Easter Sustenance for the Senses 2 – Community Education, Mental Health, Military Schools, Queensland and Civil Society


As ever a stimulating array of pieces from our friends at CONCEPT.


Vol 9 No 1 (2018): Spring




This article poses more than a few questions with regard to youth work’s growing infatuation with a skewed and individualised notion of mental health, well-being and indeed happiness – see the reference to NCS.


Jennie Bristow argues that government plans for ‘Mental Health First Aid’ risk pathologising ordinary childhood while doing little for those with more serious difficulties.

For a brief moment, I thought this was an April Fools’ story.

Government to consider plans for ‘military schools’

The government is considering the introduction of a ‘military ethos’ in schools across the UK to help children from deprived backgrounds. Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson has commissioned MP Robert Goodwill to review the benefits of an education inspired by the ‘values and disciplines’ of the Armed Forces.

Across the oceans, our friends at Youth Affairs Network Queensland [YANQ] have published the findings of a 2017 Youth Sector survey. The following brief excerpt is likely to ring a bell or two.

                  Sivayash Doostkhah, YANQ

Findings of Queensland Youth Sector Survey 2017

Survey responses repeatedly identified that services are under-funded and under-resourced
to meet the level of service demand (both in terms of intensity of service provision and numerical demand). Funding agreements are overly prescriptive and restrictive, dictating short-term, output-focused service delivery models. As such, services are hamstrung from achieving their full potential to be innovative and respond effectively to the real needs of young people within the context of their individual circumstances.

The combination of funding criteria and competition-based tendering were seen as creating a sector culture that encourages ‘siloed’ service delivery. Organisations become inward focused and are increasingly operating independently of other services. Service delivery becomes focused on narrow, specified outcomes at the expense of addressing the inter-related needs affecting young people’s long-term outcomes. Funding criteria also effectively preference funding to large NGO’s at the expense of experienced, specialist local agencies that typically have a more sophisticated and nuanced understanding of local community and youth needs.

Respondents also described the constant change imposed by the lack of funding security inherent in short-term contracts and defunding of programs. This impacts support relationships with young people and inhibits services’ capacity to offer ongoing support over time for young people with multiple complex needs. It also
fosters a sector culture plagued with uncertainty that makes it difficult for organisations to undertake long term agency-level planning and offer job security to staff.

Staying in Australia a searching article, Whatever happened to civil society by Vern Hughes echoes the findings of the NCIA Inquiry into the Future of the Voluntary Services. to which IDYW contributed.

In the last 40 years the architecture of voluntary citizen action has been transformed. Why aren’t we fighting back?

He begins:

At the annual meetings of the World Economic Forum in Davos, ‘civil society’ is referenced in virtually every presentation and fireside conversation. The world, it seems, no longer consists of two sectors—public and private, state and market—there is a third: NGOs and INGOs, charities and philanthropists, human rights watchdogs, aid and development agencies and global environmental campaigns to name but a few. The ‘Third Sector’ has arrived, and Its CEOs now mingle seamlessly with those from banks, energy companies, media giants and government agencies.

The problem with this embrace of ‘civil society’ is that it bears little resemblance to what civil society actually is or means. Most of civil society is not constituted formally or headed up by a CEO. Just 40 years ago, very few not-for-profits or charities had CEOs at all: that term was associated with the corporate sector, and few community groups or charities had even contemplated mimicking the language and culture of such a different sphere. But in just four decades all this has changed, and it has changed at an extraordinarily rapid rate, with very little public discussion or scrutiny of the enormity of the organizational transformation involved and its social and political impact.

He suggests in a provocation to many of us:

The principal factor, however, in driving both the transformation of the social sector and the relatively low level of critical public debate about it has been the global rise of the managerial class and its capture of much of the not-for-profit world. In the wake of the 1960s/1970s social movements, governments invested heavily in a plethora of welfare state programs and services, and universities churned out an army of social science practitioners with an insatiable demand for things to manage.

Not-for-profits and charities were easy pickings, so voluntary associations of all kinds were transformed into instruments of service delivery, ‘community representation’ and ‘therapeutic welfare’ in the public interest. Traditional bodies such as the Red Cross, the YMCA, church missions and voluntary health societies fell like dominos to ‘management capture’ and quickly became unrecognisable to those who knew them a generation before.




