Youth leaders urge election commitments for young people, but fall short of specific demands

election reform

Fifty-one UK youth organisations have signed an open letter to the main UK political parties asking them to make firm commitments to young people. Amongst the signatories are UK Youth chief executive, Anna Smee; British Youth Council chief executive, Jo Hobbs; Volunteering Matters chief executive, Oonagh Aitken; Young Minds chief executive, Sarah Brennan; and Girlguiding’s chief executive, Julie Bentley.

It would be interesting to know the full list of organisations signed up to the welcome plea and how they came to be involved. More importantly, the request seems to miss the opportunity to make concrete demands upon the political parties, all the more so as the letter claims that their collective research has unearthed the key issues faced by young people. My apologies if I’m missing something here and  that these have been identified in a supplement to the letter.

Off the top of my head, a less than an exhaustive list of demands could have included:

  • Lower the voting age to 16
  • Abolish tuition fees in HE and restore maintenance grants
  • Bring under-25 National Living Wage in line with 25-year-olds.
  • End zero-hour contracts.
  • Prioritise a serious and properly funded strategy to end child poverty.
  • Implement immediately a building programme to create affordable, quality housing.
  • Restore funding and render statutory youth work provision.
  • Maintain and expand opportunities to live, work and study abroad.
  • Introduce Proportional Representation.
  • Recognise that public services for the common good are essential to a vibrant and inclusive democracy.

The letter in full as best I know

Dear Theresa May, Jeremy Corbyn, Tim Farron, Nicola Sturgeon, Caroline Lucas and Leanne Wood,

As Britain prepares for a snap general election, we call on you to make a firm commitment to young people across the country.

Since the referendum last year, our organisations have worked to engage young people from every part of the UK and from all backgrounds and political persuasions to present a clear plan for what they want from post-Brexit Britain.

Our national research and consultation has given us a strong and consistent picture of the top issues that matter to young people in post-Brexit Britain.

We can show you that younger generations are united on the big issues that will shape their future.

Now more than ever, their overwhelming demand to be part of the political process must be acted upon.

As the generation that will live longest with the outcome of Britain’s withdrawal from the EU, we ask you to recognise that young people can have a positive impact on the Brexit negotiations and give real legitimacy to the process.

This election offers a huge opportunity to reshape the nation’s priorities and restore young people’s confidence in our democracy.

As you put together your platform for the general election, we are calling on all party leaders to make an explicit commitment to represent young people’s demands in their upcoming manifestos.

As you all prepare for this election we will all be galvanising our networks to ensure young citizens are engaged and registered to vote. We are calling on you to give them something to vote for.

 

Vote, but voting is never enough……what about some social action?

Predictably Theresa May’s General Election call has led to an upsurge of interest in voting, democracy and politics. Our Facebook page is hosting an interesting thread, kicked off by a question about how to engage young people with the spectre of the looming election. My own long-standing concerns about youth work’s widespread fear of being political and the stunted nature of parliamentary democracy itself are best left to a separate post. Indeed it might be an appropriate moment to dig out a rant I inflicted on a Federation of Detached Youth Workers conference back in 2007. I don’t think it’s past its sell-by date.

However, whatever my reservations about equating voting every so often with being political, the coming election is a highly significant moment in a volatile global atmosphere. Thus here are a number of recommended resources to inform our conversations and activities with young people in the coming weeks.

