Youth & Policy on Feminism resurgent, Worklessness and the NCS Money-Tree

Having been out of action for a week and with loads happening I can’t sadly do justice to the latest trio of articles from the new-style Youth & Policy. However, they are all worth your time and contribute significantly to our understanding of the fluctuating scenario, within which we find ourselves.


Young Women, Youth Work and Spaces: Resurgent Feminist Approaches

Janet Batsleer begins:

There has – in one thread of youth and community work – been a long-standing desire to link our practice in the most excluded and precaritised neighbourhoods with working-class social movements which also seek to turn back and away from sexism, racism and other oppressive forces (Batsleer, 2013). It is in this context – as such movements against neoliberalism are gathering strength again and being reframed – that I was invited in 2017 by two wonderful projects to act as a consultant to their work. The first is based with YouthLink Scotland and has involved an oral history of the links between youth work and the women’s movement in Scotland ( The second is the publication by a Brussels NGO called Childcare Activists of a pamphlet called: Filles et autres minorises….des jeunes comme les autres? Vers un travail de jeunesse accessible a tou(s) (tes) which translated as ‘Girls and other minorities: youth like the others? Towards a youth work accessible to all?’ ( This study by Eleanor Miller and Mouhad Reghif, highlighted sexism, racism and intersectionality as key issues for street work, all of which have been captured in this pamphlet. In May 2017 I was invited to speak at a Conference for street workers and key figures in Francophone NGO’s from Belgium and France where the pamphlet was launched. What follows is a brief extract from my presentation.


Exploring ‘generations and cultures of worklessness’ in contemporary Britain

Despite research which emphasises that the idea of ‘generations of worklessness’ is a myth, the general public, politicians and the mainstream media still suggest that generations and cultures of worklessness exist in contemporary Britain. Kevin Ralston and Vernon Gayle outline evidence that disputes this damaging myth.

The concepts of generations and cultures of worklessness have popular, political and international resonance. In politics, high profile figures, such as the UK Government Minister Chris Grayling, are on record as stating there are ‘four generations of families where no-one has ever had a job’ (in MacDonald et al, 2013). Esther McVey, when she was UK Minister for Employment, made reference to the widespread idea that there is a ‘something for nothing culture’ among some of those claiming benefits (DWP, 2013). The general notion, that there is a section of undeserving poor who should receive punishment or correction, is a central concept in neo-liberal politics (Wiggan, 2012; Soss et al, 2011; Wacquant, 2009; de Goede, 1996). Ideas associated with generations and cultures of worklessness also regularly appear in the traditional UK print media and the international press. For example, in 2013, the Daily Mail reported the story of an individual convicted of burning down his house, which resulted in deaths. They reported his status as a benefit claimant and described living on welfare benefits as a ‘lifestyle choice’ for some.


The National Citizen Service and The “Magic Money Tree”

This article by Sean Murphy draws on interviews with youth workers to argue that youth citizenship and engagement would be better supported by sustained youth and community work, rather than through the National Citizen Service.

We are living in precarious times. Theresa May’s ‘snap election’ has catapulted the United Kingdom into a minority Conservative administration, and a far cry from the ‘strong and stable’ pre-election mantra. The nation is careering towards a Brexit with a limited mandate, its government, the economy and politics are in a state of flux. As Youniss et al. (2002) suggest, these changes can easily reshape concepts such as national identity, nationhood, and multiculturalism within a globalised world; and in such a moment, the meaning of citizenship can no longer be taken for granted. Moreover, the ‘snap election’ has led to the Conservative government devising a political deal with the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) reportedly worth over £1.5billion additional public spending for Northern Ireland.

Network of Regional Youth Work Units’ challenging proposals for a would-be Tory strategy for young people

In this week’s Children & Young People Now you will find an article, Youth work network calls for redistribution of NCS cash. It opens:

Money earmarked for the National Citizen Service (NCS) should be redirected to support cash-strapped statutory and voluntary youth services, a group of youth work organisations has said.

The group in question is the long-standing network of Regional Youth Work Units. And the network’s response to the government’s alleged commitment to a 3-year strategy for young people goes far beyond the matter of Cameron’s vanity project. Indeed we think it is a valuable and challenging contribution to the present debate about the future of both youth work and services for young people. At this very moment, we are exploring whether the network and IDYW might join together to catalyse further discussion. In this spirit and ahead of the appearance of an IDYW paper, ‘Reimagining Youth Work’ you will find below the network’s proposals in their entirety.


