I beg to move,
That this House
has considered the role and sufficiency of youth services.
The Government have called this debate today as a response to the publication of the inquiry by the all-party parliamentary group on youth affairs, which was published in April. I am delighted that the Secretary of State and my colleague with the arts and culture brief are here to support me in responding to the report. I recently met Lloyd Russell-Moyle to discuss the report. It is a very impressive piece of work and, as I said at the time, the all-party group and its teams should be commended for it. We will of course respond in detail to all the report’s recommendations presently. Today I would like to continue that spirit of cross-party co-operation and focus on our young people, and to highlight what the Government are already doing to address the subject of sufficiency in youth work. I look forward to hearing Members’ views.
I shall turn first to the youth work curriculum and qualifications. 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.
Will my hon. Friend join me in paying tribute to the voluntary youth workers, both in my constituency of Crawley and up and down the country, who give so much of their time not just through council youth services but through other youth groups such as the Cubs, Brownies and Scouts?
I know the importance of youth work interventions in my hon. Friend’s community and town, which can be seen in the football club, the charity movement and in terms of prevention. I completely agree with him regarding the uniformed youth.
The Minister is making some important comment, given that a 15-year-old was shot by somebody on a motorbike in Coventry last Saturday. The point that I am trying to make is that 87% of local authorities have cut at least one portion of their youth services over the past 10 years, and we must do something about that. To put it another way, £3 billion has been cut from youth services over the past 10 years, so how are the Government going to try to make up for that, bearing in mind that police resources are badly stretched? I am not making a political point, but we still have a shortage of policemen.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for raising that. The loss of one young life on our streets is one too many. When we are making decisions about local services, it is important that councillors and councils recognise the impact of their decisions, and I have been one of those people having to make decisions in challenging circumstances. Our young people matter, and I will be coming on to that later in my comments, but I hope today’s debate will make it clear that, whether cross-Government or cross-party, we absolutely do care.
The new qualification that I mentioned earlier will be accessed by those working in a volunteer capacity—perhaps in small voluntary organisations—and they may not have the significant sums needed, so I can also confirm today that we are providing £500,000 in bursaries for potential students who would otherwise not be able to pay, benefiting up to some 400 students.
Turning to further investment, the youth investment fund has a three-year, £40 million collaboration with the national lottery, and I thank the players who are helping us to support the fund. The collaboration will benefit 90 voluntary and community organisations working in disadvantaged communities. A great example of that is the detached youth work done on the Pallister estate in Middlesbrough, which engages with 60 to 80 young people each week and has contributed to a reported decline in antisocial behaviour rates in the community. That successful model means that the delivery agency, Youth Focus: North East, is working with a local community business to establish a permanent building for young people on the estate.
Youth First provides fantastic youth services across Lewisham, and it was instrumental in bringing the community together when 15-year-old Jay Hughes was murdered last November. However, it is chronically underfunded owing to cuts to our local authority, so it cannot provide the detached youth workers that the Minister just mentioned. Does she agree that we must invest in youth services, so that they can play that vital role in tackling youth violence and supporting our communities?
I agree with the hon. Lady. It is far too easy in council chambers to overlook our young people, because we perhaps do not think about them when making difficult decisions. I have heard about the benefits of detached youth work, and it is vital that the Government look to support it. I have already made a case to the incoming Prime Minister about the importance of our young people, and I will continue to do that while I am in this role.
My hon. Friend Henry Smith has already mentioned uniformed youth groups. We invested £5 million in 2018-19 through the uniformed youth fund, supporting the Sea Cadets, Boys Brigade and Girlguiding, to expand opportunities to take part into the most deprived wards. Over 10,000 new places for young people have been created as a result. There is another great example in Liverpool, where the Fire Cadets have a new unit in schools for young people with autism. This funding is enabling uniformed youth organisations to reach out, modernise their websites and improve their training materials.
What has happened in the National Citizen Service? To date, 500,000 young people have taken part, and 100,000 more will do so this summer. That means an additional 15 million hours of volunteering via the NCS.
It is good to hear that there are some isolated examples of youth work going on, but in my county of Derbyshire every single youth worker has been made redundant—ironically, on the same day we had our first knife stabbing by young people, in Buxton. That is what is happening up and down the country. Isolated examples—the NCS lasts for two weeks—are no replacement for the long-term relationships and commitment that youth workers give young people around our country.
It is vital that our young people have an opportunity to be involved in the NCS, but it is also vital that we have other interventions. I do not see this as a case of one or the other, although I understand the point the hon. Lady is making.
I confirm today ongoing funding of £280,000 to six of our most promising Centre for Social Action initiatives, to help them to grow. That includes support for the Grandmentors initiative run by Volunteering Matters, which uses mentoring to help our young care leavers. This complements the existing outstanding work done by civil society and our local authorities.
Local councils have a statutory duty to provide services for our young people. No one can deny that there has been an operational challenge in the financial environment for that provision, but as we perhaps heard just now, open access to youth services has in some cases been far too easy to target for cuts. Credit should therefore go to those local authorities that have helped to set up new structures, attracting new partners and direct funding into this space. We have seen fantastic examples of this from Devon to Doncaster, in Manchester and on Merseyside. That is why—this is key—we have launched a review of guidance for our local councils on the statutory duty to provide youth services. The Government want to see a more accessible approach, without putting any underfunded burdens on our local authorities.
I thank the Minister for her kind words about our meeting. I welcome the fact that the Government have agreed to review the statutory guidelines and how councils are fulfilling their duties. Will she ensure that the guidelines set out a basic right for every young person to access youth services every night of the week, or will this review just be a wishy-washy statement of principles for councils to follow?
I thank the hon. Gentleman, who I know is passionate about this area and absolutely doing all the right work to promote the positives available for our young people. It is absolutely right that they should know what they can expect from this Government and from the community. I will come on to that in relation to the youth charter, but let me briefly address the charter now. It is absolutely right that our young people get a chance to grow, mature and find things for themselves, and that is absolutely about a youth offer. That is why, when I came into this post, it was clear to me that a youth charter—a youth offer—setting out what our next generation could and should expect had to be addressed. I am very pleased to be taking that work forward, and I will say more about it shortly.
We are committed to keeping our young people safe, and tackling serious violence is a priority for this Government and our communities. At April’s knife crime summit, at which Cat Smith joined us, all Government Departments were at the table, as were Sport England, the Premier League, sporting governing bodies, and representatives of the arts, culture and civil society. They all agreed to work together to strengthen the sporting offer to tackle serious violence and other problems. The Home Office has launched a £200 million endowment to fund grassroots interventions. That is in addition to the £22 million early intervention youth fund. This week, I announced that Sport England will provide a further £400,000 of national lottery funding to 49 projects to deliver strong, targeted sports offers ahead of the summer holidays.
I am grateful to the Minister for that, and I have to say that Newham has in the past benefited from such projects. However, the applications were due in yesterday, and the money has to be spent by March. It is a complete waste of money to try to do these projects in an ad hoc way, year after year. We need a proper, costed programme that runs from the beginning of the year and can be planned properly, instead of squandering the money that is put in place.
I agree. A concerted effort for our young people through long-term funding is the way forward. Salami-slicing is not helpful in this situation. I am sure that my officials will have heard that. This offer is about knowing what works, amplifying that, spreading it out, and supporting it.
I thank the Minister for giving way. My constituency has seen a significant rise in knife crime and organised gangs. Recently, two youth workers, Fran Belbin and Lloyd Samuels, came to my surgery and explained their frustrations with the funding formula that my hon. Friend Lyn Brown mentioned. It would be fantastic if the new Prime Minister committed to a five-year strategy that gave all sorts of bodies, whether from the voluntary sector or the council, a good go at improving things for our young people, because at the moment, people are bidding against each other for bits of funding and are given very short timescales for preparing a plan. For instance, this year, people were made aware of the funding only a few weeks before the school holidays, and having been awarded the funding, they have a week to pull things together for the young people. That is not good enough.
In my experience in this role, I have found brilliant projects ready to roll, and I like to think that we will have no problem finding the right interventions this summer, but I hear what the hon. Lady says. The incoming Prime Minister will find—I have to be careful in what I say—that we are committed to a youth charter, a 10-year vision for a generation. I will absolutely make the case for us to continue with that.
I am grateful. Young people from the poorest backgrounds are four times more likely to suffer a traumatic or acquired brain injury. There is lots of evidence that those teenagers who do, and who have less developed executive functions in their brain—though some parts of their brain will already be very well developed—end up being the youngsters who get excluded from school, because they appear to be misbehaving, and end up in the criminal justice system. Is it not vital that we make sure that those teenagers, particularly those from poorer backgrounds, get the medical and rehabilitation support that they need, so that they do not end up in the criminal justice system?
The hon. Gentleman is right. If we intervene once a young person is in the criminal justice system, we are in some ways intervening far too late. That does not mean that there cannot be change from there, but we should be intervening sooner. This week, I have been working with the Minister for safeguarding, my hon. Friend Victoria Atkins, across the whole sector, on making sure that people with a challenged background get a chance to get into employment. It is absolutely right that the hon. Member for Rhondda should mention early intervention.
