Is the tide turning? UK Youth certainly doesn’t think so. Bernard Davies responds.

 

neobroken

Ta to transcripts.org

 

The CYPN headline says it all, UK Youth sets out plans to attract investment in sector. Neoliberal to the core UK Youth, positioning itself to be the voice of the youth sector, argues in its State of the membership 2018 that ‘the sector needs to diversify how it is funded and work more closely with the private sector to ensure it can provide a long-term sustainable service amid cuts in local authority spending’. The report goes on to express its desire ‘to see social entrepreneurial approaches, including social investment, embedded in the sector and is particularly keen to see the formation of long-term partnerships between youth groups and businesses’.

logoUKY

In the first of our responses, ahead of this Friday’s In Defence of Youth Work conference, Bernard Davies expresses sharply his concern about UK Youth’s direction of travel.

The future for youth work – as seen by UK Youth

 

In only two or three years the world of the ‘traditional’ national voluntary youth organisation has changed beyond recognition. It was in November 2012 that a senior DfE official told a conference whose organisers included UK Youth and the National Council for Voluntary Youth Services (NCVYS) that, at a time when the sector was expected increasingly ‘to do more with less’, it needed to consider mergers as a way of protecting itself. Whether as a direct response or not, in 2015 Ambition – once the National Association of Boys Clubs – merged with the Confederation of Heads of Young People’s Services. Then in March 2016, after absorbing NCVYS, in September last year Ambition itself became a ‘subsidiary’ of – that is, it merged into – UK Youth. whose own many previous titles had included the National Association of Youth Clubs.

 

These high level decisions were not always welcomed by these organisations’ grassroots. In part as a reaction to the 2012 decision by Ambition – by then known as Clubs for Young People – to adopt its new PR-friendly title, a new and independent National Association of Boys and Girls Clubs emerged. This is now providing a range of national sporting, arts and other events as well as infrastructure support for ‘1000 youth clubs in the most deprived communities’ and for over twenty county associations. To fill a perceived gap left by NCVYS’s disappearance, moves are also now detectable to create a new national network for the many local and regional councils of voluntary youth service which are still operating.

 

UK Youth has now published ‘an overview of its membership data as a merged organisation’, based on a careful sampling of the 230 organisations now directly affiliated to it. When partners’ figures in Scotland, Ireland and Wales are added, these cater for approximately four million young people across the UK. Drawing on the government’s own returns and on two Unison reports, its analysis is set starkly in the wider, especially financial, national contexts: the 41 per cent reduction in ‘universal spending’ between 2010-15 and 2017-18; the loss between 2012 and 2016 of over 3600 post, mostly part-timers; and evidence that ‘at local authority level, the most deprived areas have seen the greatest cuts’. With provision now increasingly dependent on volunteers, UK Youth’s conclusion is that ‘the youth sector has transitioned from a largely statutory provision to a largely voluntary sector-led service’.

 

In response to this devastation, in its penultimate paragraph, the report slips in a suggestion that, in order ‘to take full advantage of existing finance’, one possibility to be ‘explored’ is ‘redirecting reduced NCS funding (circa £400 million). Overall, however, such expectations of the state are noticeable mainly by their absence. So too is any analysis of the deeper structural causes of the current crisis for open access youth work, and indeed even more importantly for today’s younger generation. That ‘ideologies’ are shaping these policies is mentioned, as part of ‘the political make-up … of councils’ which has driven ‘the restructuring of statutory youth services’. The comment, however, appears in passing and without any critical explanation of what those ideologies are or how and why they have been so damaging both for a practice like youth work and for young people.

