Youthworkers today arent speaking from a position of strength, in society or the church – but then again have they ever?

Theres a bit of a recurring conversation going on in a number of different places at the moment, that is building a conclusion that Youthworkers today arent speaking from a position of strength.

On one hand there has been the decimation, or virtual obliteration of funding from local councils (brought about from national government funding reductions, excused by ‘austerity’ as a narrative) towards statutory youth services.  This has had a knock on effect almost everywhere in regard to youth and community work, and for young people themselves. Much ink has been spilt on working out all the effects. From loneliness, knife crime, mental health on an individual and social level – but also where schools and other institutions have been subtley charged with filling in the gaps – making a mockery of funding cuts and also trying to ‘do youthwork’ without the agenda less approach of youthwork. (That post is here: The effect of disappearing youth clubs )  This reduction in youthwork, then has an effect on those seeking to be employed and qualified in it, and the reduction in courses, funding and applications for these. Yes, the voluntary sector and social businesses may have been given the open book to fill the gap, but they do so with orgainsational survival and competition as core objectives – stuff which flies in the face of partnerships, collaboration and community which underpins the very nature of what youthwork is all about. Anyway. Thats one conversation.

The other conversation is in the faith ‘sector’ , and it is similar. Though not starting from centralised funding cuts. It does have funding as part of its issue. The last 10 years has seen the gradual shift in youth work posts in faith organisations/churches in the UK.  Whilst there are still many vacancies in some areas , this is also coupled with the reductions in courses across the country. A conversation about the pay for youthworkers, isnt new, given the extortionate housing costs in some places means that this is only a profession for the single, the young, or with those with a decent second income in the family. Unless a position also includes accomodation. Some of the high water marks of youth ministry, such as Soul Survivor, and collaborative working on resources (see ‘joined up, 2003, and other resources) gave the impression of a growing impetus for youth ministry as a profession and the hope of a collective voice, that inspired and could encourage many. A look back at Youthwork magazine from 1999, and it reveals colleges and courses cramming up the pages with adverts to attract people to them, a variety of jobs and vacancies, a rhetoric of positivity and a belief that youth ministry was the future, and the church needed to catch on and up.

The conversation now is that Youth work and ministry is not in a position of strength.

The reality is that youth work and ministry never was in a position of strength. Position of ‘stuff’ maybe. 

Of course stuff was happening. The myriad of activity… But was the stuff happening that was in the corridors of the power brokers?

Youthwork slipped from the department for education (where it had sit for a considerable length of time) , but were youthworkers in that conversation. How might youthworkers affect education policy – rather than the other way around? Yet the place of youthwork slipped to crime prevention departments and now leisure and tourism…

At the same time were youthworkers in churches busy taking kids to soul survivor, were they also holding or furthering conversations at the time about increasing the status of youth ministry in the church, at a systematic level? Ensuring better pay, or housing, or stipend, or support, or recognition for the ministry within these settings? only a few, and that seemed hard work, easier to play the passive game. Not make a noise or fuss. Accept a low wage for the sake of calling. Contribute to a year out scheme that could be deemed like modern slavery. Then move on to not be a youthworker and represent young people for a stable role that carries a ‘higher calling’ (by others), but would that occur if the youthwork role was more stable?

Yes, as youthworkers we like to be in the thick of it, in the action, behind the scenes, getting messy in the margins, much of the time we’re trying to encourage young people to have a voice, and promote their voices (all fantastic) such as the recent youth parliaments and protests – all the time not realising or being able to do anything about the rug of that process and practice being pulled from under our feet. Empower others, dont do political. But thats not got anywhere. Youthwork is political. And the campaign groups continue, just. Though in youth ministry, its less a campaign group, more a few experienced youthworkers trying to get something done. Its difficult to make waves in a culture of compliance in a role that is paid for. Dont upset the payroll.

Systematic change is still required. All the stuff about young people in society requires and demands it. Imagine if loneliness is reduced because youthworkers (the same one) is present in communities for 10 years. Thatd be helpful wouldnt it? What about the same for all the activities youthworkers do, sports, social and spiritual – all things bereft in communities, where theres one crisis (obesity) to another (mental health) – so what if there was strategic and systematic commitment to youth and community work provisions in every community. How might that encourage the process of helping young people flourish, its probably immeasurable, and thats probably the point.

