In Praise of Social Mixing : Pandering to a traditional class-ridden Conservative agenda

This last week has witnessed further evidence of the decimation of open access youth work, symbolised by the demise of the Wokingham Youth Service, news of which sparked further depressing information on our Facebook and the Choose Youth page – the end of Bolton Youth Service as a distinct entity, 60% cuts in Gateshead, decommissioning chaos in Sunderland…….

Meanwhile, in a parallel universe, where spineless youth, benefits claimants and immigrants are the source of the country’s economic problems, Charlotte Hill, the Chief Executive of London Youth, takes the platform at a Conservative Party conference fringe event. Pandering to the prejudices of her audience she declares that the Party’s less than innovative summer activities programme, National Citizens Service, is ‘widening the reach of youth services’ [or what is left of them, we might add]. Evidently, as a result, young people from a wider range of backgrounds are turning up to the local youth club [ providing of course it is open, we might conjecture].

All this is a touch too much for Tim Loughton, the former children’s minister, who cannot believe his luck. Given permission to regress to the common-sense crap of yesteryear he  talks of youth clubs as the dumping ground of problem kids. Encouraged he chances that most weary of traditional apologetics for social inequality. He tells us that:

I’ve been on NCS courses where at one end of a rope there’s a public schoolboy, and at the other end there’s a kid in care, someone from the youth justice system, or somebody from the local state school.

“It’s difficult to work out which is which, and that’s absolutely as it should be.”

Difficult to work out which is which, Loughton is clearly  on illegal substances. Come the next day, the next week, does he believe that the life chances of the public school boy and the kid in care have been squared up!? Of course not, his old-fashioned neo-Victorian line is that the lumpen elements of the young working class, the ‘disengaged’, will be civilised by their contact with their private school superiors. In exchange, as the myth goes, the young Etonian will have a few pretentious edges sanded down. None of which will have the slightest impact on the growing inequalities in today’s society.

No matter, now in full flight, Loughton reveals yet another deep-seated prejudice about the lower classes. It’s dangerous to let them gather together on their own terms with their own agendas. Hence he continues, “there are still too many youth clubs that even now with universal provision are ghettoised in some respects. You only get a certain type of person from a certain locality going there.”

Thus forget the government’s deeply divisive social and economic policies the problem lies within doubtful ‘types’ of people and doubtful ‘types’ of localities. Evidently social harmony will be restored if we arrange to socially mix every now and again. After all, as George Osborne says, ‘we are all in this together’.

Of course this strand of either naivete or profound cynicism – the notion that social mixing would heal class divisions without in any way disturbing them – is part of the youth work tradition. Certainly Baden-Powell advocated this line. However youth work’s pluralism has meant that an emphasis on working with young people in their own peer groups, in autonomous creations of their own, has also a long history.

As things stand it is this respect for young people on their own ground, this respect for their cultures as a starting point for dialogue that is being undermined by the shift to targeting and the manufacturing of artificial groups. Of course there is a place for young folk from differing backgrounds coming together, but the daily encounter, the unfolding process if it is to be authentic begins ‘where they’re at’.

Meanwhile as a leading figure in the increasingly co-opted voluntary sector waxes lyrical about the National Citizen Service, oblivious apparently to the wider scenario, youth services continue to disappear. Just as I am about to put this scribble on the site I’ve received the following note from the indefatigable David Ricketts in Oxfordshire.

Hi Tony – serious cuts again in Tory Oxfordshire. 38 children centres to close leaving 5! along with 4 Hub, leaving 3. 700 jobs from 1800 in our sector- carnage in Camerons backyard!
Enough said – words are beginning to fail me.


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