I do not want to undersell the impact of what Sport England is doing; through that, we will reach more than 3,000 additional young people under 25, giving them key skills, coaching and further opportunities. These projects demonstrate the power of sport to inspire. Culture, arts and heritage can also offer young people in our communities a way out, a new chance, and take them away from the risk of violence and gangs.
I have been looking in the Department for a concerted effort on discrimination and racism and the power of sport to inspire. Today, the Football Association, the Premier League and the English Football League have written to me to set out their next steps on tackling racism and discrimination, following the summit I called earlier this year. They have set out stronger education measures, improved reporting systems and better training and support for referees and stewards. There is more to do, and I expect the issue to be at the top of the agenda for the whole of football in the next season.
Let me turn to the other interventions we have made regarding the school sport and activity action plan. A third of our young people—especially girls, children from poorer backgrounds and some children from black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds—are doing less than half of the recommended amount of exercise each day. We have published our new school sport and activity action plan, which will ensure that young people are able to get the benefit of 60 minutes of daily sport and physical activity.
The Minister raises an interesting point. We need joined-up Government, with the involvement of education, including further education, which has lost a lot of money. Often, if we can channel a young person into further education, they can make their mind up and may want to go to university. It is a joined-up process and that is the approach that has to be taken.
I will come to that joined-up approach shortly, because it is absolutely key.
We must ensure that young people are able to have a say in the policies that affect them. I have launched three further cross-Government youth voice projects, which enable young people to input directly into policies and design them, alongside officials and politicians. Whether it is hearing from the young people who attended the recent summit on serious violence or our youth steering group that advises the Government on environmental action, we are making sure that young people are being listened to.
The theme of today’s debate is the sufficiency of youth services. I have outlined some of the things we have done and the plans we have made. In April this year, the Government announced that we would develop a youth charter. We need to ask ourselves whether we are sufficiently ambitious on behalf of our young people. Through the charter, we will be. We will bring together policies from across Government and listen to views from young people, those who work with them and, importantly, those who care for our young people. I wish to say a huge thank you to the youth sector organisations that have shared in and embraced the opportunity to work with us to develop the charter so far. It is a commitment to a generation, for a generation. I want the youth charter to have a clear message to our young people: we back them and we are listening to them—to all of them. We are not stereotyping them and we are not limiting them, and we will make sure that if they speak or act in a different way, we will hear them.
Every young voice matters. The Government are determined that all young people will be supported to reach their full potential. We want this country to be the best place in the world to be young.
I thank the Government for scheduling this general debate on the role and sufficiency of youth services. The Opposition welcome any new moneys announced today, because they are certainly needed for the youth-work sector. I join the Minister in welcoming the all-party group’s inquiry on youth work, which was published earlier this year, and commend my hon. Friend Lloyd Russell-Moyle and the National Youth Agency for their role in that important body of work that will have a lot of influence on this debate.
Youth services play a vital role in our communities. They provide a safe space for young people to be creative, develop friendships and learn new skills, all with a trusted adult. However, this vital public service and the youth-work profession continue to be misunder- stood and under-appreciated. Youth work is often misportrayed as sport, which is not what it is. Too often, youth services are depicted as a meeting place for young people to knock a ball about on a battered ping-pong table, yet that could not be further from the truth.
Youth work is a distinct educational process that focuses on young people’s defined needs through non-formal learning. Its key purpose, as outlined in the recent all-party group inquiry, is to facilitate young people’s personal, social and educational development, to enable them to develop their voice, influence and place in society and to reach their full potential.
Youth services also play a crucial role in interacting with other services for young people where additional needs or opportunities are identified from formal education and social services to criminal justice, healthcare, housing and benefits. However, over the past decade, the Government have failed to recognise those benefits and have dismantled the entire infrastructure of youth services.
Since 2010, local authority spending has fallen from £1.1 billion to just £384 million, a 70% reduction in real terms. In my home county of Lancashire—you might know it well, Mr Deputy Speaker—that reduction rises to 78%. In the Minister’s own patch of Hampshire, the scale of cuts is even higher at 95%. As a result, at least 760 youth centres have closed their doors up and down the country. However, there are still fragments of excellent provision across the country. Labour councils have sought to protect services and their communities and, where funds have been cut, have innovated to continue to deliver a service for young people.
Barking and Dagenham Council is soon to open London’s first youth zone to offer first-class facilities to thousands of young people. Despite cuts in the council’s budget, it is innovating to ensure that all young people still have access to youth services. However, the youth service in England no longer exists as it did—as a service provided in every local authority area—with its specialist team of professionals and dedicated buildings and projects for young people.
My hon. Friend is touching on the really important point of the sustainability of youth services, which depends on adequate workforce training. One impact of the deep cuts to local authorities has surely been the inability to continue the sort of training that we have seen in the past. Does she agree that, although we may welcome the 400 posts that I think I heard the Minister talk about earlier, they still fall well short of what is needed to provide an ambitious workforce and that we really need to focus on workforce sustainability as part of any strategy?
My hon. Friend pre-empts a future section of my speech, where I go into detail about that. He is absolutely right and I agree with every word that he said about the sustainability of the workforce. In many ways, youth work is the first public service to have been dismantled. The uncertainty over local government funding creates growing challenges for local authorities to innovate and to provide for these services. It is a testament to our voluntary sector that provision has not completely collapsed under the weight of these cuts. I want to pay tribute to traditional organisations such as the Sea Cadets, the YMCA, the Scouts, the Guides, the Boys Brigade and the Girls Brigade that have innovated to keep open access youth work alive. We have seen many new and innovative models of delivering youth provision, spanning public, private and civil society partners to deliver excellent provision for young people in some areas.
As well as the traditional voluntary sector names, social enterprises play a key role in delivering youth services and use other income streams through enterprise to fund youth services, but that is insufficient. We have seen a huge cut in funding and people having to rely on lottery funding, charitable trusts and short commissioning cycles. We are seeing a real volatility in the sector. Is it not time that we had some sufficiency in the sector so that those organisations, the voluntary sector and the councils can provide a really good-quality youth service?
My hon. Friend makes an excellent point about the diversity of the current provision of youth work, and I pay tribute to the work that he does in Leeds, where he champions young people’s needs. I look forward to working with him over the summer on a particular project that he is launching.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way; she is being very generous. This is just to tie the two previous interventions together. Something that concerns me is that so much of the delivery now is on a project basis, so we do not get the career, the professionalisation and that real expertise and experience in our youth workforce that we have had previously. Over the past nine years, we have seen a tragic hollowing out of this important service.
I agree. That is why much of the excellent work that is being delivered is being done by volunteers and lower-level qualified youth workers. Many services are lacking that sufficiency of management and the qualified youth workers, as well as the administrative resources, which are all too often focused on applying for short-term funding.
Voluntary sector innovation has not happened everywhere, and it is reliant on talented individuals and committed organisations. Does the Minister agree that we are feeling a real gap as a result of the withdrawal of local authorities’ role in leading and facilitating youth work provision and that this is a burden on the already overstretched voluntary sector?
The hon. Lady is making a very important point. I have been involved in youth work off and on for most of my adult life, and what I see now is voluntary organisations providing fantastic work—she has already referred to the uniformed organisations and YMCAs such as mine in north Staffordshire—but, to coin a phrase, there needs to be a backstop and that backstop needs to be the statutory services. Nowhere is that felt more than in rural areas, where often, despite the fantastic efforts of volunteers, there are simply not enough people who are able or who have the necessary training—even volunteers need training now—to fulfil that, so young people in rural areas are missing out.
I agree with the hon. Gentleman’s point, particularly with regard to rural services. Young people in rural areas can feel particularly isolated because when the school bus drops them back off in their village at perhaps 3.30 or 4 o’clock, that is it until the next morning. That is increasingly the case, as those are some of the areas where we have seen youth provision really drop off a cliff.
My hon. Friend makes an excellent plea for youth services. There is a particular need in areas that are being targeted by county lines, which are having an impact on young people’s lives. This really highlights the importance of today’s debate. I am pleased to see that so many Members want to speak, so with the permission of other Members, I will make some progress with my speech so that we can hear from Back Benchers.
The loss of this open access youth work has had a devastating impact on young people’s lives because they simply cannot get any of the support they need when they do not meet the threshold for the targeted interventions. As a result, young people have lost the role models—someone who they can build a trusted relationship with—who can empower them to realise their own strengths and divert them away from potential harms. They have lost safe spaces: somewhere to go outside school hours to develop social networks and friendship groups outside school and to have a sense of belonging and ownership in their local area. They have also lost opportunities—to learn new skills, to take part in social action projects and perhaps even to re-engage with education.
As Parliament goes into recess and schools go into their summer holidays, the impact of these cuts on young people’s lives will be felt to an even greater extent. I welcome the Minister’s announcement in her opening remarks of £400 million funding for sport this summer, with the national lottery, but it strikes me as being too little too late, given that the schools are breaking up for their summer holidays this week, as we are doing here in Westminster. In this context, it is hardly surprising that we are seeing chronic levels of loneliness and mental ill health and a rising number of children and young people tragically involved in knife crime and gangs. This is supported by research conducted by the all-party parliamentary group on knife crime, which found that local authority areas suffering the largest cuts to spending on young people have seen the biggest increases in knife crime.