Would this be the same in churches? The best examples of where youth ministry works is where the persons have been around for more than 5 years. Not unlike the community, any community thrives on this kind of stability, and young people are no different. And I am guilty as charged, given up a role after 2 years, and struggle with another after the same. It would systematic change of thinking from funding and affiliations to commit to fund workers who are involved with youthwork for them to have significant long term contracts, and the stability equivalent at least to the minister. But this is not an argument from a position of strength, but then again, even at its surfing of the crest of its own bouyant wave, it was barely strength anyway. Strength implied that people were listening to youthworkers and their voice and enabling them to have increased participation in processes, methods and politics, that youthwokers were trying valiantly to encourage young people themselves to have. And whilst i write off the last 20 years in one fail swoop, there are and were some exceptions to all of this. But very little of that has lasted to the point where current decisions about youthwork and young people are made in the knowledge and collaboration with youthworkers or their approach. Theres dragons den meetings to decide funding, and consultations that appear relatively tokenistic.

What might it take for youthwork to actually be in a position of strength?  In both the government and the church?

and who is prepared to make a stand to cause this to happen, and how will anyone know when this has happened? 

Was youth work in a position of strength? Maybe it was just in a better place than it is today by a long way – but strength?  not sure about that one..

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Are young people born since 2000 to be known as the Austerity Generation?

Imagine being 10 and at youth club that evening the leaders pass the bucket around, and ask you to make a cake to sell to keep the youth club going.

Imagine being 11 and the youth club that you went to closing.

Imagine being 12 and your parents have to move house because, after your brother moved out last year, they cant afford to stay in the same house, and they need to be in something with one less bedroom.

Imagine at 12 1/2 having to change school and friendship groups because of this.

Imagine that at 13 your birthday meal has to be got from the foodbank because the universal credit payment didnt come through on time after the house move.

Imagine being 13 and not coping with your new school, and you ask for help and counselling, but no one really though you were serious.

Imagine being 14 and developing an eating disorder

Imagine being 14 and having to wait 6 months for a Camhs referral and appointment.

Imagine being 14 and just having to cope and be told you need more resilience.

Imagine being 15 and trying to cope in school, where there was no let up.

Imagine being 16 and advised to stay in school or college

Imagine being 17 and realising that in college, that you get to do a 1 day timetable in something that you really dont want to do.

Imagine being 17 and the thing you want to do, you cant because the education maintenance allowance doesnt ‘exist anymore’

Imagine being 18 and realising that college might be the answer, but a bus ticket to it is too expensive.

Imagine being this young person.

Imagine that every year since you were 10 you were directly affected by the underfunding of youth services, education, travel, housing, social services, mental health provision, imgine that every year there was a change to be made.

Imagine how that uncertainty might have an effect.

When its not just one thing.

Its been one thing every year.

Imagine that being 14 might have been easier with a youthworker around.

Imagine that being 16 might have been easier with a youthworker around to help think through education choices or help realise dreams and potential.

There will be 17 year olds, who for the last 7 years all they have experiences is something that had, being taken away. Something they want that might be good for them being out of reach, something that used to exist not being there anymore, something that makes their already challenging life even more difficult to try and reach. I guess thats tough love by the tory government, or just tough luck.

Imagine thinking that it wasnt just your postcode that you feel left out in, but that its the wrong time in the world to be a young person.

Imagine how being 10 was a time of hope, of dreaming and of looking forward to the rest of life with excitement. Imagine having all of that dashed by austerity cuts.

Imagine being blamed because you’re now a bored teenager who hangs around the town.

It isnt what you dreamed for. what you wanted. But dreams are dangerous now.

Imagine that you are still the problem.

Imagine that no one still wants to listen.

Imagine being shunted from one 6 week course to another.

Imagine being in between. Out of one home, not in another.

When a secondary school teacher in a Northern Secondary school said to me a few weeks ago;

‘Young people perceive that no one cares about them’

‘Children and young people deserve investment, they have been at the rough end of austerity’

‘They are vulnerable first and foremost, they need people who care and then be alongside them’

They might just be right.