Institute of Youth Work questions the government’s commitment to youth work and young people



Tracey Crouch with table tennis bat – ta to skysports.com


Following on from yesterday’s question, ‘where are the voices of the youth sector?’, it’s heartening to see the Institute of Youth Work [IYW] responding critically to the government’s abandonment of its commitment to a three-year youth policy statement. Indeed the report in CYPN relates that in a strongly worded open letter sent to Tracey Crouch [the minister for civil society], the IYW states that it is “seeking assurances about the value of young people and youth work to yourself and your department”.  The IYW warns that the U-turn could lead to “disaffection” among young people and “consultation fatigue” when the new strategy is consulted on. The Institute goes on to say that “many of our members directly supported young people to be involved in the extensive DCMS consultation workshops earlier this year – losing the policy this was building towards means we may have abused the trust that these people put in us and you that their views will be heard and acted upon.” On the grapevine, we’ve heard that an original draft was even more outspoken, but that diplomacy prevailed! Whatever it is refreshing to see the IYW challenging government policy or in this case the very lack of it.

Compare this to the bland statement proffered by Leigh Middleton, managing director of the National Youth Agency, which ignores utterly the amount of empty talk already endured: “I am pleased that the minister has launched consultation on a strategy for civil society and welcome the opportunity to continue our dialogue with DCMS. My hope is that this is a real opportunity to get young people listened to and their needs focused on by government.”

Read the letter in full – Tracey Crouch MP – Open Letter 20.11.17

PS DCMS stands for Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport

With Sinking Hearts : Open Letter to Lisa Nandy, Shadow Minister for Civil Society

Our friends at the National Coalition for Independent Action have circulated the following Open Letter to Lisa Nandy MP, Shadow Minister for Civil Society.

NCIA logo


OPEN LETTER to Lisa Nandy MP, Shadow Minister for Civil Society

17th July 2014


Dear Lisa,


I write on behalf of the National Coalition for Independent Action (NCIA). We met with you last December, to talk about the state of voluntary action, in all its shapes, from large national professionally-based services right through to small local volunteer groups and campaign activists. You agreed with us then, that the authentic voice of independent voluntary action had been silenced by funding regimes; and how you wished to change the culture that had led to this. We had disagreements: you thought it’s okay to privatise some public services into the voluntary sector. We don’t. Despite this, we thought that you brought a fresh and enquiring eye to the tired politics that now forms a gulf between the government and civil society. As hardened cynics, we left hopeful.


We have now read the Labour Party agenda for us, One Nation Labour: renewing our bonds with the third sector, and felt our hearts sink.


The document is an entirely technocratic expression of ‘business as usual’. There is no recognition of the breadth and diversity of voluntary action, whether or not formally constituted, with or without charitable objects, providing services or not. Instead your preoccupation is with the small proportion of voluntary agencies which provide services through paid staff and managed volunteers. Most civil society groups are not of this ilk. They are set up to provide mutual benefits to their members, friends and neighbours, to campaign on local issues, to enjoy company, leisure and other activities.  This heart of civil society does not need Compacts to “govern relations with government”, is not “a sector” and like all voluntary associations are ‘owned’ by the volunteers and activists who set them up and maintain their existence.  For the Labour Party to start with a section called ‘volunteers’, as if these are essentially unpaid fodder to be deployed by managers and professionals, is starting in completely the wrong place.

There is no mention in your document of the current climate of cuts and austerity, the corrupt politics and unequal power relations that are present, the xenophobia, the hostility towards those who have little and the demonization of benefit claimants , the pressures on individuals and communities and the democratic role of voluntary action to stand up to these attacks. There is nothing about how government, and now the private sector attempts to co-opt the spirit and self determination of people to organise around their own issues. There is nothing about comprehensive and accountable public services and how voluntary services augment not substitute for this. There is no heart or soul. And there is certainly no change of culture offered.


Instead we read a list of “One Nation Labour” interests. We read phrases such as “Labour believes charities have an important role to play in the delivery of public services” and you ask us how we can become better contractors to the State, and how our umbrella groups can help us do this. You are interested in volunteers and workers, but there is no mention of the beneficiaries and communities which bring people to voluntary work. You want us to “grow and thrive” – no doubt, in order to pick up the pieces of future Labour public services privatisation programmes. You ask us, “what regulations and standards should apply to third party campaigning? And who should enforce them?” We wonder why you would want to muzzle the action of independent self-organising groups, and how this can be different from the gagging law which you say you will repeal.


The message we take is: Labour will do just the same as the Tories but hope to do it better. Is this really what you want to say to us?


To say we are disappointed would be an understatement and we can only presume that the Labour Party hierarchy has now set you on this path. At NCIA, we are launching the results of our Inquiry into the Future of Voluntary Services. If you and your colleagues want to join us on an alternative route for voluntary action, you know where to find us. We will be happy to pick up a real conversation.


Penny Waterhouse



Open Letter to Lisa Nandy