We are very pleased to receive this passionate and incisive account of the youth work situation in Southampton from Ryan Karter. Amongst other things it warns against a naive resurrection of faith in One Nation Labour. Importantly it opens up a fresh engagement with the dominant mantra of the youth work campaign against cuts : that if you close youth services, there will be an increase in social problems of all kinds. This emphasis on youth work as being primarily about prevention and welfare rather than education is deeply problematic. In a recent article Filip Coussee argues:
Youth workers are increasingly judged on the basis of efficiency criteria. They should support individual young people so that the end result of their work is less joblessness, fewer teenage pregnancies, less drug use, fewer school drop-outs etc. Of course youth workers should not turn their backs on social problems, but can they really solve huge social problems rooted in economic inequalities and social justice with rather modest interventions in the individual lives of young people?
We need to revisit this contradiction in a serious debate about both our significance and insignificance. In the meantime read Ryan’s challenging expose.
The folly of youth services cuts
By Ryan Karter, MA
Youth and Community Worker
Young people are the future; they represent the next generation of leaders, policy makers, workers and parents, who will determine which direction Britain takes. That is why local authority youth services are so invaluable. They provide support, guidance and advice for some of the most vulnerable children and young people within their local communities.
It was recently reported by BBC News that around £245 million is spent each year detaining 1,600 young people, with 70% of those re-offending. In contrast, it has been calculated that for as little as £350 a year per young person, all of them could have access to youth services within their local area, providing support that enables them to find employment and training, keeps them off the streets, and encourages them to engage in positive activities in their communities. This is a vast divergence to potentially becoming engaged in crime that is costly to all of society.
With this in mind it would seem to be axiomatic that funding for youth services should at the very least, be ring-fenced. Ideally local authority youth service provision should be made statutory so that it is considered of equal priority to quality schooling and social services. Yet, in the current climate of austerity the opposite appears to be happening. With an estimated 3,000 full time youth service job cuts since the Coalition’s inception in 2010, the future is looking bleak. As each local authority faces its annual budget cut, the youth service is often the first service to go. 7,000 professionally qualified staff, 30,000 trained youth support workers and half a million volunteers are at risk of being axed.
The current Coalition government argues that because youth services are not a statutory provision they should only be an optional requirement. Yet it is not just the Coalition who refuse to protect youth services, as the example of Southampton City, a Labour run council, illustrates so dramatically. In the 2013/2014 annual Southampton City budget statement, it was announced that the council planned to rid the city of its local youth services in their entirety. This action is apparently “painful, but necessary” due to the nature of the budget cuts being imposed upon them centrally, a statement put into a proper perspective when you examine the staggering wage bill for Southampton Council.
Chief Executive Alistair Neill is on an annual salary of £167,753. This is £25,000 more than our Prime Minister David Cameron’s salary of £142,500. The combined income of the 11 most senior posts within Southampton City Council was £955,148 in 2011/12. There were 49 staff on a salary of £75,000 or more, and 254 on £50,000 or more, with the combined annual income of these 254 personnel adding up to £21.3 million.
The youth service currently costs Southampton Council £730,000 (just 0.0000006% of the estimated £1 trillion+ national debt) per year, with 29 employees. Yet this provision is now to be completely wiped out. This example is typical of what is happening at local level. The Coalition Government’s neo-liberal agenda, (allowing local authorities to have more freedom and choice in what they spend their budgets on), is supposed to be a positive step forward in giving more power to communities at the local level. Yet, how many residents of Southampton would be happy to see their taxes paying for the absurdly inflated salaries of council personnel?
Through the period of 2010 to 2012, I met with my local MP Vincent Cable several times to voice my concerns about cuts to local youth services. I had several months of unsatisfactory responses via Dr Cable from Michael Gove, Minister of Education and Tim Loughton, Children’s Minister (the man in charge of youth services at a national level). In his final letter (dated 16 March 2012) Dr Cable said to me, “For a mixture of reasons, a commitment hasn’t been carried through in government and now depends on local commitment and delivery rather than central government. I am frankly embarrassed that as a constituent you haven’t had better responses.” Coming from a senior member of government, this says it all. It is worth noting that both the Liberal Democrats and Labour claim they want youth service provision to become statutory at the local level in their manifestos. Yet here we see a Labour council axing an entire youth service completely. Who can we trust?
Since May 2010, University tuition fees have trebled, the EMA (Education Maintenance Allowance) has been abolished and the Future Jobs Fund has been axed. With nearly 1 million 16-24 year olds currently unemployed, the swingeing cuts to the youth service budget are not only unjustified, but woefully short-sighted. The current attitude must be changed to reflect the words of the pioneering American educationalist Robert H Shaffer, who said: “We must view young people not as empty bottles to be filled, but as candles to be lit.”
For further information, please visit the “Choose Youth Manifesto – our vision for a new youth service” at http://www.chooseyouth.org/assets/documents/5601_ChooseYouth_4ppA4_Finalweb.pdf