Yet, that doesnt seem to matter to the current government.

In a discussion at the UK prime ministers questions yesterday there was the following exchange:

Lloyd Russell-Moyle (Brighton, Kemptown) (Lab/Co-op)

Q7. Last year, a quarter of young people thought about suicide, and one in nine attempted suicide. Young people are three times more likely to be lonely than older people. Knife crime is up, and gang crime is up. There are fewer opportunities for young people than ever before—68% of our youth services have been cut since 2010—with young people having nowhere to go, nothing to do and no one to speak to. Is it now time for a statutory youth service, and will the Prime Minister support my ten-minute rule Bill after Prime Minister’s questions? [905633]

The Prime Minister- Theresa May
I think “Nice try” is the answer to the hon. Gentleman, but he said that there were fewer opportunities for young people here in this country. May I just point out to him the considerable improvement there has been in the opportunities for young people to get into work and the way in which we have seen youth unemployment coming down?

Whilst the question may not have got to the hub of the whole matter and the situation facing many young people who have now experienced 7 years of austerity, and have a firm grip of how their lives are and have been affected. It is as true to say that the response from the Prime Minister is one who has no idea on what 8 years of targetted cuts that have affected families may have had on young people.

Young people still the brunt of the cut backs. Still demonised by the press. They deserve much better. Even just to catch up with what young people 10 years had the benefit of, no not the benefit of, the right to have.

‘Nice try’ – even the question about young people is belittled in response.

Its as if no one is pretending to try, and helping young people to survive is a mish mash of agencies scrambling around for the crumbs off the plate. The gaps are huge and many are falling through.

‘Nice Try’ nah when it comes to young people, this government have barely tried. And dont even start on NCS.

Mark Smith has written this piece at length on the http://www.infed.org site detailing all the research and reports which indicate the effect of austerity policy on young people education. Harrowing. austerity affecting young peoples wellbeing and education

‘its got nothing to do with the cuts to youth services’ – or has it…. ?

‘Its got nothing to do with the reduction in youth services’

At least that has been the governments response to recent news items such as;

The increase in County lines in the last 4 years report 9th feb is here. But its their response after today’s news on radio 5 thus morning.

The increase in knife crime in London

The increase in young people referring to mental health provision the guardian this week, this report this week: camhs figures

and these are just the things in the public media domain…

Anecdotally anti social behaviour is on the increase, especially in areas where the youth clubs have closed down. And where voluntary groups are trying to raise the money to fund a youthworker.

None of these issues have anything to do with the cuts in youth services.. apparently according to every statement on these issues by the current government. They have to say this dont they and its becoming a more than frequent response as every new issue that affects young people comes to light, but …..

The government may have the tiniest slither of a point.

Only a tiny slither.

For it is difficult to say whether cutting youth services would have prevented any of these things happening. All existed before to some level. And measuring open youth work and its preventative possibilities has and still is notoriously difficult.

But what has been removed has been a safety net layer.

But what has been removed was on the ground intelligence (though in the case of Rotherham abuse scansal, the reports by youthworker to services about the scale of the problem were deemed excessive and ‘over-egged’ thus ignored)

But what has been removed was the persons on the ground.

But what was removed was a person who was trying (even in the midst of managerial targetting) to put young people first

But what also happened when the youth services closed down was that young people realised that they were the first to be targetted when priorities of budgets were set.

Young people realised that the government really does not care about them, that society doesn’t care and they were merely pawns in a bigger game they have no control over. No voice and no autonomy.

Maybe none of these things matter to the young person carrying drugs around the counties, or waiting to be seen by a mental health provider (again if there are any dedicated young person mental health provision left) , or the young person carrying a knife.

But what’s also been taken from many communities is the person who might facilitate a coordinated response to these issues who has a young person focus. Someone who not only contributes but for whom it’s their job to coordinate and facilitate. When in some cases a police, health or education perspective might not cut it (at least not always).