This uncritical stance on the dominant ideas of our times and the power relations underpinning them is signalled on the first page of the UK Youth paper by the inclusion. without comment, of a boxed quote from the minister currently holding the ‘youth’ brief as part of her role as Minister for Sport and Civil Society. In this, as at points elsewhere in the report, youth work in the shape of the youth club – ‘for many young people … their only safe place’ – is immediately conflated with the ‘youth services’ through which they get ‘access (to) mental health services, citizenship education, social mixing and training’. It is perhaps therefore not surprising that another of the factors driving that ‘re-structuring of statutory youth services’ – what are evasively called ‘overall financial challenges in local authorities’ – are never explained as stemming from the minister’s own and previous governments’ policies which, under the cloak of ‘austerity’, have been designed to get the state out of as many public services as possible. Indeed the government seems to garner at least implied praise for what I can only call forms of ‘gesture’ funding in support of the character-building, resilience-developing outcomes on which it insists: £50 million here for cadet forces, £40 million there for young people’s ‘social action’, another £16 million for a Youth Engagement Fund based on ‘social investment funds’ and ‘payment by results’.  

 

Nor does the UK Youth paper address in any direct way how such policies have affected the lives of young people. It notes for example that ‘only 13 per cent of young people in former industrial areas and 14 per cent in remote rural coldspots progress to university compared with 27 per cent in hotspots’. These blockages, however, conceived in the report as ‘challenges of adolescence’, apparently result simply from the ‘lack of aspiration to peer pressures or issues at home’. None of these, of course, are insignificant matters for young people themselves. What they do not do, however, is explain the glaring educational inequalities spelt out earlier. As a result, for tackling the problems of its members, the youth club, as well as providing that safe space, ends up confined it to ‘enabling young people to lead happier, more fulfilling lives’ and ‘empowering young people to make a positive contribution to their community’.

 

So how, positively, is UK Youth planning to deal with this ‘new context’? Certainly not, it seems, by starting from the proposition that the up to one million young people who have used or tried youth work facilities in the past are citizens now and so entitled to a fair slice of the collective cake. For UK Youth, the answer largely remains ‘to embed social entrepreneurial approaches and secure additional income for the sector, for example through supporting access to social investment opportunities’. (Though these are to include ‘collaborative work with … the private sector’, UK Youth gives no indication of what ethical risks tests it thinks should be applied here).

 

Even as – post-Carillion and the rest – the neo-liberal shibboleths come under renewed searching scrutiny, this paper makes clear that these remain deeply and uncritically embedded in the thinking of our youth sector ‘leaders’. Still not apparently worth any serious consideration, therefore, is an alternative possibility: that the state – albeit in re-imagined more bottom-up forms – might and indeed should again find and allocate resources for open access, informal educational facilities which its young citizens can use by choice in their leisure time.  

Bernard Davies

 

Neoliberal Norms see UK Youth and NYA competing and individualising

At the end of last week, I was involved in a debate at the Youth&Policy conference about where youth work has come from, where it’s up to and where it might be going? Within this discussion, it was impossible to escape the impact of neoliberal assumptions on our practice, such as the rule of the market, the necessity of competition and the individualising of our experience. But wasn’t it all a bit abstract?

 

Within hours of getting home reality responded, ‘not at all’.

competition

The CYPN reports that ‘UK Youth and NYA in running for £1.8m grant.’

Youth work organisations UK Youth and the National Youth Agency (NYA) are to compete for £1.8m of funding to deliver projects to support girls and young women.

Funding charity Spirit of 2012 and the government-backed #iwill campaign have agreed to provide funding of £10,000 to each organisation to develop respective projects intended to empower girls and young women to change their communities for the benefit of other girls.

Either the NYA project called Fire and Wire, which will work with girls and young women in former mining communities or a UK Youth project to offer volunteering opportunities for girls with the British Red Cross will be awarded the full £1.8m.

The Fire and Wire project is being run jointly by the NYA and social action company Platform Thirty1. It focuses on helping girls and young women in former mining communities better understand their potential through neuroscience, psychology and physiology training.

Further information on Fire and Wire is to be found on the Platform Thirty1 website.

Every girl should know her worth and that she is valued for her individuality. Fire & Wire works with girls in former mining communities teaching the basics of neuroscience, developing an understanding of how their brains work and how best they can utilise their physiology and psychology. The project also equips participants with leadership and creative skills, helping them develop their own projects for change at both an individual and community level with younger peers.

brain

Is it just me, who wants to ask a few questions about all of this?