The League of Young Voters

Bite the Ballot

cropped-BTB-logo-turquoise

Democracy Cookbook – The Recipes

Register to vote

 

And whilst we are exploring with young people the significance or otherwise of the vote, it might be an appropriate time to rescue the idea of social action from the suffocating ‘volunteering’ definition advanced by Step up to Serve. In the run up to the election what about exploring with young people taking direct, public action around issues that perhaps matter to them – a right to benefits, the issue of low pay and zero-hour contracts, the lack of appropriate housing, the precarious future they face and indeed the demand to vote at 16 – not to mention what’s happening to youth provision in their neck of the woods? If we are talking about politics, about power, there is a question haunting youth work. To what extent, with honourable exceptions, has it supported the growth of young people’s authentic social movements from below, giving the lie to Tim Laughton’s fatuous claim that NCS is the fastest growing social movement in Europe. Grassroots social movements don’t have marketing budgets. In this context the recent and ongoing young people’s campaign to save youth services in Brighton offers lessons and poses dilemmas. At this very moment these young people’s energies are turning to wider social and political issues than just youth work. I wonder out loud what is their take on the forthcoming General Election?

This has been said many times, in different ways, but the great advances in terms of freedom and justice have not been the outcome of ruly and bureaucratic procedures from on high, but the result of unruly and improvised action from below. Yes, vote, but don’t stop there.

A critical view of NCS and citizenship from the world of political geography

sign up toncs

The National Citizen Service programme has been having a rough ride recently, but its supporters would claim that much of the criticism emanates from the ranks of jealous and prejudiced youth workers. Hence it’s illuminating to ponder the following piece of research undertaken by Sarah Mills and Catherine Waite, published in the journal, ‘Political Geography’.

Highlights

Explores youth citizenship and the politics of scale to propose concept of ‘brands of youth citizenship’.

Examines the imaginative and institutional geographies of learning to be a citizen.

An analysis of National Citizen Service and its scaling of youth citizenship.

Original fieldwork with NCS architects, delivery providers and young people.

Examines ‘Britishness’, devolution and youthful politics in the United Kingdom.

Brands of youth citizenship and the politics of scale: National Citizen Service in the United Kingdom

Abstract
This paper explores the politics of scale in the context of youth citizenship. We propose the concept of ‘brands of youth citizenship’ to understand recent shifts in the state promotion of citizenship formations for young people, and demonstrate how scale is crucial to that agenda. As such, we push forward debates on the scaling of citizenship more broadly through an examination of the imaginative and institutional geographies of learning to be a citizen. The paper’s empirical focus is a state-funded youth programme in the UK – National Citizen Service – launched in 2011 and now reaching tens of thousands of 15–17 year olds. We demonstrate the ‘branding’ of youth citizenship, cast here in terms of social action and designed to create a particular type of citizen-subject. Original research with key architects, delivery providers and young people demonstrates two key points of interest. First, that the scales of youth citizenship embedded in NCS promote engagement at the local scale, as part of a national collective, whilst the global scale is curiously absent. Second, that discourses of youth citizenship are increasingly mobilised alongside ideas of Britishness yet fractured by the geographies of devolution. Overall, the paper explores the scalar politics and performance of youth citizenship, the tensions therein, and the wider implications of this study for both political geographers and society more broadly at a time of heated debate about youthful politics in the United Kingdom and beyond.

If possible don’t be put off by the denseness of the abstract or the profusion of bracketed references demanded by academia, the article explores insightfully the continuing tension about what we mean by citizenship and the particular interpretation advocated via NCS. As ever responses would be most welcome.

Thanks to Lyam Galpin for drawing the article to our attention.

Call for Contributions: Youth Work with Young Refugees

Apologies I’ve only just caught up with this call so it’s pretty short notice. You’ll need to read the following in full to get a sense of what is being looked for. I’ve copied below the background from the full document.

YOUTH WORK WITH YOUNG REFUGEES

 

refugees

Ta to tbo.com

 

COUNCIL OF EUROPE AND EUROPEAN UNION: YOUTH PARTNERSHIP

We invite you to write a contribution and send it to Tanya.basarab@partnership-eu.coe.int and to maria.pisani@um.edu.mt. We strongly encourage in your papers to focus on youth work with young refugees primarily – which is the main theme of the Youth Knowledge Book.

