Did you know that in England?
If you stop someone in the street and say – ‘youth work’ the chances are they’ll offer: ‘youth club’. If you then press them on what that is, they'll more than likely mention table tennis; or, if you’re really unlucky, ping pong. Yet community surveys tell us that this random member of the public might well then add: ‘But our kids really need them – to keep them off the streets’.
The 30% of 13 – 18 year olds that choose to engage with youth work totals 1,1 milion.
Policy makers tend to say: „If it can´t be measured, it didn´t happen; and we´re certainly not interested in it anyway.“ This can lead to any work with young people that can (purportedly) be measured in numbers being labelled youth work.
Face-to-face paractitioners find it harder to resist this tendency because they now have so few arenas for exchange or debate.
Results of the student research
The group talked about love. I can’t remember a class group talking about this in the last 9 years I have been teaching in university. Maybe it is a backlash against professionalisation and a move towards what Nel Noddings (1984) describes as the “ethics of care”.
This group have taken on the role of defending young people against the decifit model. The discussion around space was interesting as this is the one thing that has been eroded over the last decade. Space for young people to be young, have fun, experiment and learn from their mistakes; a place where risk is consisdered but not necessarliy as a bad thing.
Youth work has always had to balance the tension between social control and social agency, and we need to be mindful of taking the money in order to just survive.
by Pauline Grace
Locating an article on the state of youth work within the global ideology of neo-liberalism may seem to some rather over-blown. After all what we are considering here is a form of educational practice which, at least in England, has always existed on the margins of educational provision.
The connections, however, are not that hard to trace.
1 Neil Puffett, ‘Cameron earmarks children services as priority reform area’, Children and Young People Now, 11 September 2015, available here, accessed 14 September 2015
Major damage was inflicted on state provision for youth work
As the 2010-15 UK Coalition government implemented its ‘austerity’ agenda, particularly through the imposition of huge cuts in financial support for local councils, major damage was inflicted on state provision for youth work. A 2014 survey of 168 UK local authorities by the trade union Unison revealed that between 2012 and 2014:
Since then it has emerged that 105 local authorities Conservative-led councils have closed over half of their youth centres since 2010 (411 out of 811) – with, apparently, the good news being that Labour-controlled councils closed only a quarter!2
1 Unison: The Damage, August 2014
2 Jack Blanchard, ‘Tory councils shut HALF their youth centres since David Cameron came to power’, Daily Mirror, 4 September 2015, available here, accessed 8 September 2015.
As a result not only has there been a major shift from open access youth work to projects targeted at ‘at risk’ young people who are required to attend. According to a 2014 National Youth Agency report ‘(t)here is no longer a common form of youth service across England’.1
1 NYA, Youth Services in England: Changes and trends in the provision of services, November 2014, available here, accesses 14 September 2015
What the statistics do not make clear are some of the assumptions driving these policies – such as is that the resultant staffing gaps can be filled by volunteers. As enthusiastic as these people may be – and poorer communities are likely anyway to find they don’t exist – this not only fails to take account of an inevitable huge reduction in person-hours available. In comparison with a Service fully staffed with professional workers many of whom will have years of front-line experience, it also ignores the loss of training and skills vital to providing high quality, labour-intensive, open access youth work.
It also ignores the loss of training and skills vital to providing high quality, labour-intensive, open access youth work
Despite Prime Minister Cameron’s high profile ‘big society’ initiative to encourage such volunteering, government policies have also had serious effects on non-governmental organisations generally and youth work ones in particular. Under the Coalition government funding for the wider voluntary sector will have fallen by the equivalent of £1.7 billion between 2010/11 and 2017/1.1 Perhaps as damaging however has been the whittling away of these organisations’ freedom to, independently and strategically, assess need and then make provision on the basis of their own distinctive values and accumulated, often very local, experience. Instead they have been forced increasingly to become private businesses’ subservient sub-contractors, some with questionable ethical records.
1 NCVO, ‘Counting the Cuts: the impact of spending cuts on the voluntary and community sector – 2013 update, available here, accessed 14 September 2015
This rapid run-down of the professional field has also affected the youth work training agencies which historically have sought to act as both the gate-keeper to it and the guardians of its quality standards. The National Youth Agency’s 2014 annual monitoring of courses showed a 46% fall in student numbers between 2007 and 2013 from 1300 to 701; and that, whereas courses all but hit their recruitment targets at the start of the period, by the end this was down to 86%. In the years after the Coalition government came to power, though the number of post-graduate courses increased slightly, the number of undergraduate courses fell by around 15% – from some 38 to 32. The proportion of under 21 year olds being recruited has increased in the ten years since 2004 from under 20% to just over 30%.1
The struggle for state-sponsored Youth Services goes on, with the trade unions as well as other pressure groups continuing to lobby for a new Act of Parliament which would be much clearer in its requirement on local authorities to fund them to an adequate level. However, in light of the result of the 2015 UK general election not only does this seem unlikely to happen. After three decades of neo-liberal policies, it is an approach which in itself begs some difficult but crucial questions. Such as: how effective has the 75-year-old local authority Youth Services model been for sponsoring and funding youth work? And in particular how appropriate has it been over those decades for nurturing and developing a practice which, by definition, has to be able to respond rapidly and sensitively to young people, to their changing interests, to their priority concerns and to their often challenging cultural practices?
1 NYA , ‘Annual Monitoring of Youth and Community Work Programmes Professionally Validated by the NYA 2012/2013’, available here, accessed 11 September 2015
The struggle for state-sponsored Youth Services goes on
by Bernard Davis (2015)
Bernard Davis is a qualified youth worker, has been active in the
UK In Defence of Youth Work campaign since it started in 2009.
Photos: Cover © freeimages.com/EllyKellner; all other © Paul Posse