It would be disengenuous to say that youth services would have prevented any of these things happening, that as we know would be difficult to prove, but then not everything is easy to prove especially preventative work with young people, still far cheaper than reactive and targetted work, that has limited if only short term results.

If the reduction in youth services isn’t the issue, say the government, then I’m so glad that NCS is having such a positive effect on the most needy of young people. Guess it went for the most vulnerable after all- just those who needed a confidence boosting few week programme. The NCS person or programme doesnt have ‘the whole community’ at heart, neither are they on the streets being involved. They, like many others are detached from the real action, and trying to get numbers for a programme.

We’re never going to know if cutting youth services contributed to the issues young people are facing. Whats done has bern done. What we do know is the cost for young people, in every family, every wasted day waiting on a list, every day travelling around as a drug carrier is a completely dehumanising and degrading experience that could be prevented.

What is happening is that over professional services such as schools are spending their budgets on extra provision to back fill (see my previous post here, based on reflections from a small NE town ) so there isn’t a cost saving. It’s just money being shifted around.

Cutting youth services haven’t had any effect at all? Really, conservative government are you sure?

If nothing else the budget reducting austerity chickens are coming home to roost, and it’s not looking good.

Mourning the expected death of NCS

We should be getting ready for the tragic and solemn occasion of the end of the NCS programme, probably by the end of 2018. For, now that the governments flagship programme for young people has been subject to ‘efficiency savings’ in the last three months, been requested that the narked off voluntary sector support it and signpost young people to it. Today it has been announced that the drastically underfunded local councils are being asked to support it, in again directing young people to it. So, council youth workers, who have had to scrimp and scrap to find work since the governments decimation of youth services ( via local funding under allocation of funding), now are now tasked with inheriting a responsibility for a government programme that was initiated as a replacement for youth services in the first place.

The details are here: https://www.cypnow.co.uk/cyp/news/2004389/government-calls-on-councils-to-take-on-ncs-role

I guess it is only one step away from local council having to directly fund the NCS programme. Thats local councils who are happy to plead to national government for rebates for social and elderly care. But do that for provision for young people. Unlikely. And Im not sure there’s a great energy in the country to invest in young people via local council funding, weekly bin collections might be at risk. (A daily mail recurrence). Theyve already had extra, any for NCS might be extra. But oh look, NCS might be in the ‘statutory’ funding category. As important as schools? – really?

So, if local councils have no funding for youth work, and are now not far off taking on NCS, ‘the governments flagship, expensive, £50 per student, 2 week ‘confidence building experience’ for young people- programme’. Then start booking the halls, medals and services for the sad ending of NCS. For anything that overpriced, that under subscribed, that badly organised, that in need of sales staff to recruit young people (still being recruited here: https://www.vonne.org.uk/jobs/customer-service-advisers-3727, if you want a job selling a programme on commission to young people) that subjected to efficiency savings. Is about to have its plug pulled. If we as youthworkers dont commemorate its closure, then its fairly likely that its 4 year tenure is barely going to register in national significance for national mourning. Save a few young people who enjoyed and had a fun time, a few communities that had a few projects start, and a few parents who paod £50 for their kids to have a cheap holiday. But no national outcry, no pleas or marches. No, another neo liberal project that commodified and targetted young people by politicians who have no idea about young people, youth work or community education, young peoples needs, gifts or possibilities – a project with only enforced take up, and limited results, ending without whimper.

Now i may be wrong on this, and theres time for a dramatic comeback. But theres a hammer already starting to knock in the nails to the coffin that is NCS. Its time was never here, before it was already over. Next time government, and local government, treasure what you already had, invest in it, believe that youth workers might know how to help young people flourish, not programmes, but spaces of interaction, and where young people are the focus, not the boxes that other people tick that try and ‘show progression’ or outcomes.

There might be a few hundred young people with fond memories of being on NCS, though in the future most of them can d a programme at the local YMCA, princes trust, or something else. Private charities already provide this thing. The pending downfall of NCS, might it is hoped cause government and local government to prioritise the youthwork provision that once was. Much of which helped with many of the issues that young people are showing in greater abundance than before, such as mental health, exercise and social interaction – all helped by being involved in local community groups and social groups, and being involved in voluntary play and activity and learning.