The Government decision to slash youth services for the sake of short-term cash savings is reckless and short-sighted. Last Friday, I visited Central Lancaster High School in my constituency, where I discussed with the head the challenges the school faces in supporting young people without having a youth service to pick up the pieces outside the school gates. The head told me that the school has had to invest heavily in student support officers, behaviour mentors and alternative provision education programmes—for example, the Queensberry alternative provision programme, which works with students at risk of exclusion to engage them in projects and activities and which has led to a massive shift in their attitudes and behaviours, with one year 10 student saying,
“Queensberry helps me to think before I do”,
and another saying,
“I think more about the impact of what I do.”
Such programmes allow young people the space to reflect, which is not often found in the school environment. However, this school-based provision comes at significant cost to the school budget, which is already diminishing in real terms year on year.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for that intervention. Last week, I visited a National Citizenship Service programme at Lancaster and Morecambe College and, as he probably did in his constituency, spoke to the young people there about issues of democracy, for example. I think that he will have picked up on similar concerns. Young people are deeply concerned about knife crime. The NCS offers a space where young people from different schools and different areas of the community can mix and, we hope, build lasting friendships—but in itself, of course, it is not youth work because it is just for a period of weeks over the summer.
A major flaw in the current system is the lack of statutory protections for youth work. The previous Labour Government attempted to strengthen the legislation by placing a duty on local authorities to secure sufficient access to positive activities for young people. However, because there is no legal definition of what access to provision should look like, this is open to interpretation and can be ignored by local authorities when faced with significant Tory cuts. As the Minister reminded us, work is finally under way following the Government’s commitment to review the statutory guidance for youth services in last year’s civil society strategy. However, will she go one step further and follow Labour’s policy of introducing new legislation that clearly defines a base level of sufficiency to reflect every young person’s right to access high-quality youth work provision close to where they live?
Youth workers are the unsung heroes of our community, yet they lack any professional status. Social workers, teachers, police officers, nurses and doctors all have agreed standards and thresholds to achieve before they can be given those recognised titles, but anyone can call themselves a youth worker, regardless of their knowledge, skills, attitude or motive. Does the Minister agree that this is putting children and young people at risk and that this important profession deserves recognition?
Workforce numbers have collapsed under this Government. Between 2008 and 2016, 14,500 youth and community workers have lost their jobs, according to the latest Local Government Association workers survey. Many qualified youth workers have migrated into other occupations. In recent years, we have seen significant reductions in the number of Joint Negotiating Committee degree programmes in England and the number of students enrolling on undergraduate courses. In 2007, there were more than 60 courses on offer; today, there are just 39. This has left real challenges for organisations seeking to recruit professional youth workers and increased their dependency on volunteers.
I therefore welcome the Government’s commitment to review youth work qualifications and funding. I also welcome the £500,000 of bursaries for students and the level 3 youth work qualification. However, I hope that the Minister realises the scale of the task ahead of her, given the scale of the cuts and the damage that has been done to youth work as a sector. I implore her perhaps to go one step further by adopting Labour’s policy of implementing a workforce development strategy to stimulate and guarantee the recruitment and employment of professional youth workers for the future.
For years, there has been a serious vacuum of leadership coming from Government. In 2016, the Cabinet Office committed to create a new three-year youth policy statement, but that promise was dropped. Now, with youth work sitting within DCMS, we have seen a renewed understanding of the benefits of youth work. We welcome the Government’s commitment to produce a youth charter. However, without significant investment in this area and a clear, compelling and positive vision for young people, this will not be achieved.
Today, youth sector leaders have written to the new Prime Minister calling on the Government to provide a dedicated fund for young people. Will the Minister join their call for proper investment in services for young people ahead of the upcoming spending review, instead of sticking-plaster solutions?
Labour has a strategy to rebuild our communities and guarantee high-quality youth work in every local authority. We will put forward a bold vision that is fit for the modern age—one that brings together fragmented services, celebrates diversity of provision and can respond to the challenges facing young people today. The next Labour Government will deliver properly funded youth services, backed by new legislation. Local authorities will be responsible for setting the strategic vision for what they want to achieve, working alongside local partners and young people to shape provision in the local area and ensure sufficient access to high-quality youth work provision. Local authorities will be required to establish and facilitate the delivery of local youth partnerships, which will bring together stakeholders from across the community, including young people themselves, to map how they can best support young people’s needs. That will be overseen by a strengthened national body for youth work, to ensure that such partnerships and provision is in place.
We must remember that austerity is a political choice, not an economic necessity. Our nation is the fifth richest in the world, and while axing millions from services for young people, the Tories have handed out billions of pounds in corporation tax giveaways. We will not sit back and allow the Tories to fail our young people. Instead, we must be aspirational in our outlook and recognise that, with the right support and services available, young people can realise their full potential. Ultimately, we want to build a nation for young people where they feel safe and secure and are treated fairly, supported in the present and ambitious for their future.
I am grateful for the opportunity to speak briefly, and I thank the Government for committing time to this important debate. There are one or two competing political priorities on the agenda today, but this remains a hugely important issue.
I hope the House will indulge me for a second as I seek to take my moment in history by perhaps being the first to congratulate my right hon. Friend Boris Johnson, our new Prime Minister, on his appointment to the role and his barnstorming speech outside No. 10 earlier. From that speech, I took a number of positives that relate to this debate. He spoke about his commitment to education and to policing and supporting our forgotten towns, which is important to me as the Member of Parliament for the town of Mansfield. All those things flirt around the edge of this discussion about our offer for younger people and the support we give them through things like youth work, so I hope that this, too, will form a key priority for him in government.
As vice-chair of the all-party group on youth affairs, I have looked at the role and sufficiency of youth services closely over the last year, alongside colleagues from across the House and the brilliant National Youth Agency. Access to quality youth work and services for young people is fundamental, particularly in areas of significant deprivation such as Mansfield and Warsop. The reduction in services in recent years is well documented.
The APPG on youth affairs led a year-long inquiry to understand the role that youth work plays and the impact of recent changes. We had a brilliant time visiting some fantastic services in different parts of the country. I enjoyed spending some quality time with Lloyd Russell-Moyle. Although we do not always find total consensus on every issue, not least the things that I just mentioned, this is probably one on which we broadly agree. We might articulate it in slightly different ways; we will find out a bit later.
It was plain to see that the quality and the existence of these services is variable at best. The fabulous multimillion-pound Myplace centres that we visited in Mansfield or the brilliant YMCA facilities that we visited in Lincolnshire contrast with tumbledown scout huts and even minibus-based youth centres in many cases. Even in my own county of Nottinghamshire, the service is hugely varied.
My takeaway, informally, has been that the accessibility and locality of these services is far more important than fancy buildings. If young people cannot reach them, they are wasted. The Garage, which the hon. Member for Brighton, Kemptown visited, is connected with the Garibaldi School in my constituency. Although it is literally a scout hut on the side of the road and has needed significant refurbishment recently, the fact that it is next to the school and is local, so that people can get there, makes it almost a more positive contributor to the area, which is a particularly deprived part of my constituency, than the big, fancy Myplace centre in the middle of town.
I urge the Government to consider the possibility of linking up school facilities with youth work organisations and qualified youth workers. They need to be separate from schools, but basing those services there or nearby makes them as accessible as possible. The Shed and Vibrant Warsop are brilliant examples of how those services can be brought closer to home and into the local community. Warsop, which is a small town on the edge of Mansfield, did not have any youth services whatsoever until the voluntary sector stepped in and brought those services to the local estate, which made them much more accessible. It is a really positive scheme.
In April, the all-party group set out clear recommendations on what needs to be done. The report is detailed, and I encourage colleagues who have not had a chance to read it to get hold of a copy. It found that too many young people do not have the family support or the social networks they need to adequately support them into adulthood. Youth services can provide an important safety net for young people at risk of going down the wrong path. For too many, they are the only secure place that offers them safety and continuity.
In the UK, we are lucky to have a proud history of charities and organisations working with young people—from uniformed groups, such as scouts and girl guides, to social enterprises and local charities. I have been pleased to see Government support particularly for uniformed services and the extra funding for those services, as well as the many positive elements that my hon. Friend the Minister mentioned in the National Citizen Service.
I have met so many brilliant volunteers and youth workers in Mansfield who make a hugely positive impact on young people. I know the importance of youth workers in particular, and the importance of such intervention was absolutely clear from the inquiry. It was brought home to me recently in a panel discussion with young people, organised by the British Youth Council. We talked about the proactive and preventive approach to youth services, which is so much more effective and cost-effective than the kind of crisis management we so often find ourselves doing.
Whether it is the trusted adult who steers a young person away from gangs and violence or who provides a safe space in the community for activities that forge friendships and skills for young people to get on in life, youth workers transform lives. Providing vital early intervention services keeps people out of trouble, frankly. We have so many discussions about some of the major societal challenges we face, such as knife crime, but youth services, particularly with trusted youth workers who forge connections with young people, can have a huge impact on those issues.