 

CALL FOR CONTRIBUTIONS TO YOUTH KNOWLEDGE BOOK ON
YOUTH WORK WITH YOUNG REFUGEES

In 2015 more than a million migrants requested asylum in Europe. Efforts to block the
Mediterranean route, through controversial agreements such as the EU/Turkey deal, has
witnessed a drop in numbers. However, in the absence of safer alternatives, the Central
Mediterranean route has continued to increase, as month on month thousands of refugee and other forced migrants continue to risk their lives in an effort to cross borders, and find safety, dignity and a better life in Europe. The vast majority making this journey are young people, aged between 14 to 34 (Eurostat, 2016).

For many young refugees then, the border represents both death, and hope. The border
serves as a state instrument of control, and also as the ideological marker for the
construction of national and political identity – delineating who belongs, and who does not; who has rights, and the right to rights (Pisani, 2015). But borders are not just definite lines, they are also a messy collage of creative spaces, of relationships and stories (Sassen, 2006). The ‘young refugee’ embodies the borderlands, a liminal space between nation states and cultures, between childhood and adulthood – where different identities, cultures, ethnicities, languages and ways of knowing, imagining, and being can interact, and intersect, opening up possibilities for transformative, political spaces.

Likewise, positioned at the ‘cusp’ (Williamson, 2014), youth work can also be seen as
positioned within these borderlands – fluid, contested and diverse, the ‘borders’ of youth
work often refutes definition, offering a diverse range of motivations, purpose and
activities, ranging from civic engagement towards transformation and social justice, to
being an instrument of the state, focused on leisure activities, integration and control.

The borderlands is a space that presents competing pressures and interests, and produces conflicting responses. The youth work response will depend on the varied ways in which we imagine these spaces and how we enact them. Youth work is never complete: evolving contexts and lived realities bring new imperatives, and new questions about the role, purpose and value of youth work.

Apologies too that the formatting is not sorted properly.

 

 

 

On being heard in your own country, on being heard in Europe

There’s a famous passage in the New Testament, in which Jesus reflects that a prophet might well find it difficult to be heard on their own patch. This observation sprang to mind on hearing that both the IDYW cornerstones and our Story-Telling approach to unravelling the character of practice are at the heart of a new European publication looking at impact and evaluation. I’ll hand over to Bernard Davies, who coordinates our work on Story-Telling, to continue the tale.

Finnish

Studying the Impact of International Youth Work – Towards developing an evaluation tool for youth centres reports on a research project funded by the European Erasmus + programme and carried out in Finland, Estonia and Slovenia. Written by Anu Gretschel, the senior researcher, in co-operation with academic and practitioner colleagues from all three of the participating countries, it has been published by the Helsinki: Finnish Youth Centres Association, the Finnish Youth Research Society and the Finnish Youth Research Network.

Particularly significant – and encouraging – for IDYW is the project’s development of the IDYW youth work story-telling process as one of its main research methods. To analyse the evidence coming out of the stories this generated, it then used a version of the IDYW Cornerstones of youth work practice which we subsequently revised to highlight the importance of giving attention to young people’s class, gender, race, sexuality, disability and faith. The report also includes references to our This is Youth Work stories book (now supplemented by the booklet of youth work stories produced by Warwickshire youth workers) and to the IDYW story-telling web resource.

For demonstrating open access youth work’s ‘impacts’ and ‘outcomes’, this international recognition of a qualitative ‘methodology’ like youth work story-telling and ‘measures’ such as the IDYW Cornerstones is welcome and indeed overdue. Statistical ‘tick boxing’, certainly in England, continues to obsess politicians, policy-makers and also many academics to the point where not only have their demands distorted how the practice is understood, but also how it is actually implemented. Those controlling the purse strings have ended up concluding that this practice cannot be supported because, against their narrowly defined criteria, it can’t prove its effectiveness.

