A Network of Regional Youth Work Units, in England, collaborating across regions to promote good youth work and young people’s voices.
The Youth Work Unit Yorkshire and Humber has been busy lately hosting and attending conferences.
On Friday 14 November half the team headed to London for the House of Commons UK Youth Parliament Sitting and the other half headed to the University of Huddersfield, where we hosted our annual conference for practitioners and managers from both the statutory and voluntary sector, as well as representatives from the six universities which offer a youth work course in our region.
Conferences are always a great place to catch up with people, network, as well as attend some interesting talks. This year our keynote speaker was Julie Hilling MP, who drew on her vast youth work experience to share her insights into the current youth work picture.
Again, the impact of austerity on the youth sector was discussed, as many practitioners are already experiencing the immediate impact the removal of services is having on young people and their families. The change of focus from universal / open access services to more targeted family work is hitting the poorest areas in particular, as youth work has traditionally been focused on social housing estates, areas of high anti-social behaviour and with groups taking part in risky behaviours.
The impact is compounded by the simple fact that with no practitioners working with young people in their own territory and in spaces where young people feel able to ‘present’ issues (most young people do not self-refer, they talk about issues and staff pick up on these and offer additional support), no one is noticing / reporting on / gathering intelligence on issues such a child sexual exploration, drug and alcohol use, homelessness, relationships, or indeed making the referrals to specialist services.
We were encouraged to contact our MPs and invite them to sign the Early Day Motion 488, as well as personally sign the 38 degrees petition, both of which are concerned with the introduction of a statutory youth service, to be part of a Union and to join the Institute of Youth Work.
Workshops covered ‘the prevent agenda’ widening this out to cover any forms of extreme attitudes, whether this is from the left or the right.
Ambition shared their insights in to Quality Assurance, which is such an important area with everyone now asking for evidence of impact. The Institute of Youth Work shared their vision and future plans and we also heard about the highs and lows from the Keighley Young People’s Co-op. Lastly, we had an introductory workshop on child sexual exploration, in preparation for our full day workshop in December looking at a regional response to this issue. So all in all a busy, informative day.
Meanwhile, in a debating chamber many miles away…
That same day, 21 Members of the UK Youth Parliament (UKYP) travelled from Yorkshire and Humber down to London with their youth workers to discuss the issues that had received the highest number of votes in the national Make Your Mark consultation. An impressive 110,149 young people from the region had voted in that ballot, and as a result, interest in the outcome was high.
Following a debate of the top five issues (with John Bercow in the chair as speaker), the two issues selected as the UKYP campaigns for 2015 were confirmed as the living wage and mental health services for young people. Youngsters are already being asked to organise ‘Raise the Wage’ Days of Action on Saturday 24 January.
This was the UKYP’s sixth debate at the Houses of Commons, with the event now a high profile fixture on the youth voice calendar. For young people and workers alike the day is a thorough treat and everyone is conscious of the privilege, either of being in the Houses of Parliament itself, or the privilege of witnessing young people speak powerfully, articulately and with a conciseness that can even rival the public speaking skills of a more experienced adult. In budgetary terms, it is an expensive day out that benefits a small number of young people, but since the UKYP negotiated its way into the chamber, a noticeable increase in attention from elected politicians, both national and local, has occurred.
Everyone pays lip service to youth voice now, and whilst this can be attributed to a number of different factors – with many organisations working very hard behind the scenes – I think it’s fair to say the House of Commons debates have most definitely played their part.
Why are more young people not taking to the streets in response to current closures and threatened closures of youth services?
Anyone who has been around for as long as some of us oldies will have worked with generations of young people who have been very vocal in response to threats to services, so much so that in some past clashes, cuts to young people’s services became off limits when elected members were wielding the axe. We used to call it political education and the posters, banners and leaflets they took onto the streets were all prepared by the young people themselves, in production lines, usually in youth work sessions.
Why do this generation of young people seem so compliant and accepting (comparatively)? Have politicians done such a good job of convincing the entire population of the inevitability of cuts and that there are no other options? Demoralised workers also quietly slip away with their redundancy cheques seemingly without protest because of the inevitability of it all.
Is this then the result of a widespread social control programme, or some form of mass hypnosis, or is it simply that this generation of young people are more introverted? Has the mass extinction of clubs, community centres and other meeting places been achievable because they don’t matter to a generation of young people who socialise in an entirely different way? In short, is it not apathy at all, but that to young people – Facebook is the new way to achieve a social identity, without some of the added work? Just asking.
Resouce Director – Regional Youth Work Unit, Yorkshire and Humber