In many areas, such as Mansfield, we need to do more to support youth services and ensure that especially the most vulnerable young people have access to youth workers and services. Those services can help people feel supported and less isolated. They can improve mental health, tackle loneliness and, as I have said, steer children away from gangs and crime. It is a prevention service, and as we heard today in Prime Minister’s questions, prevention is better than cure. It is better for individuals, families and communities, and for the public purse as well.
The loss of youth services can lead to significant costs—social and economic—in later years if young people do not receive support early enough. Through my own role on the Education Committee, I know the statistics on how many young people who do not get access to those services or to early intervention end up excluded or in the criminal justice system. It is very clear across all these sectors that prevention is the key. Youth services can play a key role in filling the gap in a more effective and cost-efficient way than needing expensive crisis services later on.
A key recommendation from the all-party group report was that we need clear statutory guidance that defines a minimum and protected level of youth service. I am pleased that the Government have initiated a review of that statutory guidance, with the National Youth Agency joining forces with the Local Government Association to lead on the Government consultation. I know it is due to report later in the year, and it should inform our local choices and local youth partnerships to strengthen those services. That review of what is a sufficient youth offer is very welcome and much needed. I am grateful to the Minister for securing the overdue review and renewal of youth work qualifications, which we have discussed, led by the NYA. I appreciate her update in her opening remarks on the progress on the funding for that, which I inquired about during PMQs a few weeks ago. I understood, as of a few days ago, that it was still awaiting the final sign-off. I do not know whether she can confirm that it is entirely done and sorted.
There needs to be a consistent understanding of the level of service, and suitable data should be available to answer the question of whether there is sufficient youth work in any particular area. For example, we do not know the sector’s balance between private, public and voluntary sectors. It is important to explore the changes that have happened over the last decade and examine exactly what we have in place now before we decide whether that is good enough. The reinstatement of the NYA audit, which determined levels of local authority provision, would help us to start to understand the picture at a national level. The last of these reported back in 2008, and things have clearly changed in our provision and youth work since then.
We have witnessed a reduction from 75% to just 25% of the youth workforce holding qualifications in youth work, and we have seen a nearly two-thirds drop in the number of new youth work graduate and postgraduate students since the peak. We are now in a position where there are not enough professionals in the sector, and we need to tackle this issue. With preventive services, as with anything we are trying to reinvigorate—for instance, the recruitment of teachers or doctors—the time involved in training people and putting in place qualifications to get people into the sector can be too long. We need to be looking now at how we support those qualifications, to ensure that if the Government do go ahead with plans for something, such as having youth workers more closely related to schools and tying those things together, we have youth workers trained and ready to deliver that. Pushing for those qualifications, and for the funding needed for their renewal, is absolutely vital.
I do not want to bang on for much longer—
My hon. Friend is not banging on at all; he is making an important speech, and I congratulate him on the report. On the question of qualifications and the recruitment of youth workers, I completely agree that we need well qualified youth workers, because we have lost many of them. Would he support a scheme along the lines of Teach First, Step Up to Social Work or Frontline, for example, whereby good graduates would be given fast-track training in youth work and then deployed in more challenging areas where they could do some really good work, whether on gang violence, the troubled families programme or similar issues? We need to recruit really good people and then make sure that they have the right skills to do what is quite a challenging job.
I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention, and I recognise his commitment to children and young people, particularly as a former Minister—I know that any time I take part in such a debate, he is there contributing to it, which is very welcome. I totally agree with him. Securing and renewing qualifications is vital. Any way that we can find interested, aspirational and talented young people who are capable of engaging in this sector, whether they are talented graduates or people volunteering in youth work right now, who we can perhaps fast-track through the system to ensure that we have the right skills and qualifications in place, is very welcome.
I want to highlight UK Active’s proposals for opening school facilities during the summer holidays to ensure that there is provision for young people. We see spikes in so many social issues over the summer, when children are not engaged in statutory education. A huge proportion of our sports facilities, for example, are locked away behind school gates in the evenings, at weekends and during the summer holidays, which is unbelievable when we consider some of the incredible facilities available. I know that the Minister has engaged in that proposal before. I urge the Government to continue to work with UK Active to open up youth provision in the summer holidays.
I want to mention a local social enterprise called Life Skills Education, which runs a programme called DARE. There are no local colleagues in the Chamber right now, but at some stage in the past 25 years they will probably all have gone through a DARE programme. When I did it at school, it was about drug and alcohol education. My dad used to come into school on his police motorbike and we all used to go into the playground to talk about the police and what they did—it was all very exciting. That early intervention and education in schools has been revived in recent years in Nottinghamshire. Life Skills Education, which is based in my constituency, has just had a load of funding from the police and crime commissioner so that it can expand into every school in Nottinghamshire, getting in there with early intervention to deal with things such as knife crime, hate crime and the massively expanded curriculum now offered in Nottinghamshire’s schools. I just wanted to highlight that programme and encourage the Minister, if she gets the opportunity, to support it.
With the youth work census, which looks in detail at what services exist and how they are structured, identifies gaps and creates statutory guidance and a clearer definition of what a sufficient level of youth work actually looks like, we can ensure that youth workers and youth services can meet the needs of young people across the country.
I thank the Minister for her personal interest in and support for youth work in the APPG’s inquiry. I welcome the investment she spoke about for supporting those qualifications and interventions, and the youth charter. I urge the Government currently taking shape around us this afternoon to ensure that they do all they can to support youth work, by implementing the youth work census and ensuring that we fund local services properly.
Between January 2017 and March 2018, nine young people were killed in my constituency. Most of them died as a result of knife crime. That number represents only the very worst cases. It does not include young people who have been injured. It does not include the children being exploited, and trafficked, along county lines. It does not include the videos of teenagers driving around our local streets with their faces covered, brandishing knives and threatening violence. It does not include the fear that all these things breed in my community: the fear of parents sending their children to school; the fear of teachers with a duty of care; and the fear—real, palpable fear—of the young people themselves.
I have spoken several times in this place about knife crime and what we need to do to stop it. I have been making seven key demands of Government. Some are responsive, such as peripatetic mental health units that would help families and communities deal with the trauma of a violent attack once it has happened, but some are preventive, such as establishing new and trusted reporting systems for young people, so that we can work with young people to stop these tragedies happening.
My demand for proper youth investment is different, because youth services can do both—they can play a role in the prevention of crime as well as providing a comfortable, safe place. Spending time with a youth worker enables children to build up resilience. It allows them to test ideas and to develop coping strategies. It allows them to get support, to talk, to share and to question. When they are facing problems, a youth service helps a young person connect with agencies that can help them. Youth services can often broker that and provide trust in those agencies. Alternatively, a youth service can simply give advice from a trusted adult.
Youth services are about so much more than just fixing crime. I remember going to a youth club when I was young. It was at St John’s in north Woolwich. I received validation of my rights as a young person that I did not get from anywhere else. I do not think I would have got the confidence that has eventually led to me being here without that youth service. I want to publicly and belatedly thank Esther Wilson, Anne King, Nick Nicholls and Dave Butcher. I would not have made it without them.
Youth workers provide a really important education to young people. That is not a formal, academic education, but an education in skills that are massively important. For some young people, youth clubs will be the only place where there are older people who they can trust. Those adults can help all young people to learn to interpret the world with their peers and to interact with adults, as well as providing them with role models and safe places for creativity, cultural expression and cultural exploration. They allow young people to develop so many different skills. It is what policy wonks call cultural and social capital—basically, many of the things that middle-class children hopefully take for granted.
Since 2010, we have lost so many excellent youth workers. Across this city, since the 2011-12 financial year, 104 youth centres and projects have permanently closed and a massive 562 youth workers have been put out of a job. That is a tragedy, because it has led to tragedy. That is why I am delighted that the London Borough of Newham is pursuing a huge expansion of youth services. There will be £1.4 million of investment and 33 new full-time roles—potentially the largest ever recruitment of youth workers in the UK. Our young people in Newham have been asking for that. Fortunately, the Labour Mayor and the Labour council have listened to them.
The new services will be up and ready by the end of this year, and I know they will make a huge positive difference. We only need to listen to the testimony of children to understand why. Newham parents whose children spent last summer with youth clubs and council-funded youth services said it was the best summer their children had had. One young man said:
“The youth centre was a place that they offered me support, and the only worker who didn’t judge me, and actually attended all my meetings, was the youth worker. She never gave up on me, even when I gave up on myself.”
Those life-changing and, I suggest, life-preserving experiences need to be available to children across the country. How about the Minister matching the Labour promise of statutory youth services in every single area, so that no child misses out? Once she does that, she must ensure she does not pass the youth service buck without the bucks to match.
It is a great pleasure to follow my hon. Friend Lyn Brown. She reminds us that in a digital world, where more and more young people spend time with their iPads or iPods and so on—as we all increasingly do—the need for them to have exposure to situations that those of us who were brought up in an analogue world took more for granted is extraordinarily important.
