Anne Longfield, chief executive of 4Children, says national variations in spending can be partly explained by “politically determined” priorities.
Barnet Council in London accounted for the lowest spend on statutory youth services between 2005-6 with £23 for every 11-16-year-old, compared to Islington Council, also in London, which had the highest spend with £206 per head, the report finds.
Islington has around 11,000 young people aged 11-16, just under half of the number in Barnet.
Youth services are “piecemeal” and do not offer adequate support, with places in youth clubs for only one in four young people amounting to around two hours a week per head, according to the report.
It comes as the government places a duty on all councils to secure positive activities for all teenagers in the Education and Inspection Bill, following on from a proposal in the government’s Youth Matters green paper published last year.
The new duty is due to come into force in January 2007, but campaigners argue that greater resources will be needed to ensure that young people get the same level of services as young children.
The 4Children report, Youth Lottery, estimates that £2 billion a year will be needed to provide universal provision for young people.
4Children’s Longfield hopes the government’s Youth Matters green paper, published last year, may be a sign that youth services could rise up the agenda.
There are also hopes that the Treasury’s review of children and young people – announced in the Budget this year – could yield positive results. 4Children are also carrying out a 12-month review of services to feed into the Treasury’s review.
“There was no political spotlight on youth services until the green paper and the Treasury review, but now it’s time for people to stick their necks out and make some commitments,” Longfield says.
Council spending on youth services can also be “weighted” towards disadvantaged young people, or targeted projects such as sport and health, rather than offering a service that reaches across all young people, Longfield adds.
“There are conflicting philosophies, different timescales and funding mechanisms with services such as extended schools and Connexions. It’s an imperfect jigsaw,” she says.
Longfield wants to see more “joined up” youth services with greater leadership from agencies including directors of children’s services to “realign” funding streams to ensure all young people are reached.
Tom Wylie, chief executive of the National Youth Agency, says investment is also needed in supporting over 500,000 youth workers and volunteers to bring more young people into services.
The NYA’s own audit of youth services for 2004-5 published last week found that around one third of councils failed to meet Department for Education and Skills benchmarks for contacting 16-19-year-olds and engaging them as partipants.
53 councils reported a contact rate below the DfES benchmark of a quarter, while 49 authorities had not achieved the participation benchmark of 15 per cent.
The arguments for increased investment in youth services are balanced by long-term savings, according to the 4Children report. It estimates that preventing young people from offending alone could save public services more than £80 million a year.
Whether more investment will be delivered could depend on the outcome of the Treasury children and young people’s review, led by Gordon Brown’s chief adviser Ed Balls, which will feed into the comprehensive spending review next year.
The review will look at issues including the current provision of youth services and support for young people.
Barriers accessing services
It will address the distribution of youth services and youth engagement activities and the barriers faced by different groups of young people in accessing services.
The review will also ask what priorities should guide the allocation of future resources and how performance of youth services can be monitored.
Oona King, former Labour MP, who is leading the 4Children review of youth services, says the focus on young people must be raised up “on a par” with the government’s policies on children.
“There has been a massive increase in commitment to early years initiatives such as Sure Start, but nothing comparable for young people,” she says.
King believes the argument should not just be about money, but about looking at how attitudes to young people have to change.
“There is a need to make a moral case to start focusing more on young people in a positive way. All too often, they only reach the political and public radar when they get antisocial behaviour orders,” she says.
“We need to look behind the image of young people as criminals as this is an entirely distorted picture and see what lies behind.”
STATUTORY YOUTH SPEND
Per 11-16 year old: 2005/6
Tower Hamlets £196.33
Newcastle upon Tyne £158.05
Source: 4Children, Youth Lottery