  1. Forgive my naivete, but why are these two leading youth work organisations in competition for the funding, even being pump-primed for the showdown? Would it not have been possible to negotiate a cooperative compromise, in which each took half of the finance available? Or are we to deduce that both outfits desperately need the cash to survive and will fight to the death to win, irrespective of the cost to the loser?
  2.  As for youth workers teaching the basics of neuroscience to young women I’m bound to ask, ‘what are these agreed and accepted basics?’ As best I understand the continuing neuroscience research into how brains work, including, of course, what gets called ‘the teen brain’ [and I do follow it closely] remains full of possibilities, full of contradictions. It remains a contested arena.  And, many, if not most neuroscientists, regret how their provisional, often speculative findings become popularised and hardened into supposed truths about the human condition. In particular, concern is expressed at the prevalence and influence of ‘neuromyths’ in schools. As an example,  the idea of hemispheric dominance (whether you are “left-brained” or “right-brained”) determines how you learn. Some educators split young people simplistically into visualisers and verbalisers, even though this division does not stand up to serious scrutiny. Neuroscience does not float free from ideology. Thus in neoliberal times, it can all too easily be used to confirm an ‘individualist’ agenda, in which young people are assured if they pull their socks up, they can make it, whatever the social constraints. They can even express their individuality, provided it conforms to neoliberal expectation.
  3. Thus Katy Fielding, assistant director of operations at the National Youth Agency announces that “Our Fire and Wire project will support practitioners to enable young women to belong, develop and thrive in some of the most disadvantaged areas of the UK and we are extremely excited to get started.” The dilemma is that the area of Derbyshire, where the project will be based, has not been disadvantaged by chance or natural causes. The disadvantage remains the consequence of the conscious and vicious assault by the Thatcher government on the mining communities of this area in the 1980’s.  I lived through this period directly as I was the District Youth and Community Education Officer for Bolsover and my office was in Shirebrook. The women, young and old, were at the heart of resistance to the violence wreaked on their communities. Indeed through the efforts of the Miners’ Wives Support Group, the abandoned Shirebrook Primary School was converted into a Women’s Centre, complete with a nursery and creche, essential to freeing up the women to pursue the educational courses on offer. Supportive work was pursued with girls and young women through the youth club, a detached project and a specific young women’s project in Bolsover. Obviously, in the long run, these initiatives failed to prevent the tragic degeneration of these communities. Indeed, as I write, thirty years on, the Bolsover District Council is implementing yet another Regeneration Scheme.
  4. None of this is to suggest that a project such as Wire and Fire is a waste of time.  However a few years ago I returned to Shirebrook, home now of the infamous Sports Direct company. Disillusionment, even despair filled the smokeless air. The young people were not struggling because they didn’t know how their brains worked. Rather they were struggling because of a lack of opportunities, choices and meaningful jobs. Surely, any intervention has both to build individual and collective confidence, at one and the same time as challenging the stifling circumstances. Perhaps I’m not seeing the coal for the coke, but the immediate publicity for the competition and its entrants does feel decidedly up neoliberalism’s street.  The social problems created by neoliberal policies are always outsourced to us as ‘our’ problems and, whilst we run around trying to fix things, the neoliberals smirk.

Certainly, though, my anxiety, probably due to an overreliance upon my amygdala, can be dispelled if the detailed rationale for both bids as a result of the pump-primed development stage is placed in the public arena. As you will suspect I’ll be especially interested in what constitutes the basic neuroscience to be taught to young women.

 

 

 

Hope for the best, fear the worst – Grandma, Gramsci and Youth Work

mobility1

If you’re looking forward to a chirpy, uplifting post welcoming in the New Year, sorry, you probably need to go elsewhere. Someplace where the present and future seems always to be exciting and amazing.  The UK Youth website might be a good start. The charity, which has now absorbed the National Council for Voluntary Youth Services and Ambition, is full of itself. Preening with corporate confidence under the slogan. ‘We Build Bright Futures’, it claims to be uniquely placed to tackle low levels of social mobility amongst young people. And without pausing for reflective breath, without a hint of embarrassment, it quotes approvingly the government’s approval of its fantastic work. Being awkward I find myself thinking, surely praise from the latest in a line of neoliberal parties from New Labour via the Coalition to the Tories, whose policies have widened social inequality, is at the very least to be treated with a touch more caution.