I want to make some remarks about the situation for youth services today, and I thank the Minister for her enthusiasm at the Dispatch Box. As shadow skills Minister, it was particularly interesting for me to hear her talk about the establishment of a new level 3 apprenticeship in this regard. I obviously welcome that, but we need to take into account the fact that many of the people who have previously qualified as youth workers have, for the reasons that we have discussed today, simply been unable to find jobs in that area. Another genuine point I make to her is that this needs to be taken forward very carefully because what happens at levels 1 and 2—I do not know whether the intention is to do anything preparatory in this area—is critical in getting the right sort of people to do this sort of thing.
I praise the very comprehensive speech by my hon. Friend Cat Smith, the shadow Minister for youth affairs. She put her finger on so many of the disappointments and failings of recent years. She gave statistics on the amount by which spending had gone down and everything else, and all this is in the context of councils having had some of the worst cuts in recent years. I think particularly of my council in Blackpool, where we have lost about £700 million of funding. I say to the Minister and her departmental colleagues—her Department also focuses significantly on seaside and coastal towns, because of tourism issues—that small unitary authorities, such as mine in Blackpool, have suffered the most from that. The heavy toll of those cuts on children’s services, on social care and children’s care and on the number of young people who come to towns such as Blackpool sometimes looking for the proverbial streets that are paved with gold, but finding that that is not the case, is an additional burden and challenge for my local authority. That is why I welcome what my hon. Friend said, not just today but on other occasions, about expansion.
The main purpose of youth services under a Labour Government will be to provide non-formal education through personal, social and political development. It will be absolutely clear that young people will be at the centre of determining a new statutory youth service, because the issue is the same as it is in education. Too often, young people feel and find that education is done to them, or sometimes for them, and not with them. That needs to be taken on board, whether we are talking about the National Citizen Service or any of the other initiatives that the Government have introduced.
It is also important that local councils partner locally with organisations to develop a diverse universal offer to establish and submit long-term plans for local delivery, but they can do that only if there is significant security from long-term funding. That has not been the case with Governments since 2010. There is a whole list of things, including rebuilding the workforce, long-term proportionate evaluation and so on, that we need to take forward. I hope not least that the impetus provided by the most excellent report from the all-party group on youth affairs, chaired by my hon. Friend Lloyd Russell-Moyle, will have made waves for this Government, and will do the same for the new Government. As many have said, we wait to see the colour of their money in this area.
There has been some discussion about the value of the NCS this afternoon. Clearly, it has done some useful work for lots of people. I would cite one of my former Blackpool apprentices who took part in two or three NCS initiatives that inspired in her an interest in public affairs and a confidence that allowed her to go to work in a pressurised office environment and has now taken her on to a university degree. There are such individual examples, but, given how much money the NCS has been getting, compared with the number of young people it has delivered for, it is not the ideal solution. This needs to be taken onboard.
Jeremy Lefroy, who is no longer in his place, and others have referred to the work that voluntary youth organisations have had to take on because of the lack of funding. I think of uniformed groups such as the Scouts, Girl Guides, Cadets, the Woodcraft Folk, and so on. I pay tribute to the Scouts Association. I pay tribute to Ann Limb, the first woman chair of the association, who is a long-standing friend of mine, and to Matt Hyde, the chief executive, for the way they have reinvigorated and energised the association for the 21st century. I particularly praise their skills for life programme. We have talked about informal learning and inspiration. Those skills for life are precisely the sorts of enabling skills that young people need not just in school but out of school.
As one of those who helped to design the National Citizen Service, I am obviously rather protective of it. I pay tribute to Matt Hyde, as has the hon. Gentleman. The Scouts have been very supportive of the NCS, and obviously the NCS has had a lot of investment, but will he take it from me that that should not be seen as displacing investment from youth services? It is not just the cost of the project; the NCS is a recruiting tool for youth leaders of the future, including for the Scouts. The data also shows that those who have been through the NCS achieve better results at school. The payback from the investment comes over several years; it is not just about the cost of running that initially three-week summer experience.
I entirely accept that, and I pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman, who was an extraordinarily good Children’s Minister. He is absolutely right to make the point about the wave effects, if I can put it that way. I am not saying that the NCS has not done good work; I am saying that it is not to be regarded as a substitute for the sort of statutory process we will need in the future.
I am very proud to be a Scout ambassador in Blackpool. I pay tribute to the Scout district commissioner, Victoria DaSilva, and to the president, an extremely formidable lady and councillor from the Minister’s own party, Councillor Lily Henderson. They, and everyone in Blackpool, have expanded the Scouts in recent years. It is not all doom and gloom, therefore, but we know about the number of youth and community workers who have lost their jobs since 2008.
The situation in the careers services runs in parallel to the way in which Government have generally treated the youth service. The argument is the same. No one disputes that individual initiatives, properly carried out, can make a great difference, but they are no substitute for a long-term process, which is what we need. My hon. Friend the Member for Lancaster and Fleetwood on the Front Bench talked about the fall in the number of degrees, including graduate certificates and postgraduate diplomas, in youth work programmes. That is inevitable when people cannot find decent jobs and are not given a structure.
I entirely agree with Ben Bradley that not every space has to be a five-star building and that it is what goes on inside that matters. Nevertheless, it is a tragedy that many of the last Labour Government’s investments in decent buildings have not flourished because of post-2010 austerity. Many of those buildings could not be used for their original purpose. Before I came to this debate, I checked the dates. One of the last of those buildings was erected in Blackpool. The Oracle youth hub is a fantastic, new, modernistic building not far from my offices. Building started in November 2010. I have looked up in my local newspaper the date it was opened. It is a fantastic, dynamic building. We were told by the Blackpool Gazette in 2012 that the building was going to do wonderful things, but of course it has not because it has not had the money or the staff. That is a great shame, and similar situations should be avoided in future.
My hon. Friend the Member for Lancaster and Fleetwood paid tribute to the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport for taking on the project. As a former Parliamentary Private Secretary in the Department, however, I gently say to the Minister—to whom I mean no disrespect—that I know that DCMS has to cover a huge range of issues. I do not think things have changed that much since my day—they are probably worse, if anything—so I am sure the Minister will agree that DCMS civil servants are called on to undertake a considerable amount of work compared with those in other Departments. While DCMS takes this forward, it is important that every other Government Department, including the Department of Health and Social Care and the Ministry of Justice, does not see it as an opportunity to say, “Oh well, DCMS is doing that.” I am sure the Minister does not need any lessons from me or, indeed, the new Secretary of State, if there is going to be a new Secretary of State, on lobbying in that regard. I gently say, however, that it is very important that DCMS should not be seen as being solely responsible for this particular area.
I want to turn briefly to the report’s recommendations. They have been covered extensively, and I have no doubt that my hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Kemptown will want to talk about them in due course. I want to pluck out two quotations from the report. The first is from the British Youth Council, whose executive I was a member of many years ago. It says:
“We believe properly funded youth services and agencies aid young people in their personal development and their ability to function in society.”
That is a huge issue in terms of citizenship.
The second quotation is from Gillian Keegan, who is the vice-chair of the all-party parliamentary group on youth affairs. In comments that echo those made by others, including my hon. Friend the Member for Lancaster and Fleetwood, she said:
“we lack a coherent approach to secure and sustain youth work, and a proper understanding of the levels and extent of youth work needed to achieve the best outcomes for young people.”
I want to close with two or three examples of what has been done on the ground in Blackpool in recent years. Last year I met a group of HeadStart apprentices; that is a Big Lottery-funded agency programme providing resilience for young people across Blackpool, particularly in mental health areas, and it does a fantastic job. It gives the apprentices themselves a varied and creative programme to qualify in, while helping empower hundreds of young people in Blackpool schools and also on a one-to-one basis and in conjunction with local charities such as mine. It has been doing things just in the last month. Blackpool’s Talbot road has been made into the country’s first resilience pathway. That pathway illustrates 42 different moves in life that might help young people and their families and friends to find a sense of belonging, and it was put together by young people in Blackpool themselves. Each paving stone is designed to represent an idea or suggestion that helps young people and their families and friends find a sense of belonging, and I am glad to say that that has received some funding from the Lancashire enterprise partnership.
I also want to touch on the fantastic work done by young carers in Blackpool; they need to be highlighted because they too are acquiring skills at a time when they are having also to attend school. I also want to highlight the Blackpool Youth Council and the body that organises the annual elections for it, URPotential, and to praise particularly Debbie Terras, the previous chief executive, who did a fantastic job and brought people from Blackpool on two occasions to this place to participate in activities here.
I mentioned at the beginning of my speech the number of young people who come to Blackpool and find themselves in disarray not just with housing but with other issues as well, and I also want to mention our local charity the Streetlife Trust, whose chief executive Jane Hugo is now one of my councillors in a ward in the centre of town.
Finally, I want to talk about the work of the Blackpool Boys and Girls Club and its youth worker, Dave Blacker, who has worked for 43 years with the club. Its most recent initiative is an exhibition. We have had some problems with vandalism in our key park, Stanley Park, and those young people have put together an exhibition of their thoughts and images about that. Elaine Smith, doyenne and chair of Stanley Park, said it is all too easy to look at young people in the park and wonder if they are up to no good and that the exhibition
“shows that so many of our children really do care.”
