang members. Surrounding him they struck him around the head with a glass bottle. He collapsed on the ground blood leaking from his head. He began foaming at the mouth. We were petrified … two days later news came that this individual had lost his life … I was eight years old and I had witnessed my first murder”.
It certainly was not the last.
These are the realities within which our children and young people too often are growing up in our cities, and, as reports remind us, in rural areas. I will echo what has been said amply by other speakers. How do we provide for our young people? I know that the Government will tell us—I can write the lines for the Minister—how much money they have committed and that it is the responsibility of local authorities to disburse that money. Quite right, yet when we look at local authorities’ spending power, as has again been said by others, we find that because local authorities have a desperate need to make provision for adult social care, homelessness prevention and so much else, within the terms of their spending power it is the youth provision that suffers the most.
If there is one thing I want to communicate in my remarks it is not so much making the case, which I think is self-evident, but trying to emphasise the need for urgency in contemplation of this whole area of our national life. Various figures have been quoted. I have seen figures both in line and at odds with ones that have been quoted. It is very hard, except that we can see in percentage terms a huge decrease in money devoted to youth services. However it is calculated and whatever the actual figures we come up with, certainly more than half and sometimes two-thirds have been cut since 2010. It is anticipated that those cuts will go on being severe for the next two years. We can understand local authorities taking money from the easy part of their budgets, but it is a counsel of despair and puts our young people in jeopardy for the rest of their lives.
We know from our newspapers that, after Mrs May’s announcement for the NHS just a few days ago, all those representing the NHS, defence, social care and education are raising their voices and demanding substantial injections of cash. The needs of our children and young people are likely to be lost in the clamour and the positioning for extra money if it can be found. We must not allow that to happen.
I will spend quite a lot of my summer break with young men and women from the Boys’ Brigade’s work in Northern Ireland, Scotland, England and Wales, and the Republic of Ireland. I will be offering my thoughts about leadership to hundreds of young people gathered for training at our regional centres. The Scottish and Northern Irish devolved Governments are more than happy to inject some core funding into youth movements such as the brigade, the Scouts and others—it is not just my own interest here. They seem less inhibited about finding money from, for example, the proceeds of crime that have been recuperated and from dead bank accounts and to put that at the disposal of young people. That seems a very practical way of proceeding. I wish that we could have a similar response here in England.
I have listened to a lot of pop music in my time because my children tell me that, if I want to know what young people are thinking, that is what I have to do. It is really inimical to me. I have had a classical education, I am an innocent abroad, so I listen to grime and garage and rap and I do my best—that is all I can say. On the verge of my adult life, I felt that I could echo Van Morrison’s “Brand New Day”. I am sure the noble Lord, Lord Storey, will remember that too. In my middle years I sang along with D:Ream, “Things Can Only Get Better”, which of course the Labour Party used as its song of triumph at the 1997 election. Now the notes are less positive. It is much more Foo Fighters. Dave Grohl is touring at the moment with his song “The Line”, which, as he puts it, is,
“a search for hope in this day and age where you feel as if you’re fighting for your life with every passing moment, and everything is on the line”.
I see the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, nodding. She has found a way to roll her sleeves up where she is. If she has any spare time, I will take her on to my team as well. We could do with a bit of her energy.
The important thing for me is not this statistic against that statistic. It is not this kind of a case against that one. It is just sensing the urgency of the needs of our children and young people at this time and finding the will and the resolution to do something about it.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Storey, who introduced the subject in a very measured way, as did other noble Lords, against an undoubtedly difficult situation. I will come to the financial situation later. This is a very important topic, and I think there are few more pressing issues facing this country than the quality of the investment we make in the personal and social growth of our young people.
I will race through my speech because, unfortunately, I have only two minutes more than every other noble Lord, and I have a lot to talk about. I will do the best I can and write otherwise. We want to make sure that young people have the opportunity to thrive and prosper in our future economy, especially to be active and engaged citizens. My department, DCMS, provides national youth policy leadership, supports youth voice and makes strategic investments to drive excellence and innovation partnerships. Direct delivery of local youth services rightly lies with local authorities and their partners. I will come to that later.
Our national flagship policy is the National Citizen Service, which has been mentioned. It is open to all young people age 15 to 17. It is designed to deliver a concentrated programme of positive activities, personal development and social action for young people. This is delivered through more than 300 organisations, more than 80% of which are from public or voluntary and community sectors. I am pleased to say that more than 400,000 young people from all social backgrounds have so far taken part in NCS, and we expect another 100,000 in 2018. It is important to note that they have given more than 12 million hours of volunteer time.
I am, of course, aware that local youth services operate in a challenging funding environment, which is why we have a track record of funding and supporting successful new delivery models. For example, Knowsley Youth Mutual is an organisation run jointly by staff and young people which was supported by the Government to spin out from the local council. Similarly, Space, formerly the Devon Youth Service, operates eight youth hubs across the county, delivering a range of open-access services, including specialists and one-to-one support. Noble Lords will be pleased to know that we are continuing that support for innovation. We are investing £40 million to support 90 innovative voluntary-sector organisations in different parts of the country. With the Big Lottery Fund and the #iwillFund, Youth Focus: North East, a youth work charity, has received £150,000 over three years to deliver 50 social action projects in 50 local communities.