hotpot

Hot-pot

I can hear some folk muttering, ‘Taylor must have fallen out of bed the wrong way on New Year’s morn, the miserable old soul. Too much alcohol, far too much neoliberal this, neoliberal that, too little in the way of acknowledging the efforts of the youth sector’s leadership, too few thanks to the grassroots’.  In my immediate defence, I can vouch that the Taylor household did not venture out on New Year’s Eve, preferring to consume traditional Lancashire hotpot with mashed carrots and turnip in front of the fire, fueled by only a few glasses of the local red. Indeed we were in bed before midnight, which, I allow, is pretty miserable. Hence, walking the dog on the first day of 2018 found me in sober mood, thinking of a grandma, whose favourite homily was ‘hope for the best, fear the worst’. Now she spoke only in dialect and had never read the dialectics of Antonio Gramsci, but it struck me her message didn’t seem all that different than the Italian Marxist’s argument for ‘optimism of the will, pessimism of the intellect’.

Gramsci

 

Granted, though, my grandma’s advice is passive, ‘what else can we do but pray for the best?’, whereas Gramsci implies that it’s necessary for us to struggle to achieve the best, ‘what else can we do but act to bring about the best?’ In this context, UK Youth might understandably ask, ‘why are you giving us a hard time? We are ‘doing hope’, doing our best’.

Whilst this is a fair point it begs the question, how are we to understand hope? For twenty years or more hope in its neoliberal guise has been thoroughly individualistic and competitive. New Labour’s version stressed the need for young people to be aspirational. For the Conservatives the emphasis continues to be rooted in a notion of self-improvement via which the young person will deserve to climb the ladder of success. Absent from this way of seeing things is the social, which makes it all the more ironic that the term social mobility has such wide currency.  Thus UK Youth can make the remarkable claim that it can increase young people’s social mobility with apparently no sense of contradiction.

I don’t think it’s out of order to ask UK Youth if it considered the following dilemmas before announcing it was ‘tackling social mobility’? After all youth work is supposed to be a bastion of self-reflective, critical thought and practice?

  1. As touched on above the discourse of social mobility is individualistic, linked to the revived myth of meritocracy – you get what you deserve. It ignores utterly structural constraints on young people’s opportunities, underpinned still by class, gender and race inequality, expressed in poverty, inadequate housing provision etc.
  2. As Patrick Ainley has pointed out, ‘the Tories have dramatically increased social mobility. However, it is general, absolute, DOWNWARD social mobility that has increased, whilst the limited, relative, upward social mobility of the post-war, welfare state period is nowadays so statistically insignificant as to be exceptional.’
  3. Social mobility itself is a deeply problematic concept. It is at odds with social equality and social justice. What does it mean to suggest that a working class young person ought to better themselves? How many young entrepreneurs and vloggers as opposed to care workers and gardeners does society need? On what grounds are these socially crucial working class jobs paid less and given less status? The youth sector hosts many a seminar on becoming a competitive entrepreneur. I’ve yet to see a parallel series of workshops on becoming a cooperative public servant. To paraphrase John McLean, the great Scottish socialist, ‘why not rise with your class, rather than out of it?’

Noam Chomsky Neoliberalism

Of course the issues I’m raising go far beyond UK Youth. They express the way in which neoliberal ideas are the common-sense of our times. Despite the fact that the neoliberal economic model is broken they express the way in which its individualist, ‘dog eat dog’, market-driven ideology has been insinuated deep into the soul of youth work – so much so that is hardly ever questioned. For my part I’ll carry on banging on about its destructive consequences for youth work. I’ll pursue further the way in which it has incorporated and distorted concepts such as empowerment and social justice. That’s my New Year’s resolution, tempered by the recognition that I need a few more jokes.

Let me end with the first part of a proposal from William Bodrick, which has resonance, in my opinion, for youth workers of all persuasions.

We have to be candles,
burning between
hope and despair,
faith and doubt,
life and death,
all the opposites.
That is the disquieting place
where people must always find us.

