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Youth services are a devolved matter – this briefing provides information on the situation in England.

In England, local authorities (LAs) have most of the responsibility for providing youth services, but are not obliged to fund them.

There is also some central government provision. The Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) is responsible for out-of-school youth policy and programmes, and providing support to the youth sector to deliver high quality services to young people, as well as funding the National Citizen Service (NCS) programme for the Youth Investment Fund and the Youth Guarantee.

Statutory duties for local authorities

The statutory regime underpinning the provision of youth services in England is set out in section 507B of the Education Act 1996 (as amended).

  1. A local authority in England must, so far as reasonably practicable, secure for qualifying young persons in the authority’s area access to—

    a) sufficient educational leisure-time activities which are for the improvement of their well-being, and sufficient facilities for such activities; and

    b) sufficient recreational leisure-time activities which are for the improvement of their well-being, and sufficient facilities for such activities.

“Qualifying young people” means those aged 13 to 19 years inclusive, and also those aged 20 to 25 years inclusive who have a prescribed learning difficulty or disability.

The term “sufficient” in relation to activities or facilities, means “sufficient having regard to quantity”.

Local authorities also have a duty to:

  • secure access to sufficient youth work activities.
  • ascertain young people’s views on positive activities.
  • publicise positive activities. Further information is provided in statutory guidance published by DCMS.

Local authority spending on youth services

Local authority expenditure on services for young people is published by the Department for Education.

The most recent data is for the 2021/22 financial year, when net expenditure (spending minus any income from grants or fees) on youth services was £341 million.

Most of the spending, 61% (£207 million), was spent on targeted services. Targeted youth support covers specific, tailored interventions for young people (and their families) who need extra provision on top of universally provided services.

Real terms spending on youth services fell by 64% between 2011/12 and 2021/22, from £947 million down to £341 million. The decrease over this period was more pronounced in universal services (-71%) compared with targeted services (-57%).

Central government funding

While the main responsibility for youth provision sits with local authorities, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) also provides additional funding for national schemes as well as capital and revenue grants for the out-of-school youth services sector.

DCMS spent £1.1 billion on the youth sector between 2015 and 2021, and is planning to spend over £500 million delivering a “Youth Guarantee” between the 2022/23 and 2024/25 financial years.

Youth review and guarantee

DCMS funding priorities for youth services in the three years of the current Spending Review period, 2022/23 to 2024/25, were developed following a Youth Review first announced at the 2020 Spending Review. The Review launched in February 2021, looking at all aspects of DSMS out-of-school youth services provision, including the future of two key programmes:

During the review the government had engaged with six thousand young people, 170 youth sector organisations as well as academics, researchers and government departments. The review found that young people’s priorities were:

  • Regular clubs and activities
  • Adventures away from home
  • Volunteering opportunities which give back to the community
  • Activities that support mental and physical wellbeing and skills development

Before the Government’s response to the review was published, the 2021 Spending Review announced an investment of “£560 million in youth services in England over the next three years”.

The findings and Government response to the Review provided further detail on plans to “level up” and expand access to youth provision through a “youth guarantee” designed to provide every young person with “access to regular out of school activities, adventures away from home and opportunities to volunteer. DCMS also explained how the £560 million would be spent:

  • £171 million for the National Citizen Service over three years
  • £368 million through the Youth Investment Fund to “level up” youth infrastructure in “left behind” areas. Capital grants were planned to create 300 new youth centres over the three years, and revenue grants would support 45,000 extra youth activities per year.
  • £22million to offer the Duke of Edinburgh Award scheme to every state-funded secondary school in England, to eliminate waiting lists for Uniformed Youth and to the iwill fund to create new youth volunteering opportunities.

Along with a commitment that DCMS would listen to young people’s voices in the ongoing development of policy, the Review also proposed further support for the youth sector through:

  • building a skilled and trained youth workforce,
  • maximising investment,
  • Reviewing the statutory duties of local authorities, and
  • strengthening the evidence base.

For more information on the two largest areas of DCMS youth services funding see:

Documents to download

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