'If someone is not a success in life it's their own fault' – Coalition youth policy revisited

Continuing our critical commentary on the shifting landscape of work with young people Tania de St Croix explores ‘what Coalition youth policy says about young people and youth workers’. In particular she focuses on three key documents published in the last year.

First, from September 2011, is the official Government response to the House of Commons Education Select Committee document Services for Young People. Second, Positive for Youth was published by the Department for Education in December 2011, claiming to bring together all of the Government’s policies for young people aged 13-19 for the first time. Lastly, the Evaluation of National Citizen Service Pilots Interim Report was published in May 2012 by social research organisation NatCen and commissioned by the Government. These are long and wide-ranging documents; rather than attempting to cover everything, I will specifically look at what they tell us about how personal and professional ‘success’ is increasingly measured in market terms. Looking at these documents it seems that – as far as the Coalition Government is concerned – young people and youth workers must embrace the market or be seen as irresponsible failures.

However, as is always the case with her analysis,  she grounds her thoughts in practice. Indeed Tania begins with a description of some work on the streets that might well ring a bell.

Courtesy of Jethro Brice

One warm summer evening…

A small group of young men take turns kicking a ball against a wall, sometimes calling out a joke or insult to each other. They see two adults walk towards them and greet them with calls of ‘alright Ricky? Alright Jo?’ The youth workers join the haphazard game; news is shared and familiar stories retold of things they’ve all done together in the past and funny things that happened. The ball narrowly misses an older man walking past but he doesn’t seem to notice, continuing unsteadily on his way. ‘Urgh, he’s disgusting,’ says one of the young men, ‘he sleeps at the bus stop next to my nan’s.’ Some of the group members laugh or stare. Jo says quickly, ‘Shush Danny, he might hear you. If he’s homeless or something then his life’s hard enough without people being unkind’. ‘Well tough. It’s like my uncle says’ Danny responds, louder. ‘If someone’s not a success in life it’s their own fault’.

A couple of the group nod and mutter agreement. Wondering how much to share with the group, Ricky says tentatively, ‘My mate was homeless when he was younger. I don’t reckon it was his fault, he had a lot of bad luck.’ Familiar with the youth workers’ ability to get a good chat going, the young men start to gather round. Eventually the ball’s left lying in the gutter as they talk about people they know and things they’ve read in the papers, about poverty, relationship breakdown and illness, discussing and disagreeing about how much choice they’ll have themselves over what might happen to them in the future. After a while some of the group seem to lose interest, going round the corner to smoke. Looking straight at Jo, Danny says, ‘Maybe it’s not that guy’s fault but whatever, he stinks, he should at least get a wash!’ The remaining members of the group laugh as Danny kicks the ball high in the air and the game is resumed. Not joining in with the laughter, Ricky and Jo glance at each other, noticing that the moment has passed. They’ll bring this up again another time.

Follow the argument as it unfolds.

‘If someone is not a success in life it’s their own fault’ What Coalition youth policy says about young people and youth workers





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