[Thanks to James Ballantyne for the link to Brodrick]

 

 

 

Once there were many, now but one? UK Youth and Ambition merge

We got a sniff of this latest manoeuvre in the youth sector the other day and it has come to pass.

merger.jpg

Youth work organisations UK Youth and Ambition have merged, it has been announced.

The announcement is accompanied by the usual managerial rationalisations, the two CEO’s vying to outdo one another in a contest of cliche. Anna Smee, chief executive of UK Youth claims, “we feel we are much more credible now as the one leading organisation that works across non-uniformed and, to some extent, uniformed youth organisations.” Emma Revie, chief executive of Ambition, said coming together strengthens both organisations. “By joining forces with UK Youth, I’m confident we have the potential to be greater together than the sum of our parts and I’m excited to see what we can achieve.”

For our part we remain sceptical about the claim that this merger will strengthen the voice and quality of the youth work sector. It will strengthen a particular voice, centralised and still wedded to a neoliberal ideology of self-improved young people and self-improved workers. In the present political ferment a plurality of voices would be much healthier.

As it is, as CYPN notes,

The move comes just two years after Ambition, which was known as Clubs for Young People until 2012, merged with the Confederation of Heads of Young People’s Services, the organisation for local authority youth service leaders. Ambition also merged with the now defunct National Council for Voluntary Youth Services last year.

And, indeed, a proposed merger between UK Youth and the National Agency was on the cards for a time last year. We won’t hold our breath if this possibility is soon revived.

It’s worth remembering too that the NCVYS once proudly presented itself as the independent voice of the voluntary youth sector.

To complete the exchange of banalities, Tracy Crouch, the Minister of a government, which has implemented a succession of policies antagonistic to the needs of young people, never mind youth work itself, welcomes the corporate move, “UK Youth and Ambition have both done fantastic work supporting young people across the country and I am confident that this partnership will only strengthen their offering.

“Together I’m sure they will continue to lead the way championing youth voices, and supporting innovation and partnerships.”

By now, though, I suppose we are meant to do no more than shrug our shoulders at such empty rhetoric.

Government set to publish three-year youth strategy : We won’t wait with bated breath

CYPN reports that the AMBITION national conference has been home to contributions from the Conservative government and the Labour Party.

rob-wilson-mp-ad-12-343x343

Rob Wilson – ta to CYPN

The Tories in the person of Rob Wilson, the youth minister, indulged in the tired promise that a clear narrative and vision is to emerge. Thus we might be forgiven for wondering what happened to the July 2011 ‘Positive for Youth discussion paper: Overarching narrative for the youth policy statement, Department for Education’, welcomed at the time by the NYA and the NCVYS. In 2013 Bernard Davies described a supposed report of its progress as deeply dishonest – see Which Planet Are They On? However history has never been an impediment to neoliberal politicians and their sycophants. Another a narrative, or perhaps the previous one warmed up, is on its way. Any road youth work/youth services/the youth sector, call it what you will, is no longer in Education, it falls into the hands of the Department of Culture, Media and Sport. Wilson thus argued, “we can use our new position to give young people greater engagement with our sporting and cultural heritage.” Whither youth work as informal education? With tongue firmly in his cheek, given the government’s record on youth policy, witness the rejection of votes at 16, he declared, “if we work together, if we are innovative, if we keep a relentless focus on the needs of young people we will be successful and make good progress.” Inevitably this disingenuous rhetoric was accompanied by the usual crap about doing more with less and the vital role of the private sector and philanthropy.

Evidently, undeterred by the touch of contradiction here and there in Wilson’s bullshit, CYPN informs us  that “youth work leaders welcomed the announcement as an opportunity to reinvigorate voluntary and statutory youth services.” Indeed, Anna Smee, CEO of UK Youth, is so moved as to venture, “the minister’s commitment to help every young person throughout their transition to adulthood needs to be at the heart of a new youth strategy.” Meanwhile the destruction of the Youth Service continues and is resisted – see Save Kirklees Youth Service.