3-Year Strategy for Young People

What should a 3-year government strategy for young people contain?

The Network of Regional Youth Work Units welcomes DCMS commitment to develop a 3-year strategy for young people. We want to work with the government, youth sector colleagues and young people to ensure that the strategy is a genuine cross-departmental initiative that takes into account the many different factors that impact on young people’s lives and does not concern itself simply with the elements that are included in DCMS’s current brief. We want to see a strategy that fully engages education, health, care, arts, sport, transport and aspires to make England a country where young people are encouraged to feel they are a valued part of the community.

election reform

A starting point would be to respond to young people’s demands for voting rights at 16, which would recognise young people as active citizens whose views are as important as other people in the community. Evidence from the Scottish Independence Referendum in 2014 showed that young people used their votes responsibly. There are opportunities coming up in elections for Metro-Mayors where votes at 16 could be piloted and evaluated in England. We urge the government to use these elections to test take-up of votes at 16.

We believe there are some important issues to address for the youth sector itself and want to see these emphasised in the strategy.

  • Young people and their parents believe that the people who work with them in youth organisations are trained and qualified in what they do. Increasingly this is not the case as the infrastructure and funding for training youth workers has withered during the austerity years since 2010, and most of those working in youth organisations have no or little access to relevant training and qualifications. Young people and communities benefit from a skilled and confident workforce and it is essential that some resources are found to make training and qualifications available, particularly to those working in voluntary sector organisations, whether paid or in a voluntary capacity. The sector has maintained a coherent framework for training and qualifications, including apprenticeships, and this should be extended and made more widely available.
  • There is a strong emphasis on involving young people in social action in the current government approach, and we support this drive. However, the way in which social action is defined should be broadened, to include more youth-led and issue-based campaigning alongside more formal volunteering. Young people become active citizens in a number of ways, and all possible routes should be included in the youth strategy.
  • Youth work and work with young people now happens in a very wide range of settings, both open access and targeted at young people with specific needs and vulnerabilities. The key elements remain the same, however – building long-term trusted relationships between the worker and young people and working in locations, at times and on issues that are chosen by young people. The notion of social pedagogy, widely used in mainland Europe should be given more serious consideration as an effective way of working with young people, and a youth strategy that provided opportunities to pilot the approach with young people in England would be welcome
  • Finally, resources for work with young people have been greatly diminished since 2010 as a result of local authority cuts and fewer specific opportunities for grant aid for youth organisations from trusts and major funders. The government currently makes a very substantial contribution to one flagship project, National Citizens Service, and we question whether this is the right approach in a time when the youth sector and services to young people in general are under enormous pressure. Investing so heavily in NCS, particularly in its current format of a single 4-week programme for 16-year-olds when in many areas there is no provision available for the rest of the year does not seem to us to be an effective way to support young people into active citizenship. We would advocate for a significant reduction in resourcing for this model of NCS in order to free up money for essential infrastructure such as trained staff and support to voluntary organisations to help them improve their offer to young people and become more sustainable.

The Network of Regional Youth Work Units through its members in regions supports the development of a 3-year strategy and will be happy to work with partners to engage young people and the youth sector across the country.

Cor Blimey! A first chance to reflect on what the Mayhem might mean for youth work – Manchester June 14 and London, June 23



Ta to the Liverpool Echo


Given the shockwave created by the General Election result, the possible implications will now feed into the discussion at our forthcoming seminars, which will be one of the first opportunities to take a breath about what’s happening. Bernard and Tania will attempt at short notice to take the present mayhem, chaos and promise into account in their opening contributions!


Manchester seminar: Wednesday 14th June 1-4pm at M13 Youth Project

Brunswick Parish Church Centre, Brunswick St, Manchester, M13 9TQ

A short walk or bus ride from Manchester Piccadilly. See map and directions:–location.html

London seminar: Friday 23rd June, 1-4pm at King’s College London

School of Education, Communication & Society, Rm 2/21, Waterloo Bridge Wing, Waterloo Road, SE1 9NH.

Five minutes from Waterloo station (but slightly confusing to find!) See map and directions: https://www.kcl.

