Rural areas hardest hit by youth work cuts, NYA warns

Cuts to youth work services in rural areas have left young people at risk of grooming from criminal gangs, poor mental health and a lack of employment support, according to a new report

Some 2.25 million young people living in rural areas of England have been hardest hit by a £1bn drop in local authority funding for youth work over the last decade, Overlooked, the latest report by the National Youth Agency (NYA) finds.

Spending per head on funding for services for 11- to 19-year-olds in rural areas is just £47 compared with £108 a decade ago.

Despite similar cuts to funding, the average spend per head on young people in urban areas is £62 compared with £158 in 2011.

Leigh Middleton, chief executive of the NYA said:

“There is little or no youth provision in many rural areas,”

“Young people living in rural areas are all too often overlooked, leaving them vulnerable to isolation, loneliness and poor mental health” 

Such isolation is often exacerbated by poor access to public transport and low social mobility, the report states, adding that during the Covid-19 pandemic poor internet access in rural areas meant young people were not offered online services.

The report states:

“The key reasons young people say they visit youth clubs or centres are to meet friends, join initiatives and go somewhere safe. However, youth services are vastly underfunded and, in some rural areas, nonexistent,”

“There is an increasing trend for gangs to target vulnerable young people in county-towns and rural areas, as well as moving young people across county lines,” it adds, stating that the lack of support in such areas leaves young people at increased risk.

The impact of the pandemic on tourism, often a huge source of employment in rural areas, has left young people at a greater risk of unemployment, the NYA says.

“It is important for schools, colleges and youth services to come together seamlessly, to engage young people in education, levelling up opportunities in rural areas; in activities that young people want to do, that benefit attendance, behaviour and engagement in education (progress and attainment), and to support young people to be school-ready and work-ready at key transition stages,” it adds.

The NYA is calling on the government to begin work on a rural action plan for youth services co-designed by young people as well as publishing a comprehensive map of rural youth services.

An increase in public transport, including funding for minibuses to help young people access face-to-face youth services, and a mobile data offer for online support, should also be prioritised, the charity says.

Such provision should be backed by increased funding for services, including for community buildings such as village halls to increase youth work offers, and the release of the £500 Youth Investment Fund promised in the Conservatives 2019 general election manifesto.

Middleton said:

“Young people spend 85 per cent of their waking hours each year outside of the school-day. It is imperative that they can access safe places to have fun, meet friends and learn new skills, with a trained and trusted adult who knows what is needed.

“Bold investment is required for a rural action plan designed with young people, to build and bolster local youth services, and mobilise youth workers and volunteers across rural communities. Without such investment to build back better, 2.25 million young people will be left behind.”

You can view the news report which featured on the BBC by clicking below:

The Rural Services Network as part of its Revitalising Rural Campaign, sets out a number of asks of Government in relation to Access to Rural Health and Care. 

Specific ask of Government in relation to this topic are set out below:

Public and mental health services: in the light of recent experience, Government should give more prominence to public health and mental health services. Both need better resourcing to become more accessible in rural areas. Historic funding allocations for public health cannot be justified and need an urgent overhaul to even out provision. Good practice in rural provision of mental health services needs active promotion and encouragement. Large disparities in numbers of mental health professionals working in rural and urban areas need resolving.

Social care provision: Government should implement the findings of its Fair Funding Review to help level-up the provision of social care services in rural areas, taking full account of their delivery cost in more sparsely populated areas. This would also enable improved or more consistent engagement with and commissioning of ‘low level’ support services for vulnerable rural residents, which are typically delivered locally by voluntary and community sector organisations.

Access and travel to hospitals: local health partnerships (STPs and ICSs) and trusts should take better account of accessibility and transport availability when drawing up plans to reconfigure acute and emergency services at their main hospital sites. This should address access for patients, visitors, and staff from rural locations, including those without a car or those unable to drive. It is especially important for patients whose treatments require a regular visit. Hospital transport schemes should also be made more widely available. This and other issues would be easier to address if funding allocations to local NHS areas were better aligned with the costs rural areas typically face from serving an older aged population. The hospital building programme should be used to improve access to hospitals in rural areas which are not well served.

Primary and community care services: local health partnerships should seize opportunities to create locally based multi-disciplinary teams and to develop health hubs in rural town locations. Hubs should aim to make a wide range of treatments and services more accessible to nearby rural populations, thereby avoiding the need for many patients to travel to main hospitals. They should provide services such as minor procedures, diagnostic tests, baby clinics, rehabilitation, and reenablement. Local pharmaceutical services need to be retained in rural areas, which in some cases means supporting dispensing GP surgeries.

- View the Revitalising Rural 'Access to Rural Health and Care Services' chapter here


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