Steve Reed -Ta to CYPN

As for Steve Reed, MP for Croydon North, Labour’s shadow youth minister, he argued, that if the government continues to fail to invest in young people then in time the country will face the consequences, before going on to mouth the mantra of investment in prevention and early intervention, and for better and stronger partnership working. Shades of New Labour’s policy, described in a forthcoming piece as, “youth work’s integration into multi-disciplinary teams dominated by child-protection concerns weakened its educational commitment as did policies developed ever more systematically to prioritise ‘early intervention’ and the ‘targeting’ of young people ‘at risk’. Increasingly youth workers were saddled with caseloads of referred young people, causing many to describe their practice as ‘social work-lite’.

In the next few days we will post a variety of youth work voices, which continue to challenge the cliches and the spin, etched deep into these supposedly opposed political utterances.

POSTSCRIPT

Thanks to Raj for this evidence of rifts in the Tory ranks. How seriously should we take this as a possibility?

Theresa May under pressure to scrap David Cameron’s ‘Big Society’ and support young jobseekers

The Government’s social mobility adviser will urge Theresa May to replace David Cameron’s flagship “big society” scheme for 16 and 17 year-olds with high quality work experience and careers advice for all teenagers.

Alan Milburn, who chairs the Social Mobility Commission, wants the £400m-a-year budget for National Citizen Service (NCS), which includes summer camps and community projects, switched to boosting the job prospects of all young people.

UK Youth and NYA initiate shared services talks

UK Youth

nya

 

The inexorable pressure upon the leading voluntary youth organisations/charities to rationalise continues apace. This year we’ve already lost the National Council for Voluntary Youth Services [NCVYS], once the proudly independent voice of a host of voluntary youth groups across the country, often organised into local councils. Ambition absorbed its membership services, whilst UK Youth stepped in to protect other functions such as  the management of Muslim Council of Britain partnership. At the time UK Youth indicated that it would be leading on the youth sector Chair’s Taskforce to explore opportunities for further sector partnership and consolidation.  It looks as if the next stage in a process of ‘consolidation’ has been reached as UK Youth and NYA announce they are entering talks on shared services. We recognise and support the sincere desire to protect jobs and provide services in an artificially induced climate of austerity. We remain deeply committed to the necessity of a critical and independent voluntary youth sector voice. In particular those of us, for whom the old National Youth Bureau and thence the National Youth Agency were in their finest hours ambassadors of radical youth work practice, fear for the future.

UK Youth and NYA have initiated discussions to explore the benefits of a shared services model that will enable both organisations to sustain high quality services for young people in the most cost effective way. Our charities are united in their aim to achieve the best possible outcomes for young people and recognise there are a range of innovative ways in which this can be achieved.

The discussions are at a preliminary stage. The Chairs and CEOs of UK Youth and NYA have met to look at the options available. Their initial recommendations have been presented to Trustees of both charities, who are supportive and have each appointed representatives to a small working group which will convene over the next few months to explore a range of possible options, including the sharing of HR and Finance.

Both parties hope these discussions will lead to a positive result that will strengthen each of our respective charities. However, we are also clear that this is a complex process and it may be that we are unable to achieve our vision. If that is the case, we will share our learnings with the sector in the hopes that others can benefit from our efforts.

Our staff and stakeholders will be vital to the success of these discussions and we hope we can count on your support over the next few months.

Anna Smee CEO UK Youth

Paul Miller CEO NYA

Michael Bracey Chair NYA

Anne Stoneham Chair UK Youth

Thoughts upon this scenario from people in the field would be most welcome.

Lloyds and UK Youth : Isn’t a Debt for Life Programme more honest?

debt

On the one hand, Lloyds Banking announces as part presumably of its magnanimous ‘Helping Britain Prosper Plan’, the axing of 3,000 jobs on top of the 54,000 lost since the 2008 financial crisis, within which the organisation illustrated its glaring economic illiteracy. In the words of one executive at the time, “Sorry, folks, we never saw it coming!” On the other, always with an eye on public relations, Lloyds in  partnership with UK Youth is about to launch a ‘cutting-edge’ programme of financial literacy aimed at young people.