Its a long shot, and less certain than the pending termination of NCS. Going but not forgotten. Not forgotten by those whose jobs and careers it brought to an end. Not forgotten by the many who see it as a flagship of neo liberal and economic capability that directs youth work provision by successive governments. Many who are in the ‘we told you so’ camp. Sound the last call, and the final trumpet. The smell of death is stenching around NCS.

 A follow up to this post, ‘we shouldnt knock ncs, its the best thing this government has done for young people’ is at the following : click here

Austerity; the political choice no one believes anymore.

The day after watching, I Daniel Blake, and our current Government announce that £369 million of tax payers money is being spent on Buckingham Palace. The Story is here : http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-38025513

Countless millions is now being spent on the Legal system to negotiate Brexit. Money that could have been used elsewhere.

Yet the NHS is accused of over spending, but I didnt see any legal fee targets the government has. Or Value for Money assessment on the spending on Buckingham palace – and im not against the Royals by the way, but just find the cost of their DIY project, whos is paying for it, and the timing of it, in a time of Austerity (apparently) bewildering.

No one can buy the austerity narrative anymore. Or if it exists it is selective Austerity at best, and thats what makes it a Political Austerity.

There are some things that are scrutinised as value for Money, there are others where Money is just spent. The case for job creation for Trident was laughable ( ie £2m per Job) and likewise the tourism income from Buckingham Palace. But when it comes to actually helping people on benefits, when it comes to denying people allowances for disabilities, when it comes to cutting universal youth services (and replacing them with a similar cost NCS programme for young people to pay for also), cutting libraries – none of these things are maintained because it might be said that they are good to do or have – yet HS2, and Trident and Buckingham Palace are said to be good to have and not under the same scrutiny, so it appears.

So Austerity this week has been called out as a Political Choice. The Government are choosing what to apply the austerity narrative to. Its public services. Yes services for the pubic. It is local councils. Yes thats councils who are in local areas for local people. it is the NHS, and your schools, it is your safety net, which might be because of a mental health diagnosis (if you can get one). It has affected the salaries of teaching assistants in Durham http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-38006545, of council workers, of youth workers, of social services, the Police force, fire service and Paramedics. You know, the people we all need every now and then.

And gradually the nation is getting sicker. Gradually it is getting more pissed off. But thanks to our best pal Nigel, Donalds new golden boy, its far easier to blame other people who are in a similar situation to us, or who have travelled from even worse situations to try and find a home here. The narrative of blame for the state of this sick country has been claimed and normalised to be immigration.

If the country isnt what it used to be (says Anna Soubry in her Guardian article here: https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2016/nov/18/anna-soubry-interview

the cause of it, is not the Banking Crisis, or Brexit. It is that by choosing a political austerity that blamed the poor for poverty, rather the system that actively maintains it, and reducing support to those who need it. Thats where the blame should be. But this is not about blame, this about revealing the truth that Austerity has been a smokescreen for blazoned political judgement on the choice of government spending of tax payers money. Austerity has meant cuts, but only subjective ones.

Maybe I shouldn’t watch films that are so real and painful they stay in my head and heart for days. I, Daniel Blake tears you apart, because it is all true. It builds you back up because it reveals that humanity and dignity is found despite the system. That hope exists in friendship despite poverty. But it makes you mad that these are the crumbs of comfort in the film. The government were quick to say that the film was unrealistic. I think they’re right, the reality is that people might not be as generous as they were in the film.

Image result for i daniel blake

If he is misrepresentative its tha Ken Loach probably over plays the helpfulness & kindness of people, he doesnt represent the system badly.

Let it just sink in that £369million pounds is being spent on Buckingham Palace. On

On an house in London. One house.

That money could regenerate the whole of Hartlepool. Or Schools in the North east. Or upgrade housing – lots of it.

Austerity is a choice the Government is making on behalf of those it wants to.

 

 

 

 

 

The NCS debacle continues, Young people are set to lose out twice.  

I saw this in the locally printed county Durham news a few weeks ago. It’s an advert in a paper for adults to appeal to them to send their children on a life changing experience for a week. For ‘not more than £50’. Looks a bargain doesn’t it? Until that is the true cost of NCS is weighed up.