In the light of the general election campaign and results, we are looking forward to meeting to discuss its possible implications for youth work – and in particular, on this occasion, for state-funded and state-organised youth work. The slightly tweaked programme is below. Please note that there is no lunch break. You are welcome to bring your lunch and eat during the session. Please arrive on time – or feel free to arrive early, anytime from 12:30 pm. Bookings are still open: please email or indeed turn up on the day.

1- 1.10: Introduction to the proceedings.

1:10-1:30: Views from the field: Reflections from participants on the general election campaign and results. What does it mean for young people and for youth work?

1.30 – 2.30: Bernard Davies re-imagines how youth work might be supported and provided by the state – beyond the neoliberal mindset (15 min talk followed by discussion).

2.30 – 2.45 Break.

2.45 – 3.45: Tania de St Croix argues that the National Citizen Service is top-down, prescriptive, and pro-neoliberal, and should be replaced (15 min talk followed by discussion).

3.45 – 4.00: Feedback on the session and ideas for future seminars and action.

Hope to see you at either of these gatherings.

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’.


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

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.

Facebook thread on Cadets, Militarisation, NCS and Youth Work

There is little doubt that our Facebook page followed by 2,877 people is the liveliest forum of ongoing debate about youth work in the UK. However, not everyone is a Facebook devotee or user. It is though possible to share at least some of the sparkiest conversations by providing a link via this website.


As a starter, have a look at this thread, which starting from exchanges about further funding for cadet units spills into discussion about youth services, NCS, part-time workers and much more.

Credit to Natalie Ward-Toynton for kicking things off with this comment.

Over the last few daysI feel saddened by some of the responses around the additional cadet squadrons that are being opened up. I feel saddened because it seems to be compared with NCS scheme and that you all believe it’s a downfall of YW. Where actually the new sqns were part of the 2020 plan brought  into cadets in 2012. The cadets are funded by the MOD and these new sqns some additional money. It is also not a short term scheme like the NCS, young people from 12-19 are involved and it is youth work maybe unconventional youth work but it is.
Cadets doesn’t prepare you to join any armed forces it is about giving opportunities to young people with interests in aviation, leadership, adventure training, the list goes on.
Yes it’s sad youth work is always being cut, I am doing a youth work degree so I know  the lack of jobs in our field etc but please don’t hate on something that you may not fully understand the workings of.

‘Big Society’ Cameron rises from the ashes as NCS Chief of Staff and saviour of our young people

You’ve probably heard that a discredited and disreputable former Prime Minister has taken up the job of leading young people into a promised land of diversity and opportunity.  David Cameron is to chair an expanded National Citizen Service, his very own public school-influenced pet project. At this point you might hope, and I’ve given it a passing start, for a scathing satirical piece, taking the piss out of notions of leadership, strategy and tactics, ethics and judgement when attached to this particular individual – not to mention pricking the bubble of his rhetoric. Frankly it’s beyond my wit, never mind energy. And in my defence I will copy and paste quotes in italics from his own self-congratulatory piece in the Telegraph – I’ve found my first job after politics, building the Big Society. Mind-boggling self-delusion and hubris. So a word in David’s ear NCS is a conscious neoliberal political intervention. As the Guardian puts it in its coverage, “Former PM’s first job after quitting as MP is to chair organisation whose aim is to instil social responsibility in young people.” There’s nothing post-politics about Cameron’s new role.


Ta to the new statesman

In the meantime I wonder how long it will be before our leading youth organisations rush forward to applaud Cameron’s ‘job from the boys’ appointment, hailing it as a major breakthrough for the sector.

When I look back over six years as prime minister, one of my proudest achievements is the creation of National Citizen Service. I often get stopped in the street by parents who tell me what a difference NCS has made in the lives of their children; and I regularly receive letters from young people who have so enjoyed taking part.

From the pilot projects that I began as Leader of the Opposition to the full-scale programme that we have today, more than 275,000 people have taken part in what has become the fastest- growing youth movement of its kind in the world.

Overall, NCS is a fantastic example of the positive and inspirational role young people can play in our modern, vibrant society. It is the Big Society in action.

NCS is supported by government funding, which means that young people pay no more than £50 to take part, with bursaries available for those who are not able to afford this. So I am delighted that Theresa May is continuing the vital work to support NCS and that today the Government is introducing the National Citizen Service Bill. With cross-party support, this will create a Royal Charter to secure the NCS Trust as a permanent national institution that can ultimately offer a place to every 16- and 17-year-old. That should be our goal – not necessarily a compulsory programme, but one that is universally available and becomes a normal part of growing up for every teenager.

