Since 2010, it’s estimated that a £400million reduction in local authority funding has led to over 600 youth centres being closed across the country.
The figures are staggering, and with no sign of the financial pressure on councils abating, this downward trajectory seems set to continue.
I believe letting this happen would be a huge collective failing on society’s part.
Many adults in the UK will have fond memories of attending a youth club or accessing services such as sports clubs or arts programmes.
They are typically one of the first places away from school where young people develop important life skills, try hobbies which turn in to lifelong passions, find inspirational adult mentors outside their family and forge bonds with people in their community who they may not have otherwise met.
So, what can we expect for our young people and future generations?
In partnership with leading local authority publication The MJ, we commissioned a research report which surveyed senior council decision makers to find out.
State of the nation
Crucially, our survey makes it clear that informal education is viewed as important.
The majority (63%) of senior decision makers within councils recognise that universal youth services are key to the prevention of a range of negative outcomes across health and crime, employment and community cohesion.
However, none of the respondents felt they were offering ‘excellent’ universal youth services. Only 28% believe their provision ‘meets expectations’ and 18% said it ‘needs improvement’.
Frustratingly, 21% felt that a lack of affordable things to do was also the biggest challenge facing young people in their area.
It’s something that we must collectively find solutions to if we are to give our young people safe and inspiring places to spend their spare time.
Although clearly challenging, tackling the decline of universal youth services is possible and our research demonstrated there is the appetite from local authorities to do this.
For example, 47% of the councils that were questioned would be willing to consider diverting a proportion of budgets from areas such as health or education to support universal youth service provision, where there are shared outcomes.
Perhaps most importantly, 81% are looking at adopting innovative approaches to increase funding in the shape of partnerships, foundations, mutuals or social impact bonds.
Innovation and collaboration between all areas of society will be key if we are to find sustainable solutions to reversing the deterioration of these vital services.
Coalesce for success
When considering potential solutions, our research indicates that there is a clear desire for support from national government.
Almost half (42%) of local authorities feel that central government should set a national vision and strategy for universal youth services and over a quarter (26%) believe that it should support the development of operational frameworks.
A concerted, nation-wide focus on how universal youth services will be delivered in future would hopefully lead to a much stronger offering for young people.
Improving their health, wellbeing and employability is a shared responsibility but delivering it will require vision, commitment and collaboration across many stakeholders in society.
We must find ways to harness this opportunity effectively so quality universal youth service provision can be delivered at scale sooner rather than later.
What if we don’t act now?
Universal youth services play a vital role in engaging young people, helping support their confidence, aspiration and encouraging them to avoid risky activities which could harm their health or future prospects.
In the long-term a prevention-led approach will be much more cost effective for the public purse than relying on interventions which create additional costs and pressures on other public services further down the line.
Whilst funding will remain tight, there is appetite from forward thinking local authorities to make investments in quality long-term universal youth service provision.
It’s because of this that we know there is hope for the future of these services.
Our charity formed in 2008, at the start of the financial crisis, yet by working in partnership with visionary local authorities we have been able to establish a network of new state of the art youth centres across the UK.
Each one is funded and managed using a cross-sector model which sees local authorities work alongside philanthropists, local businesses, the voluntary sector and the community itself.
In our eyes it demonstrates how towns and cities can combine and co-ordinate resources to deliver services in an integrated and effective way for the good of their young people.
We hope that addressing underinvestment in youth services becomes a priority for decision makers and budget holders right across the UK.
If we get this right as a nation, then hopefully future generations will be able to look back and see a society that was willing to invest in their success.