United Kingdom

The British Youth Council (BYC) is an umbrella organisation made up of over 200 national and local youth organisations, which supports young people “to influence and inform decisions that affect their lives.” Member organisations elect an annual board of young trustees (aged 16 to 25) which guide all policy and strategic decisions.

Published on October 4, 2023
Updated on February 12, 2024

Definition of youth

The definitions of youth in the United Kingdom vary. The transversal youth policy framework Positive for Youth (2011) defines youth as those between the ages of 13 to 19 years. In England, according to the EU Youth Wiki(last updated in 2019 prior to the exit of the UK from the European Union on 31 January 2020) "there is no single age range for youth policy in England", as the various departments responsible for youth issues address different age ranges. The Scottish National Youth Work Strategy (2014) and the Youth Work Strategy for Wales (2019) both apply to young people between the ages of 11 and 25. Northern Ireland's Children and Young People's Strategy (2020) adheres to the Children's Services Co-operation Act (2015), which defines children and young people as persons under the age of 18. However, the Strategy recognises "that in policy and service provision there can be variation in definitions of a child or young person" (with youth work, for example, extending to the age of 25).

Definition 1
13 - 19 years

Source: Positive for Youth 2011

Definition 2
11 - 25 years

Voting Rights

Majority age
18 years
Voting age
18 years
Criminal responsibility
15 years

Candidacy age

Lower House
18 years
Upper House
21 years
--- (tbc)

Marriage & Gender

Without parental consent
18 years
18 years
With parental consent
16 years
16 years


Is same-sex marriage legalized?


Are other genders recognised?
compulsory medical diagnosis

Policy & Legislation

Is there a national youth policy?

In the United Kingdom, youth policy is primarily the responsibility of the devolved governments.

In England, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) announced the National Youth Guarantee in 2022 as a means to allocate the �560m budget allocated to youth services in the 2021 Spending Review. It aims to deliver up to 300 new and refurbished youth facilities in the most deprived parts of England, alleviate waiting lists for youth groups, and expand the Duke of Edinburgh's Award to all state secondary schools in England. It also intends to create thousands of new youth volunteering opportunities and provides funding to maintain the National Citizen Service. The Guarantee emerged in response to the 2020 review of youth services led by the DCMS.

In Scotland, the main document of youth policy is the National Youth Work Strategy 2014-2019 (see section "Youth Work"). This strategy has been updated, and according to YouthLink Scotland, the upcoming National Youth Work Strategy (2023-2028) currently sits with the Scottish government awaiting publication.

In Northern Ireland, the Children and Young People's Strategy 2020-2030 serves as a cross-departmental strategy to "improve the well-being of all children and young people in Northern Ireland."

Wales also has a Youth Work Strategy (2019) and a set of Children and Young People's National Participation Standards (2016).

In 2011, several government departments published the UK-wide policy framework Positive for Youth, "a new approach to cross-government policy for young people aged 13 to 19." The statement brings together all policies regarding youth to present a cohesive vision for youth policy across national and local authorities. In 2013, a Progress Report was published; however, since then there has been no follow-up on the statement. In fact, the Civil Society Strategy: Building a Future that Works for Everyone reports that "the guidance which sets out the statutory duty on local authorities [regarding youth services] has not been revised since 2012."

Public Institutions

Is there a governmental authority that is primarily responsible for youth?

According to the Country Sheet on Youth Policy, United Kingdom (2010), the responsibility for youth policy in the UK is devolved to the respective administrations of England, Scotland, Northern Ireland, and Wales.

In England, the Civil Society and Youth Directorate, formerly known as the Office for Civil Society, "is responsible for policy relating to young people" under the Department for Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS).

In Scotland, youth affairs are mainly the responsibility of the Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills, specifically of its supporting Minister for Children, Young People and Keeping the Promise and Minister for Higher and Further Education; and Minister for Veterans.

In Northern Ireland, the Department of Education holds the main responsibility for youth affairs. In Wales, there is no single authority responsible for youth, and the various tasks are shared between different departments. However, the Minister for Education and Welsh Language is responsible for youth-work policy.

Youth & Representation

Does the country have a national youth organization or association?

