Doug Nicholls, Chair of the ChooseYouth coalition has forwarded the following statement of intent and purpose, which we would encourage people to circulate and discuss.
“ChooseYouth, a coalition of 35 national organisations campaigning for youth work and the Youth Service has had two emergency national meetings recently to plan to rebuild the Youth Service from the ruins. It believes that the plan for votes at 16, for voter registration of young people and investment in quality youth work go hand in hand and public investment will have to be found to fund this.
The Youth Service prior to 2009 was funded under a direct government funding line to local authorities. All of them underspent the government’s recommended spending figures. The expenditure figures were collected by the National Youth Agency. Cuts to the NYA’s own funding meant that this annual auditing function was lost. Government funding to local authorities then changed to include the previous youth service funding line under one new block grant for ‘early years intervention.’ Youth Services were then merged into Youth Support Services seeking to integrate a range of specialism largely under a crisis management social work model as poverty, unemployment, family breakdown, inter youth violence and so on created a new generation of young people in difficulties. Problems got worse and worse for children and young people and targeting the most vulnerable became impossible on the reduced funds available. The move to targeted services and away from universal, open access provision only made matters worse.
The historic role of youth work as an educational service offering personal and social development to young people outside school and work and offering an entirely unique space for young people to grow and develop and for preventative work to be undertaken was lost. Then the real assault started. We did not face cuts but an ideologically driven break up of youth work and the youth service. No one can accurately assess the damage because it has been so severe. However, it is undisputed that the Youth Service in England is the first public service to actually disappear.
Fantastic youth work exists in isolated fragments. The architecture of the post war settlement of local authorities working in partnership with the voluntary sector to provide professionally qualified workers and supported volunteers to work with and for young people to expand their horizons and develop citizenship and collective responsibility has gone. No local authority in England has a Youth Service left. Thousands of youth centres have closed. In fact Cameron’s government has closed far more youth centres than the MacMillan government built. Some young people have committed suicide as result of the withdrawal of these services.
So the Youth Service has not faced austerity, it has experienced ruin. The ChooseYouth campaign is undeterred by this shock tactic of destruction over the last four years when the world’s first and most admired Youth Service has disappeared. The one service that young people built in the public sector for themselves with skilled advice to offer comfort, support, informal learning, guidance, adventure, fun and social involvement was attacked as youth unemployment rose, mental health issues for young men increased, youth on youth violence escalated, rioting hit the streets and higher education was made unaffordable to many.
Society cannot continue along this path and despite the recent autumn statement which announced effectively of a doubling of public sector cuts ChooseYouth will intensify its campaigning work. Conditions for young people and their educational opportunities have to be publicly funded. This is why we are calling for votes at sixteen a massive campaign of voter registration for 18 year olds and a rebuilt, publicly funded youth service staffed by professionally qualified JNC youth workers with their job title protected in statute. Such workers will support civic engagement and enable young people to lead a renewed sense of commitment to a social and economic future that values our young people first and foremost.”