The second of our pieces from the new-look Y&P sees Tania de St Croix continuing her incisive and provocative analyses of Cameron’s vanity project, once called by Tim Loughton in a phrase of utter ignorance ‘the fastest growing social movement in Europe’, namely, the National Citizen Service. Tania gave a version of this argument to our recent IDYW seminars in Manchester and London. Certainly, its sense of the contradictions within NCS will feed into a discussion paper we are preparing, which will seek to explore future scenarios for youth work in a turbulent political climate.
Until recent political events, the practice of re-imagining youth work – thinking in a utopian way about what youth work could, or should, become – may have been a creatively rich exercise, yet it sometimes felt futile, at least beyond the very local scale. In the light of the recent general election campaign and results, and without over-romanticising the possibilities for electoral politics, it is now not only reasonable but even urgent for practitioners, activists and researchers to think seriously and practically about what kind of youth work policy and practice we would like to see, and how we might get from here to there.
In this context, reviewing the NCS may not appear to be the most pressing priority for the field. However, a re-imagined youth policy that does not question the basis of NCS would be both problematic and contradictory. Just as local authority youth services were, quite rightly, the target of robust criticism by progressives in the past (for example, for being overly bureaucratic, too ready to see young people as ‘problems’ to be ‘fixed’, insufficiently self-critical, and too quick to conform to the policy priorities of the day), today the NCS receives the bulk of government money and support for youth work. As such, it must be subjected to critical scrutiny.