Youth work week: the sector cannot survive more cuts
by Terry Boyce
9th November 2022
This year, national youth work week coincides with the six-week anniversary of starting my new role at CfEY. So I thought I’d take this chance to share some of my thoughts from over 20 years of working with youth work organisations and my hopes for the future of the sector.
My message to the government and policy makers is this: if there are to be swingeing cuts to funding announced over the next few weeks, the youth sector cannot survive.
The huge reduction in statutory funding for youth work is leaving too many young people behind. According to research conducted by the National Youth Agency, annual spending on youth services has dropped by almost £1bn since 2010, and 4,500 qualified youth workers have been lost from the frontline. For 12 years, the voluntary and community sectors have been striving to meet young people’s needs through passion, understanding and an impressive level of organisation on shoestring budgets. But many organisations lack the facilities, internal structures, qualified staff and financial reserves that promote sustainability.
This is all the more acute following a global pandemic and in the face of a cost of living crisis. I have seen incredible staff accept opportunities in other sectors as they cannot afford to live on a youth worker’s pay cheque. Too many impactful organisations have found themselves having to close their (rented) doors, leaving young people without local access to trusted adults and a safe spaces where they can be themselves. The National Youth Guarantee just doesn’t go far enough to fixing these issues.My message to the government and policy makers is this: if there are to be swingeing cuts to funding announced over the next few weeks, the youth sector cannot survive. Click To Tweet
High quality, freely available out-of-school youth provision is a right, not a privilege.
So how can we turn this around? What can national and local government, infrastructure bodies, and larger, more established organisations do to ensure all young people have equal access to the support they need to prepare for adulthood? My experiences suggest four ways to make this happen:
- Value lived experience: the best youth workers are those that have grown up in the same or similar communities as marginalised young people do today. Those that have seen for themselves the struggles, pressures, violence and neglect that many young people face. The youth sector needs to do more to ensure these inspirational role models shape community work and become the future leaders of the sector.
- Communicate the importance of youth work: Youth workers are fundamental to equalising successful paths to adulthood, and society should recognise this. The sector needs to raise the profile of youth work, increase its influence on policy, and celebrate the incredible impact it has on young people in our most left behind communities.
- Fund and scale successful organisations: recognising success and scaling brilliant projects through considered investment ensures that best practice is shared, prevents duplication, and creates deeper impact. The route to scale however is not linear and requires expertise in systems change and movement building. By seeking out youth organisations doing great work, investing in their people and infrastructure, and providing expertise to fill in gaps, we can build successful routes to sustainable scale.
- Trust young people: I am incredibly proud of CfEY’s Young Expert Citizens project, which seeks to provide young people in Sussex and Buckinghamshire with a way to engage with local policy. Nobody can better articulate what young people want and need than young people. Let’s do all we can to continue serving them, by amplifying their voices as far and wide as possible.
This youth work week, I hope we can shout about both the inequality that exists in youth work provision and the great work happening in the sector, despite the many challenges. To my mind, our sector’s greatest challenge is to continue the journey towards sustaining impactful youth workers and organisations, to ensuring young people can continue to benefit from their efforts.This youth work week, I hope we can shout about both the inequality that exists in youth work provision, and the great work happening in the sector despite the many challenges. Click To Tweet
These ideas are based on one person’s perspective, but there is always room for collaboration and challenge. CfEY will be a part of this debate and contribute to solutions, and I’d love to hear from you if we can work together to these ends.
Terry Boyce, Director of Partnerships