Indeed, by using youth work story-telling in these ways, our European colleagues have done something which in IDYW we have talked about from time to time but not actually followed through in a systematic way. My experience has been that our primary focus in workshop groups has been to ‘unpack’ a story and the youth work process it exemplifies in order to prompt practitioners and students to identify what is distinctive about their practice. This, we hope, will help strengthen their identity as youth workers and enable them to become clearer and more robust in communicating its defining (and effective) features to significant audiences – not least those sceptical policy-makers. Though story-telling’s potential for demonstrating how the practice touches young people’s lives often becomes clear as a by-product, this has not been our priority – which for us gives this new report even greater significance.

Given how the researchers defined and applied some of the IDYW Cornerstones, the report also offers some challenging prompts for further discussion and debate within IDYW networks and indeed beyond on how we have been understanding and explaining these crucial signifiers of our practice.

Bernard Davies

The research is available as an e-book at http://www.snk.fi/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/Studying-the-impact-of-international-youth-work.pdf

I’m sure both our Finnish friends and ourselves would welcome comments and criticism.

‘Inspiring young people to create their social change’- Institute of Youth Work conference, May 20 in Sheffield

Message from Adam Muirhead, Chair of the Institute of Youth Work

 

20170317-_D3X2353

Adam Muirhead – ta to Justin Wyllie for the image

 

The 2nd Institute of Youth Work Conference and AGM, in partnership with Sheffield Hallam University, Youth Work Unit Yorkshire & Humber and YASY.

Saturday, May 20 at Sheffield Hallam University

 

We are coming together for our second ever ‘In the Service of Youth’ conference to explore this year’s theme ‘Inspiring young people to create their social change’. The cost ranges from £15 to £30 depending on IYW membership status (so for some it may be worth joining ahead of buying conference tickets).

More information on the programme workshops etc are being added soon but confirmed speakers include youth work writer Brian Belton, author of ‘Radical Youth Work’, and Pegah Moulana, UK Young Ambassador for BYC at the European Youth Forum.

We have moved the conference to Sheffield this year to try to meet those who may struggle to travel to London easily and acknowledge that our youth work world is not London-centric!

For more info and to register, go to In Service of Youth

RIP Darcus Howe – Truth teller and paladin for justice

 

Darcus Howe

Darcus Howe

 

The words above penned by Bonnie Greer resonate for any of us, who knew Darcus Howe, whether on the streets or through his writings.

Farrukh Dhondy, a playwright and commissioning editor who worked with Howe in the British Black Panther movement and on Race Today, as well as on Channel 4, said he was deeply mourning the loss of a close friend of 45 years.

“He was one of the most important immigrant activists that Britain has known. And his great gift was that he was a practical agitator for the rights of black people, and not simply a theoretician. He was, to describe it colloquially, a street-fighting man.

“It had powerful results. I am absolutely sure that the political parties and general political opinion shifted because of the agitation and stance that he, and others, took at the time in the Black Panther movement and in magazines like Race Today.”

For many youth work activists of the late 70’s and 80’s he was an inspirational figure. Up north in the Wigan Youth Service we caused controversy by subscribing to ‘Race Today’, of which he was the editor, never mind using his friend, Linton Kwesi Johnson’s poetry on training courses. We invited more criticism by our support for the mass demonstration and protests held in the aftermath of the New Cross fire, in which 13 black young people died. Unbeknown to him Darcus Howe played a significant part in our efforts to develop an anti-racist youth work practice. We remain profoundly in his debt and the struggle goes on.

See David Renton’s review of the biography of Darcus Howe by Robin Bunce and Paul Field – ‘Racism Had Taken a Beating’

If one were to write a total history of racism and anti-racism in Britain since 1945 — taking in the arrival of the Empire Windrush, the 1958 Notting Hill riots, the deaths of Blair Peach, Cynthia Jarrett and Stephen Lawrence, the stunts of Martin Webster and the brief electoral success of Nick Griffin, shifting popular ideas of solidarity or exclusion, and the changing approaches of the British state — Darcus Howe would deserve inclusion..