We have a lot to be thankful for from initiatives in Blackpool started by individuals, and I am reminded of the old song “Sisters are doin’ it for themselves”; young people are doing it for themselves, but they should not have to do it all on their own, and there should be a proper statutory youth service to go with this.
I thank the Minister for this debate. I rise as the chair of the all-party group on youth affairs who produced this report with my vice-chair Ben Bradley and my former vice-chair Gillian Keegan. Our travels up and down the country visiting youth centres in many constituencies played an important role and helped to provide the basis of this report.
I rise also as someone who worked in my local youth service when I left school at 16. I worked at the National Youth Agency, which of course helped to produce the report, and then spent four years in Brussels at the European Youth Forum. I was also a voluntary group leader in my local Woodcraft Folk, then national chair in the Youth Parliament, and I, too, served on the board of the British Youth Council. I could therefore say that I am steeped in this subject and it flows through my veins, but that does not mean that that I just biasedly think it is fantastic. That is why we tried to base the report on the evidence that we received—over 100 pieces of evidence came in—and the visits we undertook.
When I joined Parliament and became chair of the APPG, I was deeply concerned that the opportunities that I had, the safety nets that we heard about from other hon. Members and the spaces that supported us growing up had started to wither away. It is now nine years since Parliament looked at these issues, and in that time the youth portfolio has been in three different Government Departments. With the National Youth Agency, we agreed to initiate the report, and we applied for a Backbench Business debate on the subject. I am rather pleased that the Minister has stolen the Backbench Business debate that Ben Bradley and I applied for and that was due to take place tomorrow, because I think it shows that she will treat this issue with some importance and that Government time has been scheduled for it. I hope this is a sign that the Minister will keep her role. I will not give her my total backing, because that would probably undermine her if she wanted a job in the future, but I will say that she has shown a real regard for youth services that we perhaps have not seen previously. I intend no offence to previous Ministers, because the portfolio is huge, but her showing an understanding of youth has been really welcome. I also welcome today’s announcement that 3,000 young people will be given opportunities in sports, that there will be £500,000 in student bursaries for 400 students on the apprenticeship programme, that the youth charter will be produced and, most important, that we will have a review of statutory youth provision and what that means.
I will quickly rattle through some of the key findings of the APPG report, then offer some personal reflections on where the sector is now. Our first recommendation was that there should be a Minister responsible for the portfolio focused on young people. As I have said, to be effective, the Minister needs to give greater priority to youth work and youth services, and I think that she has done that. However, she is currently the Minister for Sport and Civil Society and has responsibility not only for youth but for gambling, horse-racing, lotteries and loneliness. Yes, these things are interconnected, but the reality is that a Minister with responsibility for children and young people who can focus on that area and the interconnectedness across Government is desperately needed. It is not only our APPG that has made this point; others dealing with different parts of the journey of a child have also done so.
I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his report. He and I attended the same school, with just a few years in between us. What he has just suggested as his No. 1 recommendation was actually the case some seven years ago, when the youth brief was within the Department for Education as part of the children and families brief. As a result, we produced the “Positive for Youth” report in 2011, which was the most comprehensive policy document of proposals on an integrated youth policy involving the statutory sector, the charity sector and the business sector. So we are only trying to reinvent the wheel here.
A lot of this report is about either reinventing the wheel or looking back into the past and seeing what we can learn from the positive things. Always, while going forward we must know our history. I would say that the hon. Gentleman was one of the best children and youth Ministers that we have had in a Conservative Government in recent history. He should be very pleased with the work that he did when he was a Minister, and his departure was a great shame. That is the past, but we can learn from some of the good things that happened.
Our report also says that there needs to be greater investment in youth work and a commitment to support for youth services in the next comprehensive spending review. There is no purpose in talking about nice, positive little programmes here and little grants there that do not scratch the surface unless, as we have heard already, there is a decent strategic commitment to funding as part of a long-term Government funding review. We call for further research to determine what the benefit-cost ratio would need to be to ensure that open access youth services and appropriate long-term funding are provided.
Our next point is that the Government should introduce a clear statutory duty and guidance to define the minimum protected level of service. Councils do have a statutory duty to provide some youth activities, but the guidance on what “some youth activities” means is so weak that a horse and cart can be driven through it. It can effectively mean that we could have a local youth football club playing once a week in the local park and that is it. I welcome the Government’s commitment to review the guidance, but we really need not just a review, but clear directions that outcomes must be significantly better than we have at the moment.
Youth provision is disappearing across the country due to cuts, but the truth is that we do not even know the state of services after all those cuts, because we have not had an audit of local authority provision since the coalition Government. We urgently need a census, an audit or whatever—I am not precious. Such a thing used to happen once a year, but it could happen once every cycle—whatever the cycle is. We need to know where we stand with a census of local authority youth work. There is a mantra: “Unless you measure it, you can’t deliver it.” Until we measure the situation and audit it, we will not be able to assess where we are failing young people. I welcome the Minister’s responsibilities, but they must come with that auditing process.
We also recommended that each local authority should confirm a lead role responsible for the discharge of the statutory duty for youth work. Again, if local councils have a statutory duty but do not appoint a person who is responsible for delivering on that duty, it is almost impossible to hold them to account. Youth work is not a voluntary provision, because it has statutory underpinning. Although it is poorly defined, local authorities must show that they are discharging that duty. We recommended that the position should be probably equivalent to a deputy director of children’s services in the responsible local authority, which are upper-tier authorities, and they should be accountable for the duty, ensuring that council officers fully take charge.
Finally, the inquiry recommended that the Government should develop a youth workforce strategy, including the expectations for the ratio of professional youth workers, trainers and volunteers. We need a standardised national system to evaluate the sufficiency and suitability of youth services and the quality of youth work provision. That, of course, is where the National Youth Agency comes in.
We are currently relying on the NYA to oversee standards, qualifications, access, safeguarding and youth workforce development in the sector. Until last week, it did that without any Government funding. Prior to the coalition Government, the NYA had an annual budget of £10 million. Almost overnight, however, funding disappeared entirely, and it has done a tremendous job in the most difficult circumstances. It has had to limit not only the services that it is able to offer to councils, but voluntary services, too, and it has had to rely on private endowments, fees, and Canada and Australia, which continue to pay the NYA for the accreditation of their youth services. It should be a national scandal that a national institution designed to keep our young people safe was defunded in such a way, and that we have had to rely on the kindness, in effect, of Commonwealth countries to continue funding a service offered here in Britain. Although I am pleased that the Minister has said there will be some commitment to the National Youth Agency in some of the workforce reviews, £800,000 is too little compared with where we were, and it is definitely too late for the young people who have missed out on opportunities.
Part of the NYA’s role was to provide the audit I mentioned of youth services around the country—something that was lost when its funding went. That needs to be urgently reinstated, and I hope the Minister will either find resources from her Department or push the Treasury to sufficiently fund not only blanket audits but the ability to do one-off spot checks—sometimes we can address these issues by picking up where we think there are problems and by delving in. In over five years, Ofsted has not inspected any youth provision in this country; it is entitled to do that, and we could encourage it to do so to make sure that the fulfilment is there.
There can be no question but that youth services improve the lives of young people. They offer young people experiences outside formal education; they support, but do not replace, formal education; and they enhance readiness for learning in the classroom and learning in life. That is why professional qualifications for youth workers are so important. My ten-minute rule Bill early last year aimed to put youth work qualifications on a statutory footing. That, of course, does not devalue the work of current programmes such as the apprenticeship programme, which will hopefully come on stream—the Government have approved it, albeit late, but better late than never—and university programmes such as the fantastic one at the University of Brighton in my constituency, which ensures that our children and young people are supported by the people best qualified to understand their emotional and educational wellbeing.
We should be under no illusion about the dire state of youth work at the moment. I have been in and out of this sector most of my life. As in any sector, there is politics, with the voluntary sector having arguments with the professional sector, and at one point or another everyone falls out. However, what is remarkable now is that the sector—the youth workers, the voluntary organisations, the scouts and the guides—are saying almost with one voice that there is a crisis in many of our young people’s lives and we need to step up to support them. Those organisations are campaigning for the survival of much of the sector.
The Government must be held to account. Multiple youth work programmes have now closed their doors to new applicants across country. We have had the closure of 763 youth centres. Some 4,500 youth workers have lost their jobs, and their posts have been deleted. That has led to 140,000 places providing young people with access to youth services being lost. The sector is on its knees, and Members should not take my word for it. Research from the House of Commons Library shows that funding went from £1.2 billion in 2010 to £358 million in 2017. That is a 68% cut in cash terms, and almost £1 billion in real terms stripped from the sector. Many parts of the country now have no youth services at all provided through statutory provision.
So stark is the sense of bereftness felt by young people that 16 to 24-year-olds are now the largest demographic to feel lonely, with one in 10 saying they always or often feel lonely—far more than among the over-65s, whom we often associate with loneliness. When young people do reach out for help, those in my city alone can face a wait of 12 months to see a professional for their mental health, which then spirals down. In the very worst cases, as in my city in only the last few months, we see young people committing suicide. The Government need to take young people seriously.