During the past four years, the Office for Civil Society, which is now in DCMS, has spent more than £667 million on youth. In January this year—this goes to what the noble Lord, Lord Griffiths, said; it is not just the devolved Administrations—the Government announced a further £90 million from dormant bank and building society accounts specifically to support disadvantaged and disengaged young people with their transition to work.
The noble Lord, Lord Storey, mentioned youth expression, so let me turn to the support that we give to young people to have their say. We provide funding to the British Youth Council to deliver youth voice activities, including the UK Youth Parliament, the Make Your Mark youth ballot and the Youth Select Committee. We are clear that youth policy will be a central part of the forthcoming civil society strategy—which I hope will please my noble friend Lady Newlove. That will demonstrate our continuing commitment to invest in the future of young people. In preparing for that, we have gone out and listened to young people and organisations that work with them at recent events across the country.
Perhaps I may tackle head on local authority cuts. It is true that local authorities have decided to prioritise their spending elsewhere. The Government make more than £200 billion available to local authorities, but we believe that difficult decisions are best made at the local level. However, that does not mean that we have not been aware of that, and I have explained briefly some of the areas on which central government has spent money in addition—as I mentioned, in my department alone, that has amounted to £667 million over four years. There is also other cross-government spending—I could go through that in detail, but I do not have time. Of course, local authorities are still doing a good job. It varies, but, in 2018-19, they still spent £460 million on youth services.
Of course, we are looking not just at spending amounts but at great examples, two of which I mentioned, of how local authorities and youth organisations are developing new and innovative models for delivering youth services for benefits. We are looking at the youth sector as part of the civil society strategy—I am afraid that I cannot promise that it will be before the Summer Recess, but it will be out in the summer and the noble Lord, Lord Storey, will not have long to wait.
My noble friend Lady Newlove talked about the OnSide Youth Zones. We recognise some of the brilliant examples across the country of new models. OnSide is providing large, state-of-the-art youth clubs—unlike perhaps those in which the noble Lord, Lord Griffiths, discoed. In partnership with councils, businesses and philanthropists, they are a good example of what can be done. We are proud that we as a Government have invested £20 million in the establishment of some of the first youth zones through the Myplace funding; they are currently in receipt of £2 million through the youth investment fund.
The noble Lords, Lord Storey and Lord Griffiths, and my noble friend Lady Newlove talked about youth offending, gangs and knife crime—I think that practically everyone did. We recognise that the causes of crime and violence are complex and often tied to local factors. We are investing £80 million, in partnership with the Big Lottery Fund, to ensure that young people have opportunities to develop the skills they need and the resilience that can improve their life chances. The Home Office recently announced an £11 million early intervention youth fund to support youth groups and community organisations in the prevention of crime and violence.
The issue of statutory provision was mentioned by several noble Lords. It is true that local authorities have a statutory duty to secure access to sufficient services and activities to improve young people’s well-being, so far as is reasonably practical. I recognise that this is a challenge, and we are aware of divergent views on this subject. I cannot say more at the moment, but suffice it to say that we understand the issues behind this statutory youth service and we are considering it.
The noble Earl, Lord Listowel, and the noble Lord, Lord Storey, talked about youth workers and how important it is that they are recognised, valued and possibly even fully qualified in order to ensure the consistency of high-quality youth work, and for the reason mentioned—that a bad youth service is worse than not having one at all. We obviously recognise the importance of having well-trained, professional youth workers for the delivery of high-quality services. We expect that all organisations will take seriously the need to ensure that practitioners working with young people have sufficient training and, more importantly, understand the responsibility of safeguarding the children and vulnerable adults they work with. Safeguarding, particularly, is a responsibility for all organisations in the sector, no matter how large or small, and that should be simple and non-negotiable. The Charity Commission—and DCMS has responsibility for the Charity Commission—is there to ensure that the highest standards of transparency and safeguarding procedures are in place, and it has definitely gone up the Charity Commission’s agenda.
The noble Lords, Lord Judd and Lord Addington, talked about sport and its role. I absolutely agree with the points raised on the power of sport to engage young people. We want people to get out and do sport—or to undertake activity more generally. Activity is more important, in some ways, but sport makes activity enjoyable for a lot of people. It is good for your health, it is good for mental well-being, it keeps people out of trouble and we absolutely support it. The Government’s Sporting Future strategy, published in December 2015, set out how important it is for all children to have a good experience. That extended the age range for which Sport England, which is one of our arm’s-length bodies, is responsible, to cover children from the age of five, in order to have a greater impact across the whole of a person’s sporting life. We have also developed a new Active Lives: Children and Young People survey, which builds on the existing, adult-focused Active Lives to cover children between the ages of five and 15. This survey was launched in September and will provide a world-leading approach to gathering data on how children engage with sport and physical activity, with the first results expected this December.
I finish by saying that Sport England will be investing more than £194 million between 2016 and 2021 into projects focusing on improving children’s capability and enjoyment of physical activity. We absolutely agree with the noble Lords on that. I hope I have shown that we have taken meaningful action at a central government level, not just relying on local authorities to do their statutory duty. We have a strong record of delivery on that; it is one that recognises the undoubted challenges but does support change. We are going to build on our achievements in that, and we intend to deliver yet more for our most important generation. I am looking forward to the civil society strategy in the coming months.
House adjourned at 8.04 pm.