Forget levels of  unemployment, low wages, zero-hour contracts, onerous debt and all the consequences of imposed austerity upon young people, David Rowsell, Head of the Money for Life Programme at Lloyds Banking Group, explains: “Encouraging young people to enhance their money management skills through the Money for Life programme is core to our vision to help Britain prosper. Through working with UK Youth…. we are confident that we will be able to make even more of a difference to the financial literacy of young people and communities across the UK.” Not to be outdone, Anna Smee, CEO, UK Youth, argues: “Young people face a difficult transition towards independent living as they start to manage money day to day and make critical financial decisions about their future. Their financial capability during this transition can have a big impact on their resilience and wellbeing in their adult lives”. Amidst the gushing sycophancy,”the challenges that young people face today are immense. Lloyds Banking Group understands this and through its innovative Money for Life programme it aims to empower young people to build their financial skills to make informed decisions about money,” there are surely a few ethical and political dilemmas for the world of youth work.

Our uncritical involvement in the financial and private sector’s need to revitalise its image, its need to proclaim its rediscovered sense of social responsibility is problematic. Like it or not , in 2009 a case was brought against Lloyds by HM Revenue and Customs on the grounds of tax avoidance, whilst in 2010 the Group settled with the US government to the tune of $350 million to deflect allegations of money laundering. At this very moment Lloyds is being investigated by the Financial Conduct Authority over the way it handled customers having difficulty paying their mortgages and has already set aside £350m to cover the costs of mishandling customers in arrears not only with their home loans but also with unsecured debts – so much for ’empowering’ its customers.

Talking of debt takes us to the heart of the matter. Neo-liberalism has lived off the back of increasing debt for over three decades.  Contrary to Shylock it has proclaimed, ‘a borrower and a lender be’, drawing us all into its grasp via loans, credit cards and mortgages. Real wages have stagnated. Indeed the TUC report published this week reveals that real earnings have declined more than 10% since the credit crunch began in 2007, leaving the UK equal bottom with Greece in a league table of wages growth. It would be more honest for Lloyds to talk of a Debt for Life programme.

Today young people face a manufactured life of uncertainty, a precarious future created by the invisible hand of the capitalist market or as Anna Smee prefers to put it, ‘a difficult transition towards independent living’. Does she really believe that a mix of money management skills and a dose of ‘positive’ psychology are the key to a fruitful adult life?The young people, I know, in their desire to be independent yearn for free tertiary education, a job with proper pay and conditions, access to affordable housing, cheap transport,  all backed by the security of, for example,  a public health service based on need not profit. Certainly they are unsure about how these things might be achieved. The children of an ‘individualistic’ society, they are not instinctively collective in temperament. And, youth work does them no favours by being caught up in the delivery of structured , short-term programmes which remain fixated on being individually confident, entrepreneurial and resilient. The fittest will survive.

Fair enough, being able to sort out your personal budget is pretty useful. We used to do Money Matters sessions with the Careers Service on school-leaver residentials forty years ago. Call it financial literacy, if you wish, but it’s not ‘cutting edge’. The much more challenging task relates to political and economic literacy. How, for instance, do we get our heads around the fact that we live in a society with widening inequality? How do we weigh up different ways of doing something about the rich getting richer and the poor poorer? How do we do something about zero-hour contracts or loan sharks? These questions and countless more apply to both youth workers and young people. They are the rich content of a critical dialogue called youth work. I’m not calling for political literacy programmes, but there might be some of you keen to pursue that line. As far as workers go I can but say we have an obligation to be as politically literate as is possible, to recognise that the struggle for the common good is collective or it is nothing. Hence we need be cautious about all youth work initiatives focused on the free-floating young individual.

As for the leading organisations of the sector, such as UK Youth, isn’t it time to revive a critical and independent relationship with funders and the government? Doesn’t it feel a mite ridiculous to take Lloyds’ money without a gentle comment on the pretension of its Helping Britain Prosper rhetoric? Isn’t it necessary to speak at least a little truth to power, to suggest that the acquisition of financial acumen means very little if young people have no money or prospects in the first place? I would humbly suggest that the present political turmoil provides a crisis-sent opportunity to be bolder about what we claim to be our values -Social Justice, Equality and Diversity. What’s stopping us?