Labour’s Radical Manifesto commits to a National Youth Service

Young people have been let down by the Conservatives. At least 750 youth centres have closed since 2012. Too many young people now have nowhere to go, nothing to do and no one to help them with their problems. Labour will build a properly funded, professionally staffed National Youth Service, and will guarantee every young person has access to local, high-quality youth work.

It may only be a short paragraph, but the inclusion of the commitment to a properly funded Youth Service in the Labour Party Manifesto, ‘It’s Time for Real Change’, is a breakthrough. In an exchange this week Tom Wylie, a former Head of the National Youth Agency, who served on Labour’s youth task force in the late 1970s. remarked wryly that the most they got into the 1979 party manifesto was a single sentence, “we will strengthen the Youth Service”. Hence he was pretty impressed by Labour’s explicit proposals. So too Tom rightly paid tribute to the tireless, longstanding work of Doug Nicholls as General Secretary of the CYWU for twenty years and more recently of the General Federation of Trade Unions in pressing the case for youth work and the Youth Service.

I must confess I had a tiny wobble when I couldn’t find a mention of youth work in the section on the National Education Service. In fact it appears under ‘COMMUNITIES AND LOCAL GOVERNMENT’. However there have already been reassurances that the Youth Service is seen as part of education. Indeed in the Grey Book, which identifies the funding proposals the National Youth Service’s allocation of £1.1 billion is included under ‘EDUCATION’.

Additionally, I believe, it has been reinforced that the substance of the Labour Party’s approach to the creation of a National Youth Service is to be found in the document, ‘Only Young Once’, which we have welcomed warmly as the most progressive youth work agenda proposed by a major party for decades.

Inevitably we have criticisms and concerns. Bernard Davies has already produced a supportive, yet questioning response. For my part I’ve been writing perhaps a self-indulgent piece for my own blog, partly tracing my love/hate relationship with Labour. I criticise Labour’s amnesia about its own embrace of neoliberalism and its disingenuous ‘Tory-bashing’. It may be best to let it gather dust. For this is increasingly not a time for prevarication.

I’ll leave you with the rationale offered as the basis for our IDYW event in Birmingham on December 6, ‘Time To Make Up Our Minds’, urging you to be involved directly or indirectly in the debate about how we might act in the most significant General Election for half a century.

  • Viewed through the lens of the IDYW cornerstones of practice, what are the strengths and weaknesses of Labour’s proposals?
  • IDYW is committed to an emancipatory youth work opposed to oppression and exploitation. Which political parties come close to embracing this obligation?
  • It is crucial to situate a political party’s proposals re youth work within its overall programme for society? We have lived for 40 years under a neoliberal regime opposed to the common good. For young people life has become evermore precarious. This suffocating regime is in crisis. Thus the coming election takes on an extraordinary significance. Does it offer the chance to break with the Thatcherite legacy and forge a renewed radical path towards social justice? Is the only progressive way forward in England critical support for the transformative agenda advocated by Labour? Or is there an alternative political choice?


Today, Saturday November 23 the Labour Party has launched its Youth Manifesto, ‘The Future is Ours’. Based both on the specific paper about the Youth Service and wider social policy proposals around education, heath, employment and housing the paper resounds with hope. Yet I’m not convinced that Labour really understands that its transformative agenda requires both the support and scrutiny of autonomous groupings of young people, for example around its ‘Green’ agenda and the ecological crisis; that the strengthening of independent, radical action keeps politicians and parties honest. For the moment, despite my concern that Labour’s return to social-democratic ideology remains at heart paternalist, the Manifesto is a breath of fresh air. Read it on the link above.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.