1. Young people in some of the most deprived areas are being ‘given’ a week of a programme that still costs £50. Has NCS got any idea of the level of food bank use in the north east, or school meals. £50 is alot of money for some families even.if is subsidised.

2. Recent reports have been that NCS has struggled to attract young people from the most disadvantaged or at risk. I’m sure advertising in Durham County tourism news will help..no doubt part of its £72 million over 5 year advertising budget. What has also been suggested is that agencies who do work with young people at risk (who have to find non government funding to stay free at the point of access, such as detached work ) could be used to signpost young people to a service that has been government endorsed and bankrolled that will still cost £50 for the young person..where is the relational aspect in signposting in this, let alone the fairness for the agencies.

3. If effectively the government subsidy of NCS is money diverted away from open, weekly youth club provision, Why couldnt the government just fund the free provision in the first place.

4. I know of at least 5 young people who have done NCS, one who was badgered by 4 telephone calls from a London office to participate. None would have gone to a youth club, none needed it or used it for anything other than a gap week in their summer holidays. None described as disadvantaged. None needing advice on future choices. Therefore all well.behaved young people who could be made out to be NCS Success stories.  No their parents deserve the credit.  For stumping up £50 and for giving the young people all the support required to make decent life choices, NCS was a weeks activity holiday.

5. Instead of youth clubs open in the twilight,  in the evening, when young people want social spaces. NCS occupies daytimes for one week.  It is not there, not available. It is what it is.a tory government citizenship programme to educate/bribe in a week the importance to young people of pursuing economically active /contributing lifestyles. Not that this is wrong per se, but to have this as the replacement for the kind of youthwork in open clubs that would help to get young people to this point as one of many options in an environment of voluntary choice and participation.

6. The government’s idea for educating young people is a £50 activity week. Let that sink in.

It just feels like it beggars belief.

However, It now looks as though those inspecting NCS have discovered this too.

Here the Government accounts committee suggests that a radical rethink is required: http://www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/commons-select/public-accounts-committee/news-parliament-2015/national-citizen-service-report-published-16-17/

Oh, and when it is a commissioned and privately run project, with several millions of pounds being transferred, it is open to abuse and bad management, this is what has happened here: http://www.cypnow.co.uk/cyp/news/2003315/exclusive-major-national-citizen-service-provider-goes-bust

Privatising working with young people away from the youth services – was this a good idea? – Now the truth is being found out, both financially and practically, and not only will young people lose out because of the demise of NCS and the limitations it can offer, but also lose out because the open youth club that had been subject to underinvestment has also closed down. either way young people lose out, and the burden of their care, and the potential of transformation lies elsewhere. But where..

When the government does these things we will know it cares about young people. 

So according to today’s reports £80 MILLION pounds has been announced by the government to go towards youth projects. Whether this is reallocation of new funds or existing  , or new directives for lottery funding is to be awaited. Yet two days after or one day before an announcement on grammar schools the announcement is particularly ‘timely’. Yet £80 MILLION is a drop in the ocean. If the government was serious about young people it would do the following.
1. Lower the voting age to 16

2. Increase the age of criminal responsibility.

3. Provide free music or art or drama for every young person

4. Reinstate an open youth club for every parliamentary ward that has 500 young people under 16.

5. Overhaul and invest in the care system especially education provision for the over 14’s. Including one to one high quality tuition

6. Youth homelessness. It’s a reality it needs to be resourced and understood.

7. Scrap sats tests for all ages, and league tables for schools. Education shouldn’t be a competition with young people as result pawns, or result porn.

8. Understand the root causes of young people’s mental health issues and have the guts to deal with this.

9. Not rely on charitable giving for provision of youth work  it should be statutory. It’s a matter of priority.

10. Reinstate Educational Maintenance Allowance’s, housing benefit for over 18’s , scrap tuition fees, and the call to increase the hours in the school day.

But yeah.. £80 million. Seems like a token gesture now doesn’t it..  Even doing all of this might only scratch some of the surface.

Even doing all of this might only scratch some of the surface.