Article: Winning a Statutory Youth Service

First Published: 2nd May 2018 | Author: Doug Nicholls | Tags: , , , , ,

Doug Nicholls reflects on the momentus Roundtable event which took place at the Palace of Westminster on 23rd April 2018. He posits that there are shifts towards a new Youth Service with support from key politicians, youth organisations and young people. Setting the political and economic context, Nicholls suggests how a new youth service if both needed and affordable.

April 23rd 2018 will go down in youth service history as a pivotal day. Chooseyouth held a Roundtable in Parliament with young people, youth work organisations, MPs and a range of groups who support the call for a new statutory youth service.

With 42 years of campaigning on this issue behind me, I can truly say it was the most united and determined event on this issue ever. More importantly, it has achieved the deepest, strongest, most sincere and powerful Parliamentary support I have ever seen.

Gaining political support

Longstanding Liberal Democratic supporters of this cause, and remember the Lib Dem Manifesto last time was the only one with this commitment in it, were at the meeting in force and eloquent and passionate about this campaign. But the new momentum of the Labour Party, which first passed policy on this matter in 1991, was clear to be seen.

In November 2017 during Youth Work Week and for the Chooseyouth event in Parliament, Jeremy Corbyn, a lifelong supporter of youth work and the need to make it statutory, pledged his strong public commitment to this. In February 2018, addressing a Conference of the General Federation of Trade Unions, Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell was unequivocal and said there must be a statutory youth service. At the same Conference, Lloyd Russell Moyle MP and lifelong advocate for this cause, outlined the Parliamentary strategy of the Labour Party in 2018. In early April 2018, Jennie Formby was elected General Secretary of the Labour Party and immediately declared her support for our campaign.

Raising the youth work professional profile

Also around this time, following yet more inter youth killings in London, a wave of MPs, including Ed Milliband recognised that their longstanding support for a statutory Youth Service should move up the agenda. Stephen Reed in the Labour Front Bench team reflected the key demand of the profession when he said publicly that youth work needs to be raised in professional standing to the same status as teaching.

Across the profession the call for protection of the youth work title and registration got more eloquent and influential at this time. Once upon a time, all qualified youth workers were given a Department for Education number and were registered. This is how it should be again, and all levels of qualification and involvement should be accounted for.

At the Roundtable two things were noticeable. Firstly, the unique and genuine unity of organisations and individuals. For too many years, young people have been let down by youth work organisations in competition for place and scraps of funding. There was a powerful sense of common purpose consciously expressed around the room.

Secondly, I can’t recall a moment when so many people, MPs, young people, students of youth work, Chief Executives of voluntary organisations, veteran youth workers, policy makers young and old, have so brilliantly in two short hours argued the case for open access, professionally organised, properly funded youth work which takes the needs of young people as the starting point.

The years of managerialism and target driven, quasi casework, socially controlling, patronage of non open access provision were left in a wreck on the floor.

In the light of what the sustained youth work engagement does to transform lives and minds, the National Citizens Service did not survive the evening either, with young people and workers on it showing its costly shortfalls and inability to substitute for a 365 day a year developmental, community based Youth Service.

So embers of what was the former Youth Service combined with new sparks; and together they have lit a new fire to promote a statutory service.

Presenting a new parliamentary bill – how you can get involved

Cat Smith MP now responsible for Youth Engagement and Youth Affairs, will consult us all on how best to implement a statutory Youth Service. You will find some key ideas in the Chooseyouth Manifesto. Tell her your views.

The Labour Party is consulting on the creation of a new National Education Service combining provision from cradle to the grave. This has been the dream of us all forever. We need to ensure that Angela Raynor the Shadow Minister responsible for the consultation, who understands the Youth Service, is left in no doubt that the Youth Service must be part of the new NES.

On June 6th 2018, Lloyd Russell Moyle will present a ten minute bill on this which has been published on the Chooseyouth website. Social media will need to be busy on the day.

In July 2018, the All Party Parliamentary Group on young people will start taking evidence on youth work. They will go on visits, they will hear from young people. Make sure our voices are heard. Ask to address them, submit views.

Set to potentially spike the new head of steam for the Youth Service is the consultation by the Cabinet Office on young people. Make sure that this consultation also hears our voice.

It is a curious situation we are in, full of hope as the daily tragedies facing young people around us mount up. We have to shout louder than ever and build on the strongest commitments we have ever had. But pause also for a second.

The demolition of statutory youth services

The Youth Service has been destroyed. It hasn’t been cut. It has been destroyed. It is the first public service to be demolished. A report carried out by YMCA England found that spending on youth services dropped from £1.18bn in the year 2010-11 to just £737m in 2016-17 (Youth & Consequences, 2018). Yes, there are obviously isolated fragments of brilliant provision left and as we saw at the Roundtable, brilliant work is being done throughout the country.

But the Youth Service is not a thing of accidentally occurring, isolated fragments. The Tories removed the funding stream for it. As a result Youth Services in local Authorities have either completely disappeared or been melted down into miniscule units doing targeted work with victims of the most appalling social circumstances.

As local Youth Services disappeared along with their Principal Youth Officers, full-time and part-time staff and volunteers and specialist training opportunities, and the actual youth centre buildings and youth projects, so the open access, voluntary relationship concepts at the heart of youth work disappeared. Inevitably too, went its educational function and commitment first and foremost to the needs of young people and their collective action for the common good.

Naturally this is no accident, it has not been the result of some economic problems blasting against us like the wind in a storm. It was a conscious stroke of the pen by the government committed to a neoliberal agenda, which at its heart, seeks to destroy human agency, collective endeavour, political awareness and conscious activity in favour of the compliant lethargy of going along with the hidden hand of market forces. Hardly a surprise then that the Tories also filibustered out the attempts by Labour to get votes at 16 in England.

