Unleashing Aspirations: Shackling Youth Work

George Hope in the comments section has posed the following pertinent question:

In light of the now released Unleashing Aspirations Report and its damning indictment of careers advice nationally and its recommendation that “the current Connexions service be broken up, leaving a residual specialist service free to focus on young people not in education, employment or training” I was wondering what, if any impact, you feel this will have for youth services who are now part of IYSS alongside Connexions.

I must confess to a wave of nausea on being told by Alan Milburn that ‘socio-economic inequality’ impedes social mobility. It’s all the more head-spinning when the author of this stunningly obvious statement is another of those former Marxists, who have matured – in their own words – into unashamed advocates of free-market capitalism and who have all signed up to the official New Labour declaration that class politics is dead. Yet, perhaps, I should put aside my bile. This report, although in essence a classic set of neo-liberal managerial recommendations, allows us perhaps to revive the debate about the underlying structural causes of socio-economic inequality or more accurately the economic exploitation of the majority by a minority.

As for the impact of this report upon Youth Work it would be illuminating to hear the views of those of you closest to the turmoil of Connexions and Integrated Youth Support Services. From a distance it’s difficult to know whether this is but the latest in the long line of  ‘suggestive’ reports beloved of New Labour. The paper exercise’s completion is its raison d’etre.  It’s arguable, given the dire proclamations that public services face decade of pain , that the report will be shelved. On the other hand many of its proposals could be pressed into the service of  restructuring and cost-cutting.

Chatting about future scenarios in our house led us back to the situation in 1977 when I was a District Youth Worker with the Wigan Youth Service and Marilyn worked for the Careers Service as a Special Measures Assistant. The NEETs of the day were called YOPs. In both cases the complexity of a young person’s life is reduced to a patronising acronym. As it was the Special Measures Unit in its early days tried to negotiate individual packages for its young clients and liaised with youth workers if appropriate. All this soon collapsed as the numbers of young people needing support escalated. And, whilst as a Youth Service we maintained that our job was not about preparing young people for employment, a new workforce of YOP and later YTS instructors grew apace.

I’m uncertain whether this little cameo has anything to say about the present situation. But if a  generalist Careers Service is to be revived with the underclass of those not in Employment or Training assigned to a specialist Service, who will be the workers employed in this ‘residual ‘ Taskforce? Are they likely to be the very youth workers, who have been shifted out of universal provision into integrated and targeted services; who are familiar with the prescribed discourse of employment-oriented, accredited outcomes? Certainly the task of defending an open emancipatory and democratic youth work practice – in the service of young people rather than the market – is not going to get any easier.


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