Too late to march for the future of youth work?

Marchers on the “A Future That Works” march

On Saturday, I travelled over to London to join 149,999 other people to march through central London. All the usual groups were there – unions, public sector organisations, politicians, campaigners, activists, anarchists – and together we walked through the streets of London to Hyde Park, where speakers at the rally talked about the actions of the government and how everyone was being screwed. For me, it was definitely exciting to see so many people who are so angry enough with the way things are to travel across the country by the coach-load to shout and wave banners.

But what now. There’s been calls for a general strike, sure, but for me personally it definitely made me think about my profession and what’s going to happen with it. Balloons and placards called to save the NHS, protect teaching and nursing and all of those essential public services that means we can function in society. But what about youth work? Well, youth work’s already gone. Who has a youth service any more? They came in and wiped youth work away before people were able to react and shout about it. Granted, some places did create a lot of fuss and did a lot of work to save their youth service but a lot of the time? It was taken away before anyone had really noticed.

And that’s terrible. That’s really terrible. A support network for young people all over the country just gone, with no big fanfare and barely any consultation (or tokenistic consultation at the very best). To me that just shows the way young people are thought of. We can just take away their services. No big deal.

My t-shirt for the march.

We’re living in a very different culture now, as youth workers. And it’s up to us to jump and shout now and draw attention to what’s happened, and draw attention to how things need to progress from here. Youth work is already in danger of becoming diluted with other services, so if we don’t work hard to keep youth work as a vitally important profession as itself, we risk losing it completely. That’s why I’m hoping people will take part in Blogging for Youth Work Week in November, that’s why youth workers need to be championing the fantastic work they do and encouraging other youth workers to do the same.

Going on the march was a great experience but lots of people have said it’s pointless. That marching will achieve nothing. Well, maybe not directly. Cameron will not look out his window in Parliament, see thousands of people marching through the streets and say “Oh my goodness! I’ve made a terrible mistake!” But I figure that taking no action means you don’t disagree. Marching at least shows that people care. I’m more than willing to march again if I have to.

You can see more of my photos from the march on my Flickr account.

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Marching for the Future. Because we’re going to need it.

Flag waving on last year’s march.

This Saturday, I’m going to somehow manage to take myself off to London to take part in A Future That Works. I went to the previous one, which was HUGE, and so it only seems fit that I went to this one. The previous march was titled March For The Alternative, meaning of course that there was an alternative to the austerity measures the government is imposing on the country (I’m looking at you Vodafone) and the aim of this march is to give the message that the government needs to look at proper job creation (and I mean proper jobs, rather than people working for nothing) and to build an economy rather than taking things away from people who cannot afford to have things taken away, either financially or socially.

So. What will I be shouting about on Saturday? I will be shouting about the terrifying way the government is targeting young people, and in doing so completely screwing up any chance we can fix this crisis in the future. Two local authority youth services that I have worked with have gone in the last year and a half, either to move to referral-only work or have their work commissioned out to the private sector. The government have got rid of Education Maintenance Allowance, meaning that young people who are at college have lost a lot of financial support. It costs a fortune to go to university, jobs are scarce (when companies will actually pay you, see above) and the government is now slowly eroding away the amount of support you get to actually start by extending the restrictions on Housing Benefit until you’re 35 years old.  If you come from a background where your family will find it difficult to support you financially (which at the moment will be a lot of young people) you will find it so difficult to become properly trained, get a good career and move out into the world.

It’s not a case of “workshy scroungers” or blaming the parents for their children not achieving. This is not a case of “pulling yourself up by the bootstraps” or getting on your bike and looking for work. This is a case of the government not valuing, or even caring about young people. We are not preparing young people for the big wide world. If young people are reaching their mid-twenties with little to no qualifications, unable to move out of their parent’s home and unable to find a career then how will this ever solve the money issues we’re facing? In ten years time, when the 15-year-old GCSE students become the 25-year-old benefit claimants, how will we have done anything to serve them and give them what they so rightly deserve? People love to wax lyrical about all those nasty benefit claimants – why are we not making sure our young people have a good start now, so that they have the opportunities and support to achieve not just in a work capacity, but to raise their aspirations and build their confidence. This isn’t done by the government pulling away any support they had, this is done by throwing support at young people by the bucketful.

We need job creation for young people that pays a decent wage. The workfare scheme needs to be abolished, and young people need to be paid properly for work. This means they will start being financially active citizens paying back into the economy! Isn’t that what the government want? They need to be involved with agencies that boost their aspirations, good careers advice that give them access to courses and training so they can be a mechanic/barrister/doctor/CEO of their own company. We need professionals to support those young people who come from challenging backgrounds, those who have alcohol and drugs issues. Give them support now through social housing, good housing benefit support and a positive start for them to make it on their own and you will have people who are achieving and paying those good healthy taxes that make HMRC so very happy. And how will we afford to give all this support? Well a cool £6bn from Vodafone would be a good start.

If we don’t do something now, it will come back and bite us. We will not solve the crisis in the economy by pulling money and support away from those who will be the next generation bringing income into the country. All it will do is leave those people even worse off. But of course by then Cameron, Osbourne et. al. will be off in their glorious retirements. Not having to worry about the unemployment figures.

We have to invest in