Research published today (Tuesday 7 May) suggests a growing link between cuts to youth services and the country’s knife crime epidemic.
Analysis of council youth service budgets and knife crime data since 2014 has found areas suffering the largest cuts to spending on young people have seen bigger increases in knife crime.
Figures obtained by the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Knife Crime show the average council has cut real-terms spending on youth services by 40% over the past three years. Some local authorities have reduced their spending – which funds services such as youth clubs and youth workers – by 91%.
The APPG, supported by charities Barnardo’s and Redthread, obtained the figures on youth service budgets using Freedom of Information requests, which around 70% of councils replied to.
There was a 68% increase in knife offences recorded by police in England and Wales over the same period (from 25,516 in the year ending March 2014 to 42,790 in the year ending September 2018).
The new figures come ahead of a meeting hosted by the APPG in Parliament tonight. Young people from across the country will travel to Parliament to debate the effect of cuts to youth services in their areas, and how youth centres and other support for young people can help prevent knife crime, with MPs.
The top four worst-hit local authority areas were City of Wolverhampton (youth services funding cut by 91%*), City of Westminster (91%), Cambridgeshire County Council (88%), and Wokingham Borough Council (81%).
Police forces serving these areas have also seen some of the highest knife crime increases – since 2013/14 there has been an 87% increase in knife crime offences for West Midlands Police, a 47% rise for the Metropolitan Police area (London), a 95% increase for Cambridgeshire Police, and a 99% increase for Thames Valley.
The research also reveals a 51% drop in the number of youth centres supported by local authorities since 2011, and a 42% drop in youth service staff over the same period. 88% of councils which responded had seen at least one youth centre in their area close.
Chair of the APPG, Croydon Central MP Sarah Jones, said:
“We cannot hope to turn around the knife crime epidemic if we don’t invest in our young people. Every time I speak to young people they say the same thing: they need more positive activities, safe spaces to spend time with friends and programmes to help them grow and develop.
“Our figures show how in areas where support for young people has been cut most, they are more at risk of violence. Youth services cannot be a ‘nice to have’. Our children’s safety must be our number one priority.
“The Government must urgently review its own funding for young people and consider setting a legal requirement for councils to provide certain youth services. We have requirements for post offices, why, not youth clubs?”
Barnardo’s Chief Executive Javed Khan said:
“These figures are alarming but sadly unsurprising. Taking away youth workers and safe spaces in the community contribute to a ‘poverty of hope’ among young people who see little or no chance of a positive future.
“The Government needs to work with local authorities to ensure they have enough funding to run vital services and restore children’s sense of hope.
“But it’s not just a question of funding; money needs to be spent wisely. That’s why Barnardo’s is taking a radically new approach – working with national and local partners to co-design and deliver services that help children access support early, so they can prepare for the future they deserve.”
Redthread Chief Executive John Poyton said:
“Everyone from Government to the local community have signed up to adopting a public health approach to tackling violence and central to this approach is a long-term strategy including early intervention. Young people are on a vulnerable transition between childhood and adulthood and youth services are crucial in ensuring they are able to reach out to trusted professionals to ask for help at the earliest opportunity.
“These statistics of cuts to youth services and rises in violence highlight the need to ensure all young people have access to the support they need, both at the point when they recognise they need help and perhaps most importantly before they realise they do.”