ITV News investigation reveals rising violence amid cuts to youth services

Closed youth centre
Hundreds of council-run youth centres have been closed in recent years. Credit: ITV News

A generation of young people, who have lived through multi-million pound cuts to youth services in the UK, are facing a rising tide of violence, an ITV News investigation has found.

Youth work charities across Yorkshire and Lincolnshire have spoken of how they have seen a rapid increase in the number of young people being criminally exploited by drugs gangs.

Our investigation heard from young people themselves, who have lost friends to stabbings - many saying the threat of gang violence and county lines exploitation is rife in some communities.

Parents of young people who have lost their lives to violence have spoken out. Javell Morgan, 20, who grew up in Huddersfield, was stabbed to death with a Samurai sword at a street party following Manchester's Caribbean Carnival last August.

Javell Morgan.

"This is the generation where all the youth clubs got taken away, all the funding for things - for kids' summer camps - got taken away. What did the government expect?" Vicki Morgan, Javell's mum said.

"It’s sad. More things need to be in place for these kids."

Kate Roux's 16-year-old son Ben Nelson-Roux was groomed into county lines drug dealing in North Yorkshire before he died in an adult homeless hostel in 2020.

'The perfect storm'

Kate, a former youth worker herself, told ITV News that she believes her son would still be alive if support services had not been cut.

"It’s part of the perfect storm," she said.

"As you lose youth workers there are also fewer mental health workers, social workers. All that support network just disappeared. It created a vacuum where it was easy for predatory adults to move in and give children a space where they feel they belong.

"Children who are not coping in school and feel they’re failing have got an apparently friendly adult that’s never judging them."

Kate Roux with her son, Ben Nelson-Roux.

Meanwhile youth work as a profession faces challenges of its own.

According to youth work's professional body the National Youth Agency, an estimated £1 billion has been cut from annual local government youth service budgets - resulting in the closure of hundreds of council-run youth centres - and 4,500 youth workers have left the profession since austerity began in 2010.

A third of youth work degree courses nationally have closed since 2008 - with just two universities in Yorkshire and Lincolnshire now actively recruiting trainees at degree level.

The University of Huddersfield became the latest to close its youth and community course to new applicants this year.

'A minute away from midnight'

Dr Rajesh Patel, a lecturer on that course until last month, says a review of the education of new youth workers is becoming increasingly urgent.

He said: “We’re one minute away from midnight. If we don’t [conduct a review] we’re not going to be able to have professionals that can connect with young people."

Yorkshire's oldest youth work charity, The Youth Association, sends 17 youth workers out into deprived communities across South and West Yorkshire several days a week.

Dmitry Fedotov, the charity's operations director, told ITV News that the closure of youth provision across the region is leaving many young people without the support they need.

“Charities can’t just step into that gap," he said.

"The sheer scale and size of those gaps in cities like Leeds, Sheffield, Hull and Bradford aren’t fillable by small to medium sized charities - number one. Number two, there isn't a workforce there large enough to cope with that demand."

Meanwhile one of the region's biggest major trauma centres, Leeds General Infirmary (LGI), has revealed that on average it is treating an average of five teenagers for knife-related injuries every week.

It comes after a youth work pilot scheme in the hospital trust's trauma wards, called NHS Navigators, was made permanent due to rising demand.

Matt Guest and his team of NHS Navigators have supported more than 1,000 young people. Credit: ITV News

The project, which is funded by West Yorkshire's Violence Reduction Unit, has supported more than 1,000 victims of violence aged 11 to 25 in the last two years.

"I’ve seen people whose arm has been literally taken off put in a trolley. At the very worst we see people who have lost their lives from being stabbed," Dr Alice Downes, consultant in paediatric emergency medicine at LGI, said.

"[Contact with NHS Navigators] might be the only opportunity that a young person gets for support because they might not get it elsewhere."

Other doctors at the hospital said the scheme was "putting a plaster on what is a bigger problem".

Last week Yvette Cooper, Labour's Shadow Home Secretary and MP for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford, announced a £100 million "tough love" youth programme if her party comes into power.

It would create 90 youth hubs to bring together services for at-risk young people, modelled on the Sure Start early-years initiative introduced by the Blair government.

Speaking to ITV News, she said: "I think a generation has been completely let down. Knife crime has gone up by 70 percent. This is often our children who are being killed as a result of this devastating crime and it's just the most awful thing for families. Parents shouldn't have to worry about whether or not their kids are safe on the streets and yet we've just seen far too little done."

In response, a Government spokesperson said its National Youth Guarantee (NYG), which was set up in 2022, will give every young person access to regular clubs and activities, adventures away from home, and volunteering opportunities by 2025.

A spokesperson added: "This (NYG) is backed by an investment of more than £500 million and includes a commitment to build or refurbish up to 300 youth centres, supporting 45,000 more young people every year."So far over £25 million has been allocated to youth services in Yorkshire and Lincolnshire."

They added that its Violence Reduction Units reached 215,000 vulnerable young people last year and have helped 117,000 escape violence since 2019.