But making NCS a rite of passage requires more than political leadership. It requires leadership from every part of society. From industry to the arts, from sport to the media, from local communities to the wider public sector, we need everyone involved in a national mission to make NCS a normal part of growing up that can give every generation a greater sense of purpose, optimism and belonging.

By bringing together expertise from every part of society we can embed NCS in our national fabric. And we can continue to build this special movement – empowering our young people to be united in their diversity, with the skills to get on in life and the compassion to support each other.

That is the vision for NCS that I had all those years ago when I first thought about developing the programme; and together we now have the opportunity to make it a reality for generations to come.

Back in May we posted under the following title, Two Fingers to Youth Service as NCS put on Statutory Footing. Cameron’s contempt for youth work and the youth service is made plain by the utter absence of any acknowledgement of a history, within which the elements of NCS have always been staples of practice.

Here’s a paragraph from a piece on Youth Work and Neoliberalism I’ve been co-writing, which might see the light of day sometime in the future.

The Conservative government’s intention to recast informal youth work in its own image is symbolised by the launch of a National Citizen Service (NCS). Aimed at 15-17 year-old school leavers, this comprises an unremarkable three week programme of team-building and volunteering kicked off by a residential outdoor activities week. In 2014-15, on a budget of £140M the take-up was just 58,000 compared with the up to a million young people who had been sampling or making regular use of local Youth Service provision (NCVYS, 2013). Crucially NCS replaced this open access, year long, informal youth work with a time-limited non-formal practice infected from the outset by neo-liberal assumptions. Branded as a ‘once in a lifetime opportunity’ with a marketing budget in 2015 of over £8m delivery contracts were awarded only to private and voluntary organisations. Spurious ‘monetised claims were made about its outcomes, suggesting that the social return on NCS was worth almost three times its cost (de St Croix, 2016). In the real world its participants, lauded as NCS graduates, found that with the collapse of the Youth Service infrastructure a dead end was often reached. Yet, after consistently ignoring the youth work field’s pressure to strengthen the legislative basis of the local authority Youth Service, in 2016 the anti-statist Conservative government ignored its own ideology in announcing legislation requiring local authorities, schools and other state bodies to promote a programme, which was failing palpably to meet its targets. In the teeth of the evidence £1.2bn was set aside to fund NCS through to 2020 – more than enough to restore the cuts to open access youth work provision made in the previous five years.

We might add that between 2012 and 2016 over 600 youth centres were closed, 139,000 youth service places lost and some 3660 youth worker jobs abolished (Unison, 2016). And to add insult to injury the NCS advertising budget is now £75 milion with the Trust looking to recruit a firm with “a proven track record of creating and executing potent campaigns to shape brand perception and behaviour amongst youth and parents/guardians. We need to connect and engage with young people and inspire them to participate in NCS, pre-, during and post-programme.”

Such has been the failure of the NCS in meeting its targets that the Trust has set up pathfinder programmes in an attempt  “to bring on board organisations that have a pre-existing relationship with young people and a “deep reach” into communities.”

And so the hypocrisy and deception continues. With Cameron at the helm we can but expect more bullshit.

Bernard Davies responds to the standardised Tory response on the Youth Service



In recent weeks many people have written to their MP’s asking them to sign the Early Days Motion 488, which argues for youth service statutory funding. Many have been frustrated by a standardised response from Tory MPs, reeking with the stifling smell of the party’s Central Office. Typically this talks superficially of ‘delivering more with less’, lauds the National Citizen Service programme and claims that decisions are best made at a local level. Sharing their exasperation Bernard Davies has penned the following reply to his MP, Chris White.

To Chris White, MP

House of Commons January 2015

Dear Mr White:

Early Day Motion 488 (Youth Services)

Thank you your response to my request that you support this EDM. I am replying in detail as I see many of your comments as both evasive and misleading, particularly in how you deal with the situation currently facing local authority Youth Services. For example:

I am glad that the Government is working with local authorities to help them in their difficult task of delivering more with less

With your local knowledge of what has happened in Warwickshire, you must surely have first-hand evidence of how the reality on the ground conflicts with the rhetoric of this statement. In your own constituency, for example, Warwick Youth Centre is no longer listed as an open access youth facility while Lillington Youth Centre provides many fewer open youth club sessions than in 2010 when you were elected. In relation to such provision nationally, the Government’s large year-on-year reductions in financial support to local authorities have, at best, forced many of them to deliver less with less – where it has not left them delivering nothing.