In all societies, we have had people in the community who have supported us during transitions in our lives—at different points, we will all go through difficult transitions. Historically, since humanity began, that person may have been the village elder, the local imam or the local vicar. Having someone to help us with that process is vital. Youth workers were there to help young people make that transition. Quite rightly, at the turn of the last century, we moved away from a link between Church and state. We developed a professionalised programme, into which safeguarding was embedded, and we made sure that provision was based on need, not on a person’s religion. However, we have destroyed much of the provision that took the place of the role played by other bodies, and we have not replaced it with anything. We have not replaced it with community endeavour, because communities are facing other huge cuts.
That is not to say that there is no voluntary provision. I visited Wigan OnSide youth zone; we are hoping to get an OnSide centre in Brighton, and some great ones are opening up in London. There, we see qualified youth workers doing good, old-fashioned youth work, and it transforms communities, but this provision is not perfect, because it is city-centre-based. What we need in every community is voluntary engagement with young people, so that they have something to do, somewhere to go, and someone to speak to. Parents might be the best to love young people, but we need professional engagement to support young people through the difficult moments in their life.
I am pleased that the Government will introduce a charter, but will we make sure that every young person has somewhere to go, something to do and someone to speak to? If we do not, it can come as no surprise when knife crime and antisocial behaviour increase, and when county lines ravage our communities—although youth work will not in itself solve those issues. When cuts in social services, policing and youth work all come together, the result is communities bereft of support. There is a phrase in “The Shopkeeper’s Journal”: “You break it, you own it.” The reality is that this Government—not councils—defunded youth services. They broke it; they must fix it.
It gives me great pleasure to follow my hon. Friend Lloyd Russell-Moyle, who is such an expert and has done so much work in this field. I shall speak about our experience of youth work and youth services in a corner of north Derbyshire.
Last September, I visited Fairfield youth club, the only evening youth club left in our rural community. There were 60 or so young people there, having fun, chatting, and engaging with the staff. They wanted to make a video with me. They asked if I would interview them about what they wanted for their area and their hopes for the future. Once the camera was on them and I was asking questions, those young people opened up in a way that I will never forget. They spoke about their youth centre and youth club as a safe place to go. Their friends had fallen prey to the drug gangs, and it was the only place out of the house where they could go and feel safe.
Even in High Peak, our beautiful rural corner of Derbyshire, we have drug gangs preying on young people who are hanging around, as young people do when they have nowhere to go and nothing to do. I spoke to all our headteachers of secondary schools shortly before the end of term, and they highlighted to me how concerned they were about the summer holidays and about the preying on young people that they had already seen in term time. Parents would phone them up, worried about whether they should pay a drug debt for their child. Drug gangs would give a child drugs and tell them to sell them to their friends and would then come seeking the money. There were young people, often from ordinary middle-class families, owing £1,000 in drug debt, and being told that their bodies would be smashed if they or their parents did not pay. That is what we see, unfortunately, and I am sure that my area is far from being different from other places, especially ones that border large cities.
At the same time as all that, under universal credit, we have seen parents with children, the youngest of whom was 12, forced to seek work full time for 35 hours a week, regardless of school holidays. I have spoken to Save the Children about the threat to our young people and their safety and security. The other week, I spoke to a parent whose children are 12 and eight years old. She was told that she could go out to work and leave her 12-year-old in charge of her eight-year-old throughout the summer holidays. If that is the sort of advice parents are being given by a Government agency, what hope do our children have?
We are not only seeing the decimation of support services. In Derbyshire, not only has every youth worker been given redundancy, but hundreds of early-help support workers for families have disappeared, as have our sexual health clinics, where so many young people could go when they disclose sexual abuse. We have seen our school nurses halved and our police force halved. At the same time as all that, parents are told that they should be out looking for work full time and leaving young people alone.
We have been desperate for summer holiday provision, which used to be provided by our youth services but is no longer. We no longer even have youth clubs that the county council provides statutorily. We used to have eight or nine youth workers locally, and 80 throughout Derbyshire; the number has gone down to eight across the entire county. Those places left are for supporting voluntary groups and parents who set up clubs and voluntary provision. That is fine, but as has been pointed out, voluntary groups often cannot provide the continuity and the sort of support that youth workers can give.
The youth workers in my area have been instrumental in supporting young people with the disclosure of sexual abuse, to deal with disability and mental health issues and to resist the drugs gangs that prey on them. That is not a job that we can ask volunteers to do. We have some wonderful voluntary groups. I pay tribute to parents, a wonderful group of whom set up a Monday-night youth club in Chinley, a village in my constituency. They see 80 or 90 young people come from all across the area because there is nothing else on.
We have sports teams, and we have Beavers, Cubs, Scouts, Brownies, Guides and Sea Scouts. There are some fantastic activities going on and a real wealth of provision for some young people, but such activities often cost money. Cubs and Scouts costs £30 for a term, and often more for different trips. There are sports clubs on the private finance initiative-provided playing fields, but it costs £6 or £7 a night to play football. That is not something that parents on a low income can pay. The most vulnerable young people often feel that they cannot take part in guided activities and are not prepared to do that.
Young people often want to hang out. We have some brilliant youth centres, which were provided next to our parks, in exactly the place where young people want to hang out and to get a bit of support as well. When I spent a day in one of my local secondary schools, I spoke to some year 9s—they were 13 and 14-year-olds—and said, “What do you want from your area? What do you want from your politicians?” Their answer was that they wanted a covered bench so that they had somewhere to sit that was out of the rain—so that they could sit and chat with their friends and not get wet. It is not very much to ask.
In the same town, there is a youth centre right next to the park. It was exactly what young people needed. It used to provide youth services on a Tuesday and Friday night. Young people could run in and out, talk to the staff, get a drink, have fun and get support at the same time. That is exactly the sort of provision we need. We have the buildings there, but they are mothballed—they are not in use anymore—and the staff have just been given redundancy notices. Staff with years of experience who are trusted among young people across our communities are, with very heavy hearts, having to give up the jobs that they loved and believed in.
We need our young people to have such support. I am delighted to hear the Minister say that she will put in place more statutory guidelines and that she wants the UK to be the best place in which young people can grow up, but I am afraid that one of our youth workers told me the other week that it is a terrible time to be both a young person in Derbyshire and a youth worker. This is tough not just on our young people, but on the people who work with them. It takes years to build not just the apprenticeships, but the experience and dedication of those members of staff. At the moment, we are seeing their skills and that dedication put on the scrapheap. This Government need urgently to put in place long-term, funded, ring-fenced statutory provision for young people before we see any more suffer and made vulnerable.
I am providing a summer school for 16 to 24-year-olds this week. It has been a real honour to interact with those young people, to hear about their hopes and dreams and to get them planning and campaigning on what they want to do. They will be out tomorrow in one of our local towns, holding a drop-in for young people to talk about politics, to register to vote, to get involved and to have a say. As Members of Parliament, that is something that we can all do. Young people want to be able to change things, but they are left powerless. We can put power into their hands. We can give them the support that they need. My hon. Friend Lyn Brown spoke very movingly about the support that she had that enabled her to get to where she is today. That is what we need to do for all our young people, and I hope that the Government will not just listen but act.
I am glad that we have had the opportunity to debate the positive impact that youth services have on our young people. Youth centres provide young people with safe spaces in which to learn, develop trusted relationships, build friendships and develop interpersonal skills. They should be at the heart of our communities, but, sadly, after nearly a decade of austerity, many parts of our country have no recognisable youth services at all.
I thank my hon. Friend Lloyd Russell-Moyle for his persistence in securing this debate. He is chair of the all-party group on youth affairs, which recently conducted a parliamentary inquiry into youth services. He spoke eloquently about his areas of expertise, which are wide and varied, and I learned a lot from him. He also spoke about the importance of evidence and why he was involved in this work. I hope that the Minister responds positively to his recommendations, and I look forward to her response.
We also heard a number of very passionate speeches. We heard from my hon. Friend Lyn Brown who spoke passionately about knife crime, the impact of trauma on our communities and how youth services can help in prevention, building resilience and ensuring that our children have trusted adults to whom they can go to be connected with the relevant agencies.
We also had a passionate speech from my hon. Friend Ruth George, who spoke emotively about Fairfield youth club in her constituency and about how, when she spoke to young people there, they spoke of the need for a safe space and how, sadly, this club was their only safe place and the only way to keep them out of the grips of the local gangs.
Many other Members, including my hon. Friend Mr Cunningham, mentioned the importance of youth work in tackling youth violence. My hon. Friend Ellie Reeves, who is my neighbour and friend, talked about the impact of losing a young person’s life—Jay Hughes—on the local community and the role that youth work can play in rebuilding that community.
My hon. Friends the Members for Sheffield, Brightside and Hillsborough (Gill Furniss) and for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) and Jeremy Lefroy also mentioned those points. The great role that NCS plays was mentioned by the Minister and the hon. Members for Crawley (Henry Smith) and for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton). My hon. Friend Gordon Marsden made some positive points about the scheme but also asked some questions, which leads me on to a few issues on which I wish to touch.
