In the dying days of 2011 youth work as a distinctive form of voluntary, young people-centred education seems to have been laid to rest, no longer recognised as such within government policy. It’s been coming for a while. New Labour started the rot, replacing talk of youth work with an insistence on ‘positive activities’ and the targeting of ‘anti-social’ youth. Reciting the same mantra the Coalition in the ‘Positive for Youth’ policy statement of December 19 seeks to consign the unruly world of authentic social and political education to the graveyard.
If they could be bothered with my comments, the spin-doctors of such as the NYA, NCVYS and UK Youth would be aggrieved. Having had the ear of the Minister for the last 18 months they hail the report, its emphasis on the role of business partnerships, its vision and sycophantically announce, “Today we can be positive about the Government”. From this position of utter capitulation they promise us they are going to insist on decisive Action Plans for its implementation. The Coalition, indeed Capitalism, trembles.
How did this come about? Let me try out the following as a simple starter for discussion:
- Under New Labour, wedded itself utterly to the neo-liberal agenda, discussion about youth work was replaced by talk of ‘positive activities’ and youth services in the plural. If conscious the latter was a clever move. Youth work had always been synonymous with the Youth Service. The idea of youth services seems to retain this relationship, but in reality this is an illusion.
- For under the Coalition the Youth Service is on the edge of extinction while a plethora of youth services are said to be rushing to the aid of young people. By now youth services means any and every intervention into young people’s lives undertaken by Uncle Tom Cobley and all. Some of these are useful and necessary, if flawed in their emphasis on young people and families as deficient – related to employment and training, enhanced PSE in schools, early intervention – but they do not constitute youth work. More and more these incursions into young people’s lives are imposed on the state’s terms. Youth work, let us repeat, starts from young people’s agendas and is founded on a voluntary relationship.
- But the job’s been done. Today, youth service, youth services and youth work are used interchangeably as it suits. And in the vanguard of those it suits are local authorities bent on outsourcing and commissioning, together with major voluntary youth organisations such as NCVYS and UK Youth and the host of aspiring social enterprise outfits queuing up to bid for contracts to rescue the ‘vulnerable and disadvantaged’. The rationale for this promiscuity of principle is that these agencies and their workers are taking with them their youth work values, skills and methodologies packaged neatly in an all-purpose tool kit – youth work is dead, long live youth work. Thus we come full circle. The notion of youth work is resurrected when pragmatically necessary to describe any form of work with young people [for which funding can be procured] and is thus rendered meaningless.
As for the detail of the policy statement we will scrutinise, criticise and produce at the very least a briefing paper for our January workshops, where we have added ‘Positive for Youth’ as an additional theme. Perhaps I exaggerate the symbolic significance of this report. As ever your comments and criticisms welcomed.
For the moment – in the interests of balance and indeed information- find below a range of links related to the policy statement and differing responses.
The National Council for Voluntary Youth Services (NCVYS) welcomes the Government’s launch of Positive for Youth, but calls for urgent action.
ADVANCE NOTICE REITERATED OF OUR IDYW JANUARY 19 and 20 WORKSHOPS WHERE WE CAN ARGUE THE TOSS ABOUT ALL THESE ISSUES. AND OF COURSE DEMOCRATIC YOUTH WORK IS NOT REALLY EXTINGUISHED, BUT IT NEEDS ALL OUR EFFORTS TO KEEP THE FLAME ALIVE!