As I pointed out in my original email, some of the most telling information on this downward spiral has come from the Government itself. The July 2014 Cabinet Office report Local authority youth services survey 2013, for example, revealed that between 2011-12 and 2013-14 the spending on youth services fell by over 22% in the 97 local authorities which responded – from £480M to £374.2M – with the proportion allocated to ‘universal services’ falling from 55.2% to 47.4%. Responses from 168 local authorities across the UK to the Unison union’s FoI requests revealed that, as a result of these cuts, between 2012 and 2014 some 2000 youth worker jobs were removed and around 350 youth centres closed. The National Youth Agency, which is now also tracking these developments (, is currently listing 12 local authorities (including Warwickshire) which have taken or are intending to take huge slices out of their Youth Service budgets. How any of this adds up to ‘providing more with less’ is very hard to discern.

A wide range of bodies, including the Office for Budget Responsibility, are also now indicating that between 2014-15 and 2019-20 spending by non-protected departments will fall by a further 41%, eliminating a further one million public sector jobs. As a result, spending on public services as a proportion of GDP is predicted to fall to its lowest level since the grim depression years of the 1930s – a period, of course, when youth work provision anyway depended largely on how magnanimous the rich felt and who they deemed ‘deserving’. Without stronger legislative protection, these scenarios – in particular the proposed cut in central government support for local authorities beyond 2015 of up to 8.8% (£2.6B) – will inevitably tip many more local authorities currently struggling to make some ‘universal’ provision into the ‘nothing’ category.

Ultimately, decisions about youth services are taken at a local level, because local authorities have a better understanding of local needs than central government’

The 2013 Cabinet Office survey also demonstrated both the vacuousness of this statement and the inadequacy and ineffectiveness of the current statutory basis of these services as laid down by Section 507B of the Education and Inspections Act 2006. Only 42% of the 97 authorities which responded to the Cabinet Office survey said that this ‘guidance’ always played a role in their decision-making with three authorities openly admitting that they never or rarely took their legal duties into account. These figures are perhaps less surprising given another of the survey’s findings: that only 28% of these authorities valued their Youth Services ‘very highly’.

As Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on the National Citizen Service, I welcome the new social action programme which is open to 16 and 17 year olds across the country… I believe the initiative has been a huge success with over 90 per cent of those who took part recommending the scheme and saying that it gave them the chance to develop skills that would be useful in future.

Though young people’s positive feedback on NCS is of course to be welcomed, it will surprise few youth workers who, having run residential events for years, know well how both bonding and influential their intensive programmes can be for those who take part. Unfortunately however not all NCS’s impacts can be seen as positive. Why for example, as the evaluators did in 2011, should we see as ‘encouraging’ an increase in the proportion of young people who participated agreeing with such a socially divisive statement as: ‘If someone is not a success in life it’s their own fault’?

From its start there have also been well argued criticisms of NCS’s cost, especially at a time when so much community-based youth work provision is being lost – according to the Unison report quoted earlier, for example, 41,000 Youth Service places for young people in the two years up to 2014. In the context of an annual spend in 2009-10 by all local authority youth services of £350 million, the 2011 Education Select Committee on Services for Young People heard evidence from the Scout Association’s Chief Executive that ‘for the same cost per head that the NCS is anticipating spending in the first tranche of pilots we could provide two or three years’ worth of the experience, week by week, for young people in the same age range’.

Indeed, while over the whole of 2013 the NCS was concentrating on just under 40,000 participants, the National Council for Voluntary Youth Services’ Youth Report 2013 was indicating that 29% of the Youth Service age range were likely at any one time to make regular use of neighbourhood-based open access youth work. The past and likely future cuts to these services could thus leave a million young people or more at risk of being abandoned at key periods of their leisure time.

I recognise the need to continue to support youth services, and I will monitor developments in the matter with your views in mind.

I hope the evidence I have offered in this email will help you to do this and, thereby, move beyond what largely reads as a standard party briefing. Indeed, in order to support other advocates for open access youth work provision who may have written to their local MP, I plan to offer this response to the In Defence of Youth Work campaign for publication on its website (

Yours sincerely,

Bernard Davies