Youth services in England are spending less than a quarter of what they were spending a decade ago per child, according to analysis from the YMCA.
Funding cuts have seen youth services in England lose some £1.1 billion between 2010-11 and 2020-21, Department for Education figures on council spending show.
Spending in England was £379 million over the last financial year, down 74% from the £1.48 billion a decade earlier.
In Wales, spending fell but “not with the same ferocity” – from £54.5 million to £37.7 million over the same period.
In England, annual spend per head on five- to 17-year-olds in England has seen a “dramatic fall” from £158 in 2010-11 to £37 in 2020-21 in real terms.
It fell from £72 to £48 in Wales over the same period.
In the East of England, overall expenditure fell 63% in real terms over the past decade, compared with a fall of 88% in the West Midlands and 83% in the North East.
All young people deserve access to the services capable of empowering them to achieve a bright futureDenise Hatton, YMCA England and Wales
The YMCA said its analysis shows a postcode lottery of funding variations that highlight “the localised fallout of a new global crisis”.
This is apparent even between neighbouring areas, with spend per child in Wandsworth in south London £108.25 in 2020-21, compared with £29.77 in nearby Merton.
Denise Hatton, chief executive of YMCA England & Wales, said: “In addition to a decade of funding failures, young people have spent the past two years adjusting to periods of staying at home, limited social interaction, education anxieties, and a whole host of worries like no generation before.
“Simultaneously for the sector, the pandemic meant a shift in how youth services operated, placing significant pressure on their ability to support young people through these difficult transitions.
“All young people deserve access to the services capable of empowering them to achieve a bright future.
“We cannot let location dictate these opportunities, and we must no longer expect youth service providers to remain in survival mode as their funding streams continue to be squeezed, or worse still dry up entirely. Crucial and proportional investment is needed now.”
Councillor Anntoinette Bramble, chairwoman of the Local Government Association’s children and young people board, said limited funding for prevention work is being diverted to protect children at immediate risk.
She said: “Children need to be at the heart of the national recovery and we want to work with Government to invest fully in children and youth services, which is key to tackling serious violence, to help them avoid long-term unemployment, mental health problems and being lured into criminal activity, to ensure no one is left behind.”