The British Youth Council (BYC) is an umbrella organisation made up of over 200 national and local youth organisations, which supports young people "to influence and inform decisions that affect their lives." Member organisations elect an annual board of young trustees (aged 16 to 25) which guide all policy and strategic decisions. BYC delivers campaigns such as Votes at 16, and participation programmes such the UK Youth Parliament and the international UK Young Ambassadors. BYC is a full member of the European Youth Forum and Commonwealth Youth Council.

Youth work

Is youth work a formally recognised profession?

In all of the UK, youth work is a formally recognised profession. Further, the Youth Work National Occupational Standards exist throughout the whole of the UK. They "have been written to enable the differences [between the four countries in their approach to youth work] to be accommodated."

In England, the National Youth Agency (NYA) is the national body for youth work and the Professional Statutory Regulatory Body. It sets a national framework for youth work and for youth work qualifications - distinguishing between Youth Support Workers and Professional Youth Workers.

In Scotland, YouthLink Scotland is the national agency for youth work, acting in a representative function for over 100 youth organisations, collaborating with the government on policy issues, and conducting research themselves. Together with the Scottish Government and Education Scotland, YouthLink Scotland developed the National Youth Work Strategy 2014-2019. The strategy provides a set of ambitions, including to "measure the impact of youth work" and to "put young people at the heart of policy". An interim report was published in 2017 to assess the progress of the strategy, and the updated National Youth Work Strategy 2020-2028 is awaiting publication by the Scottish government. The professional body responsible for youth workers is the Standards Council for Community Learning and Development for Scotland.

In Northern Ireland, youth work is covered by the Department of Education and the policy paper Priorities for Youth: Improving Young People's Lives through Youth Work (2013). A Regional Assessment of Need is published every three years, with the purpose of identifying "the key issues affecting young people in Northern Ireland [�] and to give an indication of where resources may be best focussed to meet their needs." A draft for the years 2020 to 2023 was released in 2019.

In Wales, the Youth Work Strategy for Wales (2019) is the main policy document regarding youth work. It provides an overview of the Welsh government's understanding of youth work and defines goals for the development of the sector. A separate implementation plan (2019) "sets out the governance and delivery arrangements for realising the commitments identified in the Youth Work Strategy for Wales 2019."

Budget & Spending

Does the national youth policy have a dedicated budget?

Since youth policies are cross-sectoral, as well as devolved to the national governments, a specific amount allocated to youth UK-wide cannot be identified. According to the World Bank, the United Kingdom spent 10.6% of its government expenditure and 5.5% of its GDP on education provision in 2020.

Contextual Figures

Liberal Democracy Index
Youth Progress Index

Economic Indicators

GDP per capita
Human Development Index
Gini coefficient

Additional background

The UK left the EU on 31 January 2020 at 11pm. The transition period that was in place - during which nothing changed - ended on 31 December 2020.

The Office for Civil Society (OCS) has undergone several structural changes in the past years. Until 2016, it was part of the Cabinet Office; it then moved to the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport under Prime Minister Theresa May. According to Civil Society News, "several sector leaders raised concerns that this could weaken the department's influence." In 2020, the government's annual Spending Review announced that "the government will achieve efficiencies in the Office for Civil Society by rationalising work to better deliver the government's priorities for the sector." According to Civil Society News, this also raised concerns among charity leaders. Kristiana Wrixon, head of policy at ACEVO, described the turn of events as "ominous." In 2021, the OCS changed its name to "Civil Society and Youth Directorate." There is no information available regarding the reasons for and implications of this change.

From a report published by UNISON in 2019:

"�the UK's youth services have come under repeated attack since 2010, and new research carried out by UNISON reveals the situation isn't improving. Between 2010 and 2016, an estimated �387 million was axed from youth services across the UK. By the end of the current financial year (2018/19), there will have been a further �13.3m cut, with the loss of nearly 900 youth workers, and the closure of 160 youth centres. This means that between 2010 and 2019, youth services will have suffered cuts of �400m. This is a colossal amount of money, and will have meant the loss of more than 4,500 youth work jobs and more than 760 youth centres since 2012."


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