The Return of youth work. (Social and Economic Value of Youth Work in Scotland Report)

cover Hall Aitken Youthlink Report

YouthLink Scotland yesterday hosted the YouthWork Expo. A day dedicated to “highlight and celebrate the contribution youth work makes to society, individuals and to the realisation of the programme for government”.

The lead claim in the press release is

A new study by Hall Aitken published today has put the value of youth work at around £656 million, with a return of £7 for every £1 of public cash spent

which then featured in several Scottish newspapers including the Herald in Glasgow, The Scotsman in Edinburgh, (see picture below), the national and other news outlets.
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What was striking about this coverage is the certainty with which the claim is made spend £1 of public money and you get the worth of £7 back. I believe there is a value to youth work, but something around the 7 to 1 figure make me curious. How do you get the 7 to 1 figure, and how certain is that number? The reason for asking is that this figure will be significant to securing youth work funding from the Scottish Government in the future.

The quote contained in the report is

The total value of youth work in Scotland is probably at least £656 million – a return of £7 for every £1 of public cash

(Hall Aitken, 2016, p7)
please note – Probably is the key word here, not the at least they put in italics. This claim isn’t solid. Secondly it is primary referring to public spending. Public spending is term used for the cash spent by government so this figure is based on government cash invested in youth work.

How do you get the 7 to 1 number?
You find out how much it money it costs to do youth work in Scotland, add the value of all the volunteering hours across Scotland, multiply this by a SORI number, then divide by the money cost to get your return.

Fortunately YouthLink Scotland has the figures for how much it costs to do youth work in Scotland thanks to research into the youth work spending of Local Government bodies. The youth work budget of local authorities was £35.5million wth an additional 4.73million from external sources. And local authority youth work uses 2683 volunteers delivering 20,077 hours of youth work.
Hall Aitken specify that these figures came from YouthLink but I couldn’t find the documents or figures on the YouthLink website. It is important to note that only 28 of the 32 Scottish local authorities provided information towards this data.

That gives us a total of £40million youth work spend by local authorities.

Next you try to cost the youth work of voluntary youth work organisations across Scotland.
By using the figures from the National Voluntary Youth Work Organisations Scotland report (NVYWOS). We see there are a total of 3551 youth workers in paid and part-time employment, with a support staff of 315, and a total number of youth work volunteers as 73,004 providing 12.8million volunteering hours per year.
– It is important to point out this survey only covers national agencies linked to YouthLink Scotland (YouthLink, 2012, p8), not local independent projects.
– Also not every agency responded. The 73,004 figure for volunteers is from subset of these national agencies. 29/33 respondees (YouthLink, 2012, p5). The 12.8million figure came from 26/33 responds
– Further CLD workers in Scotland were excluded as Youth work not the main focus of the CLD provider that employs them (Hall Aitken, 2016, p41)

There are 3850 paid staff in voluntary organisations. The report assumes 2000 of these employees are FTE (full time equivalent) with an average salary and employment cost total of £25,000

Add this to the local government total and we have a new total of £90million spend on youth work in Scotland.

The Local government spending figure is reasonably solid. I suspect the problem is the voluntary agency staffing figure. It is low in terms of not including any costs associated with accommodation, training or resources for the youth workers. Also I suspect that the figures would be increased by the missing agencies and local governments actually filling out the form and giving the data. Depending which agency or local government body it is that could substantially increase this figure. Also I suspect the spend by local youth agencies (not national agencies) is also significant but not included here.

The Second number you need for this calculation is how many volunteering hours support youth work across Scotland. Looking at the data gathered above that is 12.8million hours annually. In Youth Link Scotland in the NVYWOS values each volunteer hour at £10 so do the sum and you come out with a value of £128million.

The total cost to do Scottish youth work of £218million (£90m + £128m).

