Monetising Youth : An Excess of Righteous Wrath?

A much appreciated shot across the bows from Tom Wylie re our recent post

NCS : A Calculated Tale of Monetised Benefits?

Monetising Youth

A measure of righteous wrath has been expressed about the assertion in the recent evaluation report on National Citizens Service  that the programme’s community service element can be shown to have an economic benefit. Why the surprise ? Similar  claims have been made down the years for such schemes,including Blunkett’s Millennium Volunteers and the work of V. Indeed, youth organisations such as the Scouts or Guides have from time to time deployed the argument that youth work undertaken by their volunteer leaders would otherwise  cost  £XXX when compared to the alternative of employing paid youth work staff. Indeed,some in the voluntary youth sector have made a life’s work out of claiming that its servants,whether paid or voluntary, can always go further and faster than the servants of the state.

A conservative –led government, intent on rolling back the welfare state, will always welcome such arguments. Moreover, the youth work sector as a whole has often compared the modest costs of its provision when compared,say, with incarcerating the young,or their unemployment. This argument may well be true but youth work has not been so good at demonstrating ,as distinct from asserting, how it prevents such negative outcomes.

The political reality is that HM Treasury expects any case for state-funded social programmes,especially new programmes , to show the potential economic return on investment (ERI). It has an elaborate set of requirements though many of these  may be a form of financial smoke and mirrors given the intrinsic difficulties in doing the sums. Some advocates have turned to making a rather wider case about potential additional social benefits (SRI), not just economic ones . Such attempts may prove no  less problematic ,though they may be a bit  more appealing to the youth work sector with its traditional distaste for any metrics,especially economic ones.

Youth work’s wrath would be more usefully focussed on real concerns about NCS ,notably  the increasingly apparent attempts to claim the moon by way of likely success while simultaneously cutting corners and costs. We could also do with an explanation of why some major national bodies in the field have aligned themselves with commercial servicing companies and rather questionable procurement practices (beyond the obvious one that some will make any sort of Faustian pact to get money ).

Tom Wylie

One comment

  1. There’s a need to get up close and personal with the NCS in action, to truly see the effect of the economic model therein. For those who wouldn’t touch it with a barge pole, I suspect the best that can be done is to listen carefully to the testimony of those who’ve been in the thick of it. Here some material I picked up from a worker involved in the ‘delivery’ of its outdoor adventure component.

    To keep the costs low groups were dropped off with the plan to pick them up after their journey. However, the lack of access to a vehicle proved fateful when a young man developed symptoms of hypothermia. Having carried the lad down (no mean feat given his size) the poor worker was faced with running (yes, running) several miles to get transport for his group. In a cursory debrief the worker was told that he had been “over-providing” and in future a walk around some low level woodland trails was to be deemed ‘adventurous enough’. Certainly not climbing a mountain.

    The reality seems clear; at least some NCS contractors appear to have conducted a bizarre kind of economic analysis in order to maximise their gains. The implication for young people are that the quality of their experiences are dictated by a model that has more in common with supermarket ‘basics’ product lines. It’s as if the notion of minimum standards means exactly that; what can be offered for the bare minimum of costs.

    Needless to say, the worker dobbed his cards in, such was his disgust at how economics had conspired against his commitment to facilitating a quality experience and ensuring young people’s health and safety. Thankfully, in this case, no-one came to any harm – but the writing is surely on the wall.

    Please don’t ask me for the details of who, where, and what ‘provider’. But, trust me, I kid you not about this case, and recognise only that we all have to bear witness to what is happening here.

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