THE value of youth organisations to the economy will be praised by ministers today, at the same time as support for the sector is being slashed across the country.

New research shows that youth work contributes over £650 million in economic benefits, effectively recouping £7 for every £1 spent.

The study, commissioned from Hall Aitken by YouthLink Scotland, says youth work is hard to define, but includes everything from uniformed organisation such as the Scouts, Guides and Boys Brigade to small voluntary groups and local council clubs.

The economic gains come about through measurement of reduced costs such as savings to the education system, a greater likelihood of employment, less use of welfare, lower risk of obesity and savings on criminal justice interventions. Investment in youth work also helps mobilise an army of unpaid adult volunteers.

The research included a You Gov poll which found that 450,000 adults in Scotland said youth work has been very important in helping them to achieve their life goals. The findings will be welcomed today by Education Secretary Angela Constance at a conference in Edinburgh.

However Jim Sweeney, Chief Executive of YouthLink Scotland said millions of pounds were being cut from council community learning and development budgets, and non-statutory youth work was often in the front line.

He added: "In times when budgets are increasingly tight, it is crucial that cuts are not made to youth work services in Scotland, particularly at local level. This new research reinforces what we as a sector have been seeing for years, that youth work has a significant effect on people’s lives for the better.

"We believe that universal youth work, available to all, provides the greatest opportunity in terms of preventative spending, as it can reduce the need for higher-cost targeted interventions later on in a young adult’s life."

Cutting cash to youth work was a false economy he said: "It will not save money in the long run, it will only frustrate attempts to tackle inequalities and the closing of the attainment gap for our young people.”

"Youth work does change lives but it is crucial that we broaden the understanding and support for what this sector delivers for our young people."

One beneficiary is 15-year-old Kieran Hill from Perth, who struggled at school, in a cycle of fighting and being bullied, before experimenting with drugs. Family problems and school exclusion made things worse.

"My life was spiralling out of control and I was excluded permanently from school," he said. "I started to attend a youth work project, the Achievement Academy, back in December 2013 and it has helped me focus on what I want to do in the future.

"I'll never forget what advice they gave me to make sure to do well in life and develop my skills so they benefit not just me but also inspire other young people to do well for themselves and stay out of trouble."

Speaking ahead of the conference, Ms Constance said: “This is excellent research, which shows more clearly than ever the immense value of Scotland’s youth work sector to our economy. Every penny spent is well invested, as this research shows.

“Youth work builds the self-esteem and confidence of young people, provides space for personal development, and prepares young people for future opportunities. We are proud to invest in youth work programmes.

"Our Youth Work Strategy sets out our vision for working with all organisations to build on what is an already vibrant sector.”

Girlguiding Scotland’s Chief Commissioner Sue Walker said the research was recognition of the huge contribution made by youth work across Scotland. “YouthLink Scotland’s new research is a fantastic endorsement of the work we do with our 50,000 young members," she said.

"We know from our own research that Scottish guiding unlocks opportunities and empowerment for our volunteers too – almost half our volunteers say it’s helped them get a job or work experience, and 99 per cent tell us it’s had a positive effect on their lives.”