I dislike this figure significantly. I like the idea of a replacement costing for insurance purposes, (if all youth workers were stolen today, what would it cost to replace the entirety of youth work from scratch including paying everyone instead of volunteers?), but that replacement value is not the actual cost of youth work in Scotland today. It does not value or reflect the gift that is volunteering. I think it is wrong to say volunteering is a cost based on replacing volunteers with sessional workers. Philosophically if someone gives you a gift, you cannot count it as a cost to you to accept that gift, that just nuts. Yes count the admin, training, supervision costs, but there is doubt that figure comes to £10 per hour of youth work. Add to this ignoring vibrant and significant local youth work projects and agencies from this figure, that is a practical decision, (how do you gather that data easily?) but also a significant omission.

How solid is this £218million number? as a replacement cost for Scottish youth work probable, as an actual cost of Scottish youth work, we are building on sand not rock.

The next figure you need is a SORI number. SORI stands for Social Return on Investment. At a basic level, (my own viewpoint) this is how much money you can say you get back for the money you spend. So how do you find this number, Well you engage in a piece of research based on the SORI research methodology

The key question it asks is “what is the impact of this” rather than “did it meet its goals”. Inputs include cash spend and other resources, with volunteer time being particularly relevant to youth work. The results or outcomes are explored from the perspectives of all stakeholders – including beneficiaries and anyone who could experience negative outcomes (such as the neighbours of a new noisy youth music venue)

Unfortunately Hall Aitken are not able to do this. “This study is too limited to use original research to explore this so we have relied on reviewing existing studies.” To do this Hall Aitken reviewed 20 other SORI studies. They rejected some as not being relevant to Scotland leaving the 11 studies they detail within the report. (Aitken Hall, 2016, p43,) They assess that a study in Sunderland which details a social value return on every pound of youth work spend at £3.56 (Hall Aitken, 2016, p41) and an Irish study which gives an economic return of £2.22 (Hall Aitken, 2016, p41) are particularly relevant to Scotland although the researchers provide no reasoning as to why these studies are relevant to the Scottish youth work context in order to make the comparison.

This gives a SORI number of around £3 to every £1 spent.

This figure is the most troubling. The problems are rooted in the lack of research to find this number. It all hangs on this number. We have to look to YouthLink Scotland and what they commissioned Hall Aitken to do, questioning why was this central piece of the puzzle not researched? This is a significant piece of research, with high level governmental backing, launched at a large conference with newspaper coverage, yet the researches are saying the study is limited and unable to research the actual number for Scottish youth work (Hall Aitken, 2016, p8). Later in the report Hall Aitken start a section by saying,

In a larger scale and better-resourced research programme we would aim to …

If YouthLink Scotland aren’t listening other readers of the report will pick up on this. I guess the number would be in the range specified, but given this document is all about the value of Scottish youth work to the Scottish economy to not have done the research to enable us to know the number seems unhelpful.

We have to use the best guess at 3

The Calculation is
1. you add your actual cost to the volunteer cost
2. multiply this new figure by your SORI number
3. then divide this number by the actual cost number and that’s your figure

(90,000,000 + 128,000,000) x3 = 656,000,000
656,000,000 / 90,000,000 = 7.29 which is rounded down to 7

giving you

The total value of youth work in Scotland is probably at least £656 million – a return of £7 for every £1 of public cash

(Hall Aitken, 2016, p7)

yet leaving us with some problems.
The figures are probables turned into definite by the press release and news coverage. thats inaccurate. I think this is the wrong way to portrait youth work in scotland. If we want to put out a figure which reflects the benefit of youth work in Scotland, we need to research and find the full picture of Scottish youth work. Here we are basing our work on incomplete data from local government and national voluntary agencies then estimating the effects of this incomplete data with an educated guess number. Thats good not enough to turn a probable into a definite.

The costing of the volunteer hours is a significant issue in this number. Turning a benefit someone gives you into a cost is move I am not sure I am comfortable with, philosophically or practically. If the benefits of volunteering are accounted for in the SORI number then it should cancel itself out in both the cost and benefit column. If you remove from both sides this looks a very different calculation.

The headline quote from Hall Aitken and the YouthLink press release counts the whole £90million cost of youth work as public spending (Public means Government spending). How can this be when they specify Local Government funds youth work at £35 million of the £90million? (they fundraise the other £5million from external sources). Why is this 7 to 1 return crouched in public spending language? I don’t think that is accurate, and misrepresents the role of the voluntary agencies and their majority role in Scottish youth work provision.