A NEW REPORT HAS REVEALED that annual investment in youth work saves the government as much £3.2bn – with even a modest increase in funding potentially saving billions more.

The report, commissioned by leading youth work charity UK Youth, and produced by respected economics consultancy Frontier Economics, finds that investing in youth work can save the taxpayer billions thanks to improved societal health, increased employment and education, and a reduction in crime.

The government currently invests between £0.5bn and £1bn in youth work every year – directly via Local Authority funding (£380m) and the Youth Improvement Fund (£127m), with up to £0.5bn of additional annual funding distributed across other government departments.

UK Youth and Frontier Economics’ report, Untapped: The economic value of youth work, calculates that the wider societal benefits of government investment youth work are at least £3.2bn, including:

  • £1.7bn from improved health outcomes through mental health interventions (£1.17bn) and substance abuse support (£0.65bn)
  • £0.8bn from increased youth employment and education
  • £0.5bn from decreased crime, thanks to reductions in in criminal justice costs (£405m) and anti-social behaviour (£121m)

Those calculations confirm that every pound the government invests in the youth sector generates between £3.20 and £6.40 in benefits to the taxpayer – which according to the government’s own benchmarks[1], represents a ‘high’ or ‘very high’ return on investment.

Aside from the wider societal benefits, the report estimates the direct economic value of the youth work sector in England – which includes 70,000 paid employees and 180,000 volunteers across 8,500 organisations engaging 4.4m young people regularly – to be £5.7bn.

Despite the economic value of youth work and the tangible societal benefits, in the last decade, there has been a 77% cut in real-terms local authority expenditure, meaning more than 4,500 youth work jobs have vanished and 760 youth centres have closed, as over £1bn a year has been lost from the sector.[2]

In addition to those cuts, today’s young people are having to overcome challenges not experienced in generations – the lingering impact of the Covid pandemic, severe mental health challenges, a surge in the cost of living, a climate emergency, and increasing inequality.

The youth work sector is carrying out vital work to support young people through those challenges, as well as developing its collaboration with the education, health, social services and employment sectors to improve quality & accessibility of provision.

However, UK Youth believes with more investment, the sector could make an even bigger impact – so it is calling on increased donations and support from individuals, foundations and the business community to support youth work and young people.

Ahead of next week’s November Budget delivered by the new Chancellor, the Rt Hon Jeremy Hunt MP, the national charity is also calling on the government to guarantee there will be no cuts to youth investment – which currently makes up less than half a percent of annual public spending.

Protecting current investment and potential modest increases could save the taxpayer billions during a time of economic instability. Any increase could also ensure millions more young people can access the youth worker they need – to support their own personal development, manage their wellbeing, increase their self-confidence and skills, create connections, find opportunities and build trust with others in their community.

Ndidi Okezie OBE, Chief Executive of UK Youth, said: “Today’s young people are facing a tsunami of challenges that cannot be overestimated or ignored – the cost of living crisis, mental health struggles, increasing barriers to sustained employability, ongoing inequality, trauma and more. Our new report shows that a powerful solution is ready and available – a solution that not only meets young people where they are with the support they urgently need, but also provides billions of pounds of benefits to the taxpayer.

“Youth work provides a safe, trusted environment for young people to discover their place in society, navigate the world around them and realise their full potential. This in turn has a huge impact on the work of other sectors including education, employment, health and social services. It is a multi-faceted force for social good.

“We cannot continue to ignore the transformation quality youth work can have  across so many areas of a young person’s life. We are calling for an urgent, renewed, and radical commitment – from funders, the business community and government – to providing guaranteed access to quality youth work provision for all young people. This work is no longer just a morale good; unlocking youth work makes sound economic sense.”

James Dellow, Youth Centre Manager at Soapbox Islington, said: “As a frontline organisation, we see the daily benefits that youth work provides for young people, the agency that they demonstrate through making conscious decisions to be with us and on what they do when they are here, the confidence they gain from developing new skills, the social skills they build through interacting positively with peers and staff, to name but a few.

“Hopefully this report will secure the wider recognition and support that youth workers, from drop-in clubs in community spaces, detached youth workers supporting young people on the streets, to modern, purpose-built centres, have been desperately lacking for a decade and a half.

“The ‘social’ case for youth work has always been there. But now the economic one has been laid out in clear and irrefutable terms. The time for support from Government, from funders and from the business community is now.”

Welcoming the report, Mark Russell, Chief Executive at The Children’s Society, said: “We know through our own services that youth work can make an incredible difference to the lives of young people.

“On the other hand, we also know that the loss of youth clubs or other cuts in targeted support for children can be hugely detrimental to their personal, social and educational development. It can even leave them more vulnerable to harms like exploitation and mental health problems.

“We welcome the Government’s pledges of new funding for youth services but it’s not nearly enough to repair the devastation caused as councils were forced the halve spending on early support for children and families over the last decade.

“What we want to see is essential investment in youth work protected in the Budget and some desperately needed funding released for councils and the voluntary sector so they can boost early intervention services and youth work as recommended by the recent children’s social care review.

“Youth work is a vital lifeline for young people, and failing to properly fund it will leave them without crucial protection and opportunities for development, while also costing tax-payers more in the long-run, as this report lays bare.”

* Read: Untapped: The economic value of youth work here

* Source: UK Youth and Children’s Society