Driven to market: youth work’s sheepish response?

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There’s no sheepishness from In Defense of Youth Work! Join them for free events in London on 26 April and Manchester on 27 April to share experiences of how people are dealing with the marketisation of youth and community work and the wider voluntary sector.

Since the start of its campaign, In Defence of Youth Work has been contesting the imposition of the market’s demand for measurable certainty about the unpredictable character of  youth work shaped by young people’s interests and concerns. Their January meetings on the campaign’s future highlighted the growing dominance of public services conceived of as ‘a market’ – a notion connected to both our government’s strategy to embed private capital and the market at the heart of all public provision and its more specific desire to regulate the very character of youth work itself. The government’s ‘Positive for Youth’ policies are explicit in their intention for youth workers in the future to operate within a radically changed landscape in which ‘results’ will have to be demonstrated in order that payments (and profits) can be made. In the process core features of youth work will be undermined as more targeted schemes for the ‘problematic’ and ‘risky’ are preferred over open access provision focused on young people’s own definitions of personal and social development.

Within the youth work field the social entrepreneurs are in the ascendancy:

  • The CATALYST consortium, with the National Youth Agency [NYA] and National Council for Voluntary Youth Services [NCVYS] at its head, propounds an unquestioning acceptance of the coalition’s vision.
  • NCVYS plans to establish a social finance retailer that can pilot and then promote a youth sector specific social investment approach based on evidence of impact.
  • UK Youth – a bedrock national organisation with a proud history of demonstrating alternative ways of working to statutory providers – makes business relations the taken-for-granted theme of its annual conference. It is not even as though the best of the business sector’s practices are being mimicked – such as a commitment to research and development as crucial underpinnings for risk-taking initiatives.

Meanwhile, even as scandal breaks out over allegations of corruption at the-welfare-to-work giant A4E – and as major companies withdraw from work experience schemes – a precious autonomy is being sold for a few crumbs from the financier’s table of austerity. Little heed is being taken of the Carnegie Commission’s reminder that:

Civil society associations can never be just providers of services ….civil society thrives best when it has an independent and confident spirit, when it is not beholden to the state or funders and when it is not afraid to make trouble.”

This said, we know these are tough times. As workers are made redundant, services slashed and funding streams dry up, sheer survival is the name of the game. Projects and organisations are faced with little option but to be drawn into the market. Pontificating from on high looks easy. Grappling with reality on the ground is far harder – and exhausting.

In alliance with the ‘In Defence of Youth Work’ campaign, NCIA is helping with two events to look critically at the implications and contradictions of the marketisation of youth and community work and the wider voluntary sector as a whole. The aim is to help us all to get our heads around what’s going on, to give people and organisations a chance to share experiences of what is happening and how they are dealing with the new policy landscape.

Both events will run from 11am – 4pm. The first will is on 26 April in London at Garden Halls, Cartwright Gardens, WC1H 9EF . The second will be on 27 April in Manchester at Greater Manchester Council for Voluntary Organisation’s St Thomas Conference Centre, Ardwick Green (close to the city centre and Piccadilly rail station).

Both seminars will be free though we’ll welcome donations towards refreshments (but bring your own lunch, this is not ACEVO!). To book a place and get more info on the events themselves contact Tony Taylor on

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