Cuts to youth services in England amounting to £660m over the past decade have fuelled antisocial behaviour and violent crime, Keir Starmer will say on Monday.
The Labour leader said his experience as a former director of public prosecutions showed that youth workers, youth centres and other services aimed at young people were a key plank of early intervention against the causes of crime.
He highlighted analysis from the House of Commons library showing cuts to youth services in England since 2011 under successive Conservatives governments were steepest in the most deprived areas.
It showed that services in the least deprived areas were cut by 60%, while the average cut across English councils by 2019/2020 was 68%.
The research found that almost half of the 50 English local authorities with the highest crime rates were also among the 50 with the deepest cuts to youth services since 2011.
Speaking before a visit to Wolverhampton to meet police officers and others to discuss community cohesion, Starmer said: “One of the big takeaways from my time as director of public prosecutions is the unquestionable value of preventative services and early intervention.
“It’s incredibly frustrating that the short-sightedness of this prime minister is leaving young people up and down the country without the advice, guidance and support that youth services once provided.
“Youth work is about career guidance, mental health support and community cohesion, but it is also one of the most effective ways of tackling the root causes of crime. Professional youth workers can recognise when a young person may need extra support outside school or home.”
Labour also highlighted a report from the all-party parliamentary group on knife crime and violence reduction, which found a link between knife crime and budget cuts to youth services in England.
Last week a Guardian investigation revealed a looming crisis of children suffering abuse, neglect and poverty during the pandemic, and growing numbers of young people taken into care in some of England’s most deprived communities.
The investigation into the state of children’s services in the last 18 months found a sharp rise in social services referrals during lockdown, spiralling costs for mental health support and a bulging backlog in the family courts, with some councils buckling under the weight of the extra work brought by coronavirus.
A government spokesperson said: “Councils are best placed to know what their communities need – that’s why we’ve increased the funding they can access to deliver services, including children’s services, to more than £51 billion this year.
“We’re supporting families and building stronger communities by investing £500m in safe spaces through our Youth Investment Fund and championing family hubs to offer earlier help and support to families in need.
“We’re also introducing new measures to protect vulnerable young people at risk of being exploited – including £45m in specialist support in schools to re-engage them in their education.”