The aftermath of the Bradford disturbances brought about the usual array of
commentators proclaiming reason and passing judgment on those involved. What was
interesting, however, was a quick glance at a letter in the Guardian from a retired youth
worker-turned man-of-God. He proclaimed that this was the time for a Royal
Commission in to the future of the Youth Service. At first glance, it took me by
surprise to see the words 'youth and service' in any national broadsheet. But
after the mild hysteria, I began to think - haven't we been here before?
1981, for example, extra money and resources were literally hurled at youth
workers in what can be described as nothing more than keeping Black young men
off the streets and out of trouble. These 'disaffected' and 'disenchanted' and
'excluded' and (oh, well the list goes on now doesn't it?) YOUTH are attractive
commercial products for the youth service. You only have to look at the Tory's
last ditch attempt at frightening the country. The amputated members of
society's mainstream - those YOUTH again no less - doing drugs, setting fire to
cars, raping girls and attacking older women. They remind us that the country
needs us and values us. Provided, we do the job right and keep the kids out of
Now, the curious thing about
all of this is that when we go to our training courses, and speak of Marx and
conflict, and about change and about analysis - we are very quick to condemn the
social control mechanism of youth work. We sit back in our lectures planning
world change, with a little bit of humanistic self-growth for young people. The
collective might of the anti-oppressive practitioners builds until it engulfs
any feelings that youth work is nothing short of the solution to inequality.
What a load of bull.
You have to realise that this
would sound fine, if people actually went outside and acted even remotely like
revolutionaries. I'm the same, no preaching here. As soon as the practice
begins, we sell young people to funders like a collection of faulty
goods. One by one, we can profess our commitment to making them right again. We
have now gone one step further and open handedly accepted Connexions without any
objection - after all, we can already hear the project purses ringing to a new
sound of flushing money. A whole 20 million more Mr Blunkett? Oh my!!!
Its a crappy position to be
in really, isn't it? Empowerment is tosh, participation ain't gonna be all that
voluntary any more. As for equality and education - well, only if we can get to
the targets on time.
The frank truth is that
wherever your values lie, and whatever you make of your practice, you've got to
admit we're a funny bunch. Our statement of purpose is, at best, weak and at
worst, misleading. Our place in statue is nothing more than a whim towards
leisure and keeping the YOUTH out of trouble. Yet, our training and development
encourages greater things.
If I have a chance, I'd ask
the government to think seriously about the Bishop of Barking's letter. Not
simply because we're having riots and uprisings; that would be as hypocritical
as all the selling we do already. Rather, lets take a harder look at the service
and its future. A statutory base for youth work is the very start. Base levels
of funding to be secured above the paltry 0.4% (or whatever it is) of education
spending, together with a serious reconsideration of recruitment and retention
of youth workers. Firmness and accountability should become common practice in
the profession, ensuring a first class service that is committed to young
It all sounds a bit like
money, doesn't it. But there's more to it really; youth work needs to know that
its valued, and appreciated. We shouldn't be called upon in times of riots and
national moral panic. We should have consistent and coherent support - and at
the very least, a realization that, actually - we love working with young people.