At last the Department for Education and Skills has published its
green paper Youth Matters. It wants more young people to
engage in positive activities, to volunteer, to receive better
guidance and, where appropriate, to have more personalised
Few would disagree with these objectives. But to understand the
rest of the report requires the Dictionary of New Labour Speak. It
is all about “integrated youth services”, “performance management”,
“being competitive”, “rights and responsibilities”,
The New Labour stamp is also seen in the emphasis on young people
as consumers who will receive opportunity cards for discounts on
certain activities – to be removed from antisocial kids, of course.
Praise is heaped on those who “are thinking about starting their
own business” not those who want to be nurses or social workers.
Instead of regarding young people as “members” of communities, they
are individuals in the free market.
The government’s obsession with integrating more and more services
into huge administrative units continues despite the lack of
research to show that it improves services. But, if it has to
occur, the proposal to place youth services under the umbrella of
children’s trusts makes sense for youth work which has a preventive
role in diverting some children from trouble. Legislation will
place a duty on councils to secure positive activities for young
The trusts are expected to centralise local authority youth
activities in secondary schools so that by 2010 they will be open
from 8am to 6pm for “a range of things for young people to do”.
Despite a fall in numbers, there are still some excellent council
workers so, apparently, these “things” will be run by them. But it
is not clear how this will provide for older teenagers after 6pm.
Moreover, the authors do not seem to appreciate that some young
people prefer small, local centres rather than those in large
The trusts will also commission certain innovative services. No
doubt, the wealthy London-based children’s agencies will bid for
these. Their staff will then commute in – and often do highly
publicised good work – before departing.
Notably, the private sector will be encouraged to bid. New Labour’s
love of directing public money to private profit could now be
applied to youth services.
The children’s trusts will receive little extra cash. The
government will provide £40m over two years for new
approaches. Peanuts. It is less than the amount MPs claim in
expenses in one year. But local authorities will have extra costs
in establishing a bureaucracy for the new service with higher paid
managers, regulators, evaluators, commissioners of services and
After the lion’s share has gone to extended schools, commissioned
services and administration, little will be left for those at the
hard end. These tend to be small voluntary bodies and faith groups
– with churches the largest employers of youth workers in the
country – who run ordinary youth clubs. “Ordinary” yet research
undertaken by de Montfort University, funded by the Department for
Education and Skills, but ignored in the green paper, found that
two out of three youth club members said they had made a
considerable difference to their lives, offering respect and
Youth activities are also provided by projects run by residents.
For over a decade, I was associated with one on the Southdown
estate, Bath, which drew in a cross-section of young people. After
I left, I revisited 51 of them who were by then in their thirties.
All had come from families on low incomes. Some had done badly at
school and been to court. Despite this, most did not become
criminals but gained secure jobs and stable lifestyles. They
attributed part of this to the project. The clubs and holidays
meant they were not bored and most turned to the youth workers for
These benefits were facilitated by two factors. First, the youth
workers lived locally and stayed long-term. Second, the projects
adopted an holistic approach which engaged both those without
problems and those with severe difficulties.
Yet the green paper frowns on projects like these. It wants grants
to go to bidders (probably from outside) who target specialised
groups “rather than tackling the needs of young people in a
holistic way”. It appears to favour short-term contracts and not to
value youth workers who commit themselves for years.
Youth Matters does not list its authors. How many live in
deprived areas and have daily contact with young residents? We need
a green paper written from the bottom.
Bob Holman is the author of Kids at the Door Revisited,
Russell House Publishing, 2000