Youth Work in crisis

Just over 50 years ago the Albemarle Report brought into being the modern Youth Service. Its raison d’etre was educational. Through an open, voluntary, young person-centred relationship it sought to contribute towards the creation of active, critical participants in a democratic society. Of course this aspiration has been riddled with contradiction. Yet it has been the fixative holding together a diversity of ideology and practice, ranging, to take but one example, from the Girl Guides to radical feminist projects.

Under New Labour this ethos was insidiously undermined. Funding was linked increasingly to targeted groups of ‘dubious and demonised’ youth and the illusory imposition of prescribed behavioural outcomes – the very antithesis of the youth work process. Under the Coalition the assault has escalated. The very existence of provision in the service of young people is under threat. Across the country local authorities are abandoning wholesale their commitment to youth work, hiding behind the notion of ‘commissioning’ to the lowest bidder from the private or Third Sector. Or they are shifting the reduced resources available into Early Intervention programmes aimed at ‘problematic’ families, whereby youth workers without negotiation or agreed in-service training become quasi-social workers with identified case-loads.

Resistance to this onslaught has been uneven. Impressive campaigns have been mounted in some authorities, whilst in others workers seem paralysed by the sheer scale of the attack. To its credit the Community and Youth Workers section of UNITE the union took the lead in bringing together a CHOOSE YOUTH alliance of thirty partners, which organised a thousand-strong rally of young people and workers in Solihull, attracting significant media coverage. Meanwhile, seemingly impervious to such happenings in the real world, a Parliamentary Select Education Committee claims to be inquiring into services for youth, even as they fast disappear.

Inspiring everyone are young people themselves. A number of Save our Youth Service groups, for example, in Oxfordshire and Haringey, have illustrated courage and creativity in standing up against attempts to silence their voices. Despite their imaginative efforts the cuts are being forced through, but they are vowing to fight on.  A distinct section of young people, youth workers and supporters, banners aloft, music blazing was part of the TUC March. In the words of Alex from Leeds, taken from her combative, yet humorous speech at the rally, ‘ it is time for us to walk like Egyptians!’

More information:

Join Swan Now

We want to develop a network of service users, practicitioners, academics and students to support radical and progressive social work. We need a social work that is ready to challenge oppressive practice, that means working collectively across the country and internationally to advance Social Work.