Inno-fucking-vation: The return of the I-word in youth work

We couldn’t resist re-using Adam Muirhead’s carefully chosen title for his recent blog, ‘inno-fucking-vation’, in which he rails against the government Minister’s excuse for delaying and now shelving the 2019 promise of a relatively miserly £500 million youth work funding (Youth Investment Fund or YIF). Many of us in IDYW have enjoyed Adam’s work and company for many years, and have never heard him swear before, let alone in public! Well, his anger is well-placed and we’re fucking angry too. Where on earth has the money gone? And what on earth is going on with the suddenly invented excuse that the YIF funding was for innovation? In any case, as Adam says, “how dare it be suggested by the Minister with responsibility for Youth Work that the sector is not innovating right now?”

As Jon Ord pointed out in a guest blog on our site recently, the concept of innovation needs a great deal of unpicking. Kathy Evans from Children England even resolved to stop using the word. We have pasted Adam’s blog below, followed by some choice comments from Twitter. What do you think – what’s this sudden thing with innovation: is it an excuse, an irrelevance, a dangerous new policy direction, or what? Hopefully it will be quietly dropped. Funding for innovative youth work might be all well and good if the government had made a start by funding any youth work at all. Vibrant, well established, open access youth work, embedded in its communities, has been run into the ground by governments since 2010. Before that. we had (some) funding, but it was tied to totally inappropriate indicators, targets and surveillance systems that hampered our work. Open access youth work is only alive today because of the tremendous effort and determination of youth workers, young people, educators/trainers and local communities. If we need to call this innovation we will; equally, it could be called persistence, resistance, survival, or sheer bloody-mindedness.

Here’s Adam Muirhead’s excellent piece, from his blog Youthworkable, followed by a few choice comments from Twitter:

When asked by Tania de St Croix about the YIF being shelved and the need for funding of open access Youth Work, Baroness Barran responded to say that the “aim of the fund is to support and drive innovation in the youth sector” and that because there is “too much going on” “it is impossible to expect people [in the sector] to innovate at the moment” so it is “better to hold it back”.

When rightly challenged on the point about innovation, Baroness Barran stated that “when the former Chancellor announced it, he did talk about innovation”.  “Maybe we didn’t communicate it as well as we should have done”.

I’m fucking livid.  It kept me up last night.

This fallacious rationale falls down on multiple levels.  Firstly, how dare it be suggested by the Minister with responsibility for Youth Work that the sector is not innovating right now?  Can she be so far removed from the reality of our situation to not see the ways that armies of youth workers have been bending over backwards to support vulnerable beneficiaries at the moment.  Beyond that, *celebrating* our status as key workers so that we might continue in our front-line efforts to get support to those most in need as best we can.  We have been innovating, pivoting, evolving, adapting, re-inventing and transforming our practice at breakneck speed this year.  The light at the end of the tunnel was some recognition from this Government in the form of sector funding – even if it was just 1/10th of what other parties had suggested was appropriate spending on Youth Services at the General Election in 2019.

The second fallacy is that the ex-Chancellor Sajid Javid described innovation as an underpinning rationale for this fund.  It clearly wasn’t mentioned in the press release as it wasn’t reported in the Evening StandardChildren & Young People Now or even the Government’s own website.  In fact if you go back through the actual speech on the September Spending Review of 2019 there is no reference to innovation as it pertains to this funding.

Innovation is fast becoming a toxic buzzword for me.  What the hell is wrong with tried and tested?  What the hell is wrong with trusting (struggling) providers to spend this much-needed resource in the best way that they know how, based on years of experience, understanding and allyship with young people?  My own service will be starting a redundancy consultation process in the next week based on the loss of income as a direct result of Covid-19 and as an indirect result of Covid-19.  We are ineligible for the £16.5m fund announced that is part of the larger charity support fund announced last April (or is it £13.8m???). 

It is clear to me that if the YIF is not primarily geared towards building and refurbishing youth centres and the provision and coordination of high-quality services for young people and an investment in the youth workforce, then we have been lied to.  The goal posts have shifted.  Faith in support from ‘our Minister’ has been eroded.

I would like a straight answer from the Minister on this matter.  Even if it is that all the money has been given to this Government’s donor friends for unfulfilled PPE contracts.  At least I could look my young beneficiaries in the eye and not have to say “I’m afraid we just weren’t expected to be able to innovate, so we’re firing your lifeline at the end of March”.

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