Defending Youth Work : The Case for Direct Action

Another service set to be dismantled! Enough has to be enough folks. We just can’t let this continue. What do we now need to do?

Oldham councils cutbacks are removing all youth services. This will see lots of different effects on the youth population, all negatively. This is very unfortunate for Oldham, All of the youth centres are used a lot and many people will be upset to see them go.
In his anger and frustration at this latest episode in the assault on youth services in England Pete Sims threw in this challenging question, ‘What do we need now to do?’ It led to the following exchange on our Facebook page.
Tony Taylor – It’s easy to say, I know, but alongside the petitions, the EDM’s, lobbying politicians etc there needs to be a revival of direct collective action by youth workers and young people. Of course there have been examples of this in such places as Birmingham, Devon, Oxfordshire and Newcastle to the great credit of all involved, but by and large youth workers have been intimidated by management into keeping quiet. For example, why are we not thinking about occupying youth centres threatened with closure, alongside public relations work with the community? In recent weeks we have seen the success in London of young women using the occupation tactic in the fight for affordable housing. The press coverage has often been supportive and Russell Brand mucked in! I’m not posing this question in a naive way. I recognise only too well the tensions of going down this road. However, as ever, pressure will only build through a diversity of tactics and pressure from below in the form of visible, collective action on the streets, a vital ingredient of any strategy for change. Likeism on Facebook is all very well, but Activism in reality is the awkward step we need to take. And to add that Activism itself can take many forms depending on people’s circumstances, but at heart it is a contribution to a collective, politicised task inspired by a commitment to ‘the common good’.
Pete Sims  – This has to be the way. We had been intimidated and silenced too long and ultimately it has led to our profession being attacked and targeted like never before. I understand the restrictive and oppressive culture that currently pervades councils and that workers fear for their jobs, I have seen and directly experienced the rise of this oppression over the past years and was targeted for supporting young people to mobilise in my last post in Bradford. This lead to the deletion of my own and other workers roles who were also seen to be behind the action. It is real and the consequences for standing up and mobilising can be severe. However, what is the alternative? In Bradford the alternative would have been 80% cut on top of a cut of 1.2 million in the previous year, rather than the 36% cut the service finally received. We are now in danger of becoming so mute that we are allowing ourselves to become the target and Cllrs and complicit senior officers are relying on our silence and inaction. Doing nothing and expecting that the threat of cuts is going away and remaining silent and inactive cannot be an option anymore. We are not only letting ourselves and our profession down shamefully, we are also betraying the young people that we know benefit so greatly from our services and the people that we profess to care about so much.
I speak from recent experience of fighting for a service and and supporting the mobilisation and collective action of young people and their communities to act – collectivism and the power of the public is the only way! Supporting young people and other community members to lobby, protest, take direct action and gain high profile publicity is the only way that politicians are going to listen. We can’t rely on good will, common sense or a sense of justice from politicians in general – they will only respond to public pressure and a threat to their re- election. Therefore, I urge all our workforce and supporters to come together much more, become active and support each other’s campaigns in a very real and practical sense. On top of action within individuals own local authorities (not instead of) it will be essential to offer practical support to other LAs who are equally facing the onslaught of cuts. If we had people reaching out to other LAs this would take some of the heat out of it just being a local LA worker lead protest. We are often fighting in isolation and relying on local action and support – which may or may not be there. One of the reasons why I have been so bitterly frustrated and disappointed with the NYA is that they could have been coordinating this national response and given their resources and position, (a position fast becoming more and more redundant) they could have been the leading light in this monumentally dark period for our profession. It sickens me to see twee tweets and lovely updates, painting a picture that all is wonderful and happy when the real picture out here is the very opposite for so many. Unions have been a great source of support, as have initiatives like Choose Youth. More of us and our potential supporters (whom I believe are out there) need to join forces and make a sustained and powerful surge to save this incredible profession and sets of service across our country.
What do our readers and supporters think? What forms of action are needed? What forms of action might be supported? As ever what might be the relationship between using the ‘acceptable’ channels of communication and taking action on our terms and under our control? Choose Youth has just held a planning meeting so it will be useful to hear what the alliance is proposing.
Meanwhile  London mayor may slash investment for programmes helping capital’s most vulnerable youngsters from £22.6m to £2.3m and a 38 Degrees petition is being sought. Will it need more than signatures to bring Boris to account?
Boris Johnson


  1. Tonight I am attending a ‘consultation’ in Havering whee the locla council are seeking to cut youth services by a satggering 95%. This is alongside a 50% reduction in library staffing, a £200,000 cut to the local community theatre nad various other changes to non statutory services.

    The Conservative run council have made the usual bleatings about using volunteers, targetting at the most vunerable, altenrtive sources of funding etc.

    I am in favour of a more directive approach, but my fear is that we are merely seeking to shift the burden of cuts onto another pressed service. Young people in Havering use the youth service, but they also use libraries, and go to theatre groups plus arts centres.

    We must therefore not be too myopic when looking at defending the sevrice we care most passionately about.

  2. Paul – your point is indeed well made and more than ever pertinent. It means, I venture, that at every opportunity we are involved in and committed to a struggle to defend and democratise all public services focused on the common good. It is all too easy to be swept into defending our own corner. Thanks for the shot across the bows.

  3. Tony, just to update the meeting was quite a saddening affair. We also had concerns from parents of adults with disability about risks to day services, people from a walking group supporting those with heart conditions who will pay high fees to use park car parks, and older people worried about limits on the level of care to dementia sufferers.

    Sadly, though the youth service is taking the largest brunt with 95% cuts, though the final decision is being held off until next year whilst they undertake a mapping exercise.

    I am aware that the small team of workers left, together with young people are planning some level of protest and there is a more general group who are seeking to defend the cuts overall, though to what extent a protest in a largely conservative area can get off the ground I do not know.

    I will keep people advised when I hear more.

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