The Market rules has been the mantra for over 30 years. With each passing year its invocation has gotten ever louder. Today, despite a crisis of its making, the Market continues to dictate, going so far, namely in Greece, as to oust elected governments. Yet the Market’s dominance over our lives is being increasingly questioned. In the UK opposition to the privatisation of public services is growing, witness the campaigns against the NHS reforms and against the Work Programme. What has this got to do with Youth Work and Youth Services?
Well, to listen to leading spokespersons and organisations from within what they dub ‘the youth market sector’, it seems to mean little or nothing, indeed to be irrelevant. In this parallel universe the Market is embraced with unconditional regard. It is as if the present economic and political crisis is an act of God rather than the consequence of policies created by living human beings infatuated with the Market as the arbiter of human existence. Thus CATALYST, led by the NCVYS and NYA, talks of accessing new and bigger markets, of brokering investment, of establishing licence and franchise agreements, of being ‘investment ready’ and creating ‘business in a box’, all softened by references to ‘social’ and ‘young people-led’. Whilst UK Youth – at its national Social Network conference to be held appropriately at Canary Wharf – will be wheeling on experts to inform us that we need to find ‘the social entrepreneur within’ and put a monetary value on youth work to evidence impact, whilst Tim Loughton , the Minister responsible, will speak on empowering charities to work with business organisations. You get the picture. There is not even a sliver of contradiction in sight.
And it is this lack of debate that most disturbs us. Many within youth work seem to be sleepwalking into this marketised and privatised world. Perhaps it’s too late, but we do want to sound an alarm. Thus you will find below a flyer, inviting interested parties to be involved in organising some argument and discussion about what’s going on. Please circulate it widely and put in your pennyworth, even, indeed especially, if you disagree with our analysis.
DRIVEN TO MARKET: YOUTH WORK’S SHEEPISH RESPONSE?
Since the start of its campaign, In Defence of Youth Work has been contesting the imposition of the capitalist market’s demand for measurable certainty on the unpredictable character of a youth work shaped by young people’s interests and concerns. Our January meetings on the campaign’s future particularly highlighted the growing dominance of public services conceived of as ‘a market’ – a notion which cannot float free of either the grand Coalition strategy to embed private capital and the market at the heart of all public provision or its more specific desire to regulate the very character of youth work itself.
Indeed, the Government’s ‘Positive for Youth’ policies are explicit in their intention for youth workers in the future to operate within a radically changed landscape in which ‘results’ will have to be demonstrated in order that payments (and profits) can be made. In the process core features of the practice will be undermined as more ‘measurable’ targeted schemes for the ‘problematic’ and ‘risky’ are preferred over open access provision focused on young people’s own definitions of personal and social development.
Nonetheless, within the youth work field the social entrepreneurs are in the ascendancy.
- The CATALYST consortium, with the National Youth Agency [NYA] and National Council for Voluntary Youth Services [NCVYS] at its head, propounds an unquestioning acceptance of the Coalition’s vision.
- NCVYS plans to establish a social finance retailer that can pilot and then promote a youth sector specific social investment approach based on evidence of impact.
- UK Youth – a bedrock national organisation with a proud history of demonstrating alternative ways of working to statutory providers – makes business relations the taken-for-granted theme of its annual conference.
It is not even as though the best of the business sector’s practices are being mimicked – such as a commitment to research and development as crucial underpinnings for risk-taking initiatives. Meanwhile, even as scandal breaks out over allegations of corruption at the-welfare-to-work giant A4E – and as major companies withdraw from work experience schemes – a precious autonomy is being sold for a few crumbs from the financier’s table of austerity. Little heed is being taken of the Carnegie Commission’s reminder that:
Civil society associations can never be just providers of services …civil society thrives best when it has an independent and confident spirit, when it is not beholden to the state or funders and when it is not afraid to make trouble.
This said, we know these are tough times. As workers are made redundant, services slashed and funding streams dry up, sheer survival is the name of the game. Projects and organisations are faced with little option but to be drawn into the market. Pontificating from on high looks easy. Grappling with reality on the ground is far harder – and exhausting.
With the drive to a youth market presented as a fait accompli, over the next months, with support from the ChooseYouth campaign and the National Coalition for Independent Action, IDYW is proposing a series of events at which, we can think through the implications of this predicament. We are inviting individuals and agencies to join us in sponsoring and contributing to these gatherings. We don’t expect uniformity of opinion. But, if you’re committed to a rich diversity of youth organisations, to defending pluralist youth work – and are up for a provocative debate, contact the IDYW Coordinator at firstname.lastname@example.org
Drive to the Market – Word Version for printing and circulation
In our next post we will provide a list of links to relevant articles and materials.