Like the trade union movement, an articulate youth population such as that created by better economic policies and the post war Youth Service, is a threat to idiotic power. I still believe a lot should be learned from Henry Giroux’s (2010) analysis of how the neoliberals deliberately attack young people and that his book Youth in a Suspect Society provides a theoretical understanding of how the culture and terror of neoliberalism deliberately works to take young people out of the social and democratic equation.

The campaigns over the last few years to save Youth Services have revealed the new imperviousness of political and state structures to the people’s will. Some of the largest local petitions ever, on any issue in urban and rural areas throughout the country, have called for more investment in the Youth Service. They have been ignored. British Youth Council and UK Youth and National Union of Students consultations have time and time again seen young people prioritising the creation of the a statutory Youth Service with more places to go and more things to do, as one of their top 5 priorities.

Heartbreakingly many many youth led campaigns that have inspired us, from Hackney to Devon, have exhausted all due processes and presented incontrovertible arguments for the retention of youth centres and workers. Yet they have been callously rebuffed by Tory, Liberal Democrat and Labour Councillors and Councils alike, who all have accepted the tedious mantra that ‘we simply can’t afford it’.

We can afford a Statutory Youth Service

The privatised utilities alone have put £37 billion profit directly into the wallets of their share-holders over the last 8 years. Once they are made public again and their revenues flow back to the people a tiny fraction of this, just £400 million a year would enable us to create statutory Youth Service provision.

Forget the scale of tax avoidance which, if stopped, would literally enable us to keep a national Youth Service going for hundreds of thousands, yes hundreds of thousands of years, and forget the wealth of Britain squandered in off shore dodgy accounts, which would, if given back to its creators, us, the workers, keep the Youth Service going for hundreds of thousands of years more, yes hundreds of thousands folks; forget all these obscene forms of theft of our money; simply making our utilities public again would enable us to fund a brilliant youth service along-side a brilliant National Health Service, National Education Service and housing for all.

There is plenty of money for all the people need. Austerity has always been a misused word. Literally it means doing without a luxury. My parents did without luxuries, bananas, cigarettes, stockings etc, after the second world war in order to rebuild the country in the hands of the people, including a Youth Service which led the way internationally. But we haven’t faced austerity in our generation. We have been forced to do without essentials for our people. The banks created the obscenity of food banks. We were told the more we cut the better we would be and the less we would owe as a nation to the banks. The opposite of course was the case.

Time for change

Rebuilding after demolition over such a short period of time is going to be hard, it’s much harder in some ways than the Tories simply smashing things up from the top. But it is possible and we have to have a new sense of urgency about doing this. And we must all be involved as never before.

Our Roundatable met on the day of the commemoration 25 years ago of Stephen Lawrence’s murder. I remember how devastated everyone was and particularly youth workers throughout the country were. It was a sign of new times.

And we drastically underestimated at our peril how bad things have got for young people since then. Remaining youth workers have not known anything like it.

I remember the publication of many works, particularly the late Andy Furlong’s Young People and Social Change, Individualisation and Risk in Late Modernity (1997), which studied the risks society was facing young people with in their journey to adulthood. The risks he and others identified have morphed now into dangers, extreme, tangible nasty dangers, unknown in our society ever before. Unique monsters have arisen.

Everyone will have their own indicators of this and the statistics are more common than the remedies. But consider the scale of inter youth stabbing now, consider the scale of mental health issues amongst the young who see society as their enemy, their ogre, scaring the wits out of them. Or consider the number of young people committing suicide because of loneliness. No one could have imagined that years ago.

It is a new phenomenon. Terrible things have always happened, but look at little signs indicative of the complete moral and social breakdown caused by an ideology and set of voodoo economics which were all based on the most inhuman idea that there is no such thing as society. Scared to death by loneliness as a teenager!? Frantic that at every step, competition threatens community, that destitution can only be relieved by killing others! Frightened to walk out at night, every night.

Enough is enough folks. A generation is not lost it has been forced to become deranged, fearful of the society that has been created around them with values of the arms’ trader and courtesy of the crook.

We say there is only society and young people are the heart of this and the way we treat them is the best indication of our commitment to a shared present and prosperous future.

In asserting this, the reality is that now, for the first time ever in my experience, the Labour Party in its general policies and more specifically in its renewed commitments to young people and their Youth Service and rebuilding it anew, can make a charge and win.

We have to support and encourage this. This means active engagement in the campaign. Chooseyouth is the vehicle it is the most broadly representative, the uniting force, young people at its heart, unions and community organisations, voluntary sector, private organisations and public bodies united for the future to create new delivery structures nationally and locally with dedicated funding.

We do not know when the General Election will be. But the need for a statutory Youth Service must be at its centre along with votes at 16. Any party manifesto missing these points will be dismissed as irrelevant.

To find out more about Chooseyouth and how you can get involved, click here.

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Last Updated: 17 May 2018


Furlong, A. & Cartmel, F. (1997), Youth People and Social Change, Individualisation and Risk in Late Modernity, Buckingham: Open University Press

Giroux, H. (2010), Youth in a Suspect Society, New York: Palgrave Macmillan

Youth & Consequences report (2018), YMCA England, available at


Doug Nicholls, is former General Secretary (1987-2007) of the Community and Youth Workers Union, and currently General Secretary of the General Federation of Trade Unions and Chair of Chooseyouth. He is author of For Youth Workers and Youth Work, speaking out for a better future, Policy Press, 2012.