Currently, 95% of all Government spending on youth services goes to the NCS, despite the fact that only one in 10 eligible young people participate in its programmes. Since it was established, the NCS has received £1.5 billion, and it spent £10 million on a brand refresh earlier this year. Let that sink in. This is alongside a landscape in which spending on youth services has fallen by 70%, 760 youth centres have closed their doors and over 14,000 youth workers have lost their jobs in the last decade. Surely, it is unsustainable to spend millions of pounds on a programme that is simply not attracting the numbers when there are hundreds of brilliant youth centres and talented youth workers crying out for funding across the country.
Ben Bradley quoted the APPG’s report and spoke about the importance of family support into adulthood, youth work being one of the only safe spaces for young people and why we need trusted youth workers. He also pointed out that there are not enough professionals in the sector and mentioned the importance of early intervention. I agree with all those points.
My hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool South spoke about the impact of cuts to council funding and pointed out that Blackpool Council is losing £700 million. He also mentioned the overall negative impact of these cuts on all the services that interact with young people.
Labour is absolutely committed to rebuilding the youth sector to ensure that it is fit for the modern age—a youth sector that has open access, is diverse and has the interests of young people at heart. I remember chatting with the chief executive officer of UK Youth about consulting young people on the kind of programmes they wanted to see. After she had got feedback from lots of young people, UK Youth put on a course called “Money for Life”, which focused on budgeting and money management. The organisation was concerned that no one would turn up, but it was inundated with young people. That just shows how important is to have young people at the heart of designing youth work. We need to ensure that the programmes we create are relevant to them.
Labour is also committed to ensuring that our youth services respond to the unique challenges that young people face. Youth centres should be safe spaces for every young person, where they can speak to adults they trust and who have built up relationships with them over time. Trauma-informed training will be necessary to ensure that youth workers are equipped to deal with the various issues and challenges that young people face today.
Before I end my remarks, I have several questions for the Minister. Successful grantees of the Government’s youth endowment fund will need to demonstrate their plans to spend £100,000 or more by March 2020. This freezes out small charities from the outset, setting some of our brilliant grassroots organisations up for failure. Does the Minister agree? If not, can she outline exactly how the youth endowment fund will support small charities? In what ways have the Government consulted young people to ensure that the youth endowment fund is directed to the right organisations and projects? Do they have any plans for any potential underspend from successful grantees of the fund?
We all know—it has been said many times in this Chamber—that 3 to 6 pm is a particularly dangerous time for young people, so do the Government have plans to provide youth work during those hours as part of their public health strategy to tackle violence and keep young people safe? What date will the Government publish their review of the statutory youth guidance? We have talked about it many times, but there still does not seem to be a date for this. What work is the Minister doing to ensure that youth services receive adequate funding in the upcoming spending review? Barnardo’s and the Children’s Society estimate that this funding needs to be around £3 billion.
UK Youth and other leading youth bodies wrote to the new Prime Minister today asking him to make Britain the best country in the world to be young. Will the Minister call on the new Prime Minister to back the asks in that letter—in particular, to unlock the £50 million NCS underspend and deliver a 10-year spending commitment to the first ever youth charter? Our young people are fantastic, but to reach their potential, they need to be given the right opportunities. It is vital that fully funded youth services are part of that picture—services that are varied, accessible and fit for the modern age. Following his speech yesterday, if the new Prime Minister wants to be known as a dude and not a dud, he could start with our youth services, making sure that they are delivered locally with a universal offer and diverse provision and established with and for our young people. So dude, don’t under-deliver. We need action, not rhetoric.
With the leave of the House, I will close this debate for the Government, and it is a pleasure to do so. I thank hon. Members for such a passionate and informed debate. Let me repeat that the all-party group has done outstanding work on its report. I will, and we will, fully consider all its recommendations, and all the contributions made by Members today. I think that we do need to look at the workforce strategy. We need to make sure that we have a formal response to the report. I am delighted to hear that UK Youth has written to the new Prime Minister today. I do not want to give away secrets at the Dispatch Box, but I very much encouraged it to do so, so I am delighted that it has undertaken that.
As we have seen from the passionate speeches around the Chamber, there is absolutely a need to consider this report. The message from this debate is that we need somewhere to go in talking about youth work and our young people. We need to offer the opportunity that comes through the youth charter. I am delighted with the way that the sector has got to grips with supporting that. As we have heard, we are committed to the revision of the youth work qualifications, the bursary programme and the revision of the guidance for local authorities. That has met with warm support, but I absolutely recognise that many Members around the Chamber feel that it is just the start. On the issue of youth loneliness, the new policies that will come into place later this year, I hope, will have a focus on our young people—on our care leavers, on our young carers and on people who need further support.
My hon. Friend Tim Loughton, who is no longer in his place, talked about fast-track opportunities to get into youth service. The role of the NCS is extraordinarily valuable and important. The opportunity to bring people into this realm is a chance to give back through NCS—a great way to explore. Talking of exploring, it is very important for us to look at the future underspend in the NCS. I would personally love to see it directed towards detached youth services. I would welcome, as anybody would, more funding going that way, but obviously we will have to wait and see. The NCS is delivering a more confident, capable group of young people. We want that for all our young people, and it is absolutely right that we focus on that.
Vicky Foxcroft spoke about long-term funding, which is what the youth endowment fund is about. It is absolutely right that we look at the 10-year plan—and that is exactly what it is—on top of the £22 million early intervention plan. On the joined-up approach, it is absolutely right that we link up with our communities and schools. Our schools know where the young people who are going to be at risk are at the end of the day—from 3 pm to 6 pm, after school. It is therefore absolutely right that we use the opportunities and understanding that our schools have.
Ruth George made an emotional speech. I understand what she said; my goddaughter lives in a rural community in Derbyshire. I do not want anyone to feel, from talking to young people, that it is a terrible time to be young. That is not where we want to be. The innovation and opportunities in this sphere should reach everyone, wherever they live. I hope that, through the additional £16 million in the rural services delivery grant for local authorities, we can give hope to young people. As we have heard, we need to balance the urban, rural and coastal challenges. The Government have a proud record of putting more money into coastal communities, supporting 295 projects nationwide with £174 million since 2012.
I want to talk about the youth charter. Lloyd Russell-Moyle spoke about the importance of youth positivity and not needing to reinvent the wheel. He asked about where we are with the NYA on the evaluation of current youth work. That is ongoing between us and the Department for Education, and no final decision has been made, but his plea has been heard.
It is true that there has been a challenge regarding our youth services. Local authorities are responsible for assessing local needs, and we have given them flexibility to make decisions. As we have heard today, where we use innovation, our community and our understanding of it, we can get things right and do things better.
We heard from Cat Smith that this is not just about ping-pong, but I would like to look at ping-pong, because the Brighton Table Tennis Club in the constituency of the hon. Member for Brighton, Kemptown is fantastic. I have never been to a youth centre or youth club that does not have table tennis, and I would like to praise that one in particular. It works with a pupil referral unit and with people with dementia. There are fantastic, elite table tennis players. There are people who suffer loneliness and isolation, and it is table tennis that has brought them together. That just shows how services can be innovative and welcoming by opening up their facilities. Through the loneliness fund, we have ensured that local facilities are available for people to come to and feel welcome in.
I want to pick up on a point made by Lyn Brown. If we are lucky, we can look back to a teacher, youth worker, mentor or grandparent who told us that we matter and that we had chances and opportunities. We must ensure that we use our opportunities to give confidence to our young people—not to talk them down but to give them the skills and opportunities to move forward. I am delighted to hear about the extra £1.4 million in her constituency, which is being used wisely to support young people. We need to look at the basic level of sufficiency and how we are ensuring that our young people are not at risk and are safeguarded.
I thank the Minister for recognising what the London Borough of Newham is doing, despite the financial restraints, but I gently say that £1.4 million is very difficult for my local council to find. We collectively need to find ways of funding local government to fund local youth services, otherwise there will not be the people I had in my constituency to help young people through the difficulties they face.
Absolutely. A strong economy, working with communities and using all the tools we have—including, for example, social impact bonds and our dormant assets—to fund our local communities, is vital.
As someone who has young girls growing up, I want to reiterate the importance of a youth voice in this policy area and the youth charter. We know what it was like when we grew up, but we have heard today that it is very different for young people growing up now. Members have asked why the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport is the right place for youth policy. I think it really is the right place, but I will not be ungrateful to the rest of Government, who we have hauled in to speak to about amplifying and recognising where we are all working together. We have three youth voice projects: the youth voice steering group, which sits in civil society; the young inspectors group; and our new digital solutions group. It is right that we engage with our young people and listen to them, to ensure that these policies are right for them.
I do not think anyone can deny the challenge of serious violence and the fact that we need to make sure our young people stay safe on our streets. I am personally delighted to make sure that we have more police on our streets, and the Home Secretary—I am not quite sure who it is right now—will, I hope, be following through on this.
I am very proud to have heard from so many Members across the House about the importance of our young people. I say again that this Government are determined to support all our young people in reaching their full potential and in giving them skills and opportunities. We truly do want this to be the best place in the world to be young, and I am determined that my Department will make that so.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House
has considered the role and sufficiency of youth services.