Children are at higher risk of violence in areas which have seen the biggest reductions in spending on youth services, a group of MPs and peers has said.
Research published today by the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Knife Crime found some of the biggest rises were in areas where councils have made the largest reductions in spending on services such as youth centres. They are calling on government to consider imposing a legal requirement for councils to provide certain support services to address the rise in knife crime,
Using data on youth service budgets and knife crime since 2014, the research found the biggest reduction in spending on youth services were at Wolverhampton City Council (91%), Westminster City Council (91%), Cambridgeshire CC (88%) and Wokingham BC (81%).
The police forces in these areas report there has been some of the biggest rise in knife crime. The West Midlands force has reported an 87% rise, while the Metropolitan Police report a 47% increase. There has been a 95% rise in Cambridgeshire and a 99% increase in the Thames Valley.
The research found while the geographical areas for police forces do not correspond to council areas, analysis of council responses aggregated within the police force areas in which they are located found a correlation between knife crime and reductions in youth centres, youth centre staff and overall youth support spending.
The data, obtained under the Freedom of Information Act from 106 councils, shows a 51% drop in the number of youth centres supported by councils since 2011, which has corresponded with a 42% drop in staffing levels.
Committee chair Sarah Jones (Lab) said: “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?”
In its response to the FOI response, Wolverhampton said it had invested in a ‘youth zone’ in place of council-run centres which had attracted private and grant investment.
“Many more young people use the services at the youth zone than ever used youth centres so there is arguably better provision for less public funding,” it added.
A Westminster spokesperson said the council was raising funds through its voluntary extra contribution on council tax for youth services.
They added: ”Huge cuts to local authority budgets by the government have led to difficult funding decisions for councils across the country in recent years, including on youth services.
”Our funding to help tackle knife crime includes targeted expert support for those most at risk. We recently held an open round table event with all partners including youth clubs and the voluntary sector to agree a joined up strategy on knife crime.
”We must all do more to make knife carrying unacceptable.’’
LGC has contacted Wokingham for comment.
The research was supported by charities Barnardo’s and Redthread.