YMCA’s latest study into expenditure on youth services highlights a stark disparity in per-head spending between Wales and England. Analysis released today shows that children and young people in Wales receive more than double the real-terms spend per-head than those in England, at £91 compared to £45 respectively.

The 2010s saw drastic cuts to local authority spending on youth services, and while YMCA’s latest findings report a welcome break in that trend with a real-terms increase of 4% year-on-year, the picture is not as clear as it may seem.

In 2010/11, spend per head on youth services in England was £182 (£1.46bn in total), but more than ten years later, there has been a real-terms decline of 73% to just £45 (£392m) in 2021/22. The trajectory of youth services expenditure in Wales, however, is more encouraging, as despite cuts of 23% since 2010/11 and a 4% real-terms drop in 2020/21 as lockdowns hindered delivery, funding overall increased 12% this year to an annual total of £41.3m.

Investment in the future of youth services also varies drastically between countries. While Welsh Government policy has developed over recent years with a rights-based approach to provision, recording a rise of 110% in registered members of youth work in 2021/22, a Westminster equivalent does not yet exist.

Regionally there is further contrast still, with the lowest spend per head on youth services in Wales recorded at £85 (North Wales) exceeding the highest spend per head on youth services in neighbouring England at £78 (Inner London).

And yet, more than half (56%) of local authorities in England reported increased expenditure in the last financial year – some significantly so. Exploring this sudden increase after more than a decade of cuts, YMCA sent Freedom of Information requests and found that one-third cited the Holiday Activities and Food Programme (HAF).

While HAF is a hugely helpful programme, offering activities and addressing food poverty for children and families in need, the future of funding is unclear and its seasonal nature is not a fitting replacement for year-round youth services. It is also worth noting that no such programme was implemented in Wales.


Denise Hatton, Chief Executive of YMCA England & Wales, said:

“YMCA welcomes the news of an increase in spending on youth services and hopes it represents the first of many, however, this 4% should not overshadow the sheer scale of need and our repeated call for further and sustained investment in young people.

“Many parts of society, including young people, have suffered and are still facing challenging times, limited social interaction, educational anxiety, and a plethora of other concerns that no recent generation has experienced.

“The sector is on its knees following a generation of cuts to youth services, and ultimately young people have paid the price. In these moments, we need a strategic vision – similar to that demonstrated in Wales – in order to ensure there is a delivery of principled support services for all young people, from all walks of life.

“Just like our young people, we desire to look toward the future with hope. YMCA is hopeful that the Chancellor’s upcoming budget announcement will offer the support needed for young people and for the youth service sector as a whole.”

YMCA is calling for the government to provide ring-fenced revenue funding for universal and open access youth services for all young people all year round, as well as a more evident statutory requirement on local authorities to implement youth services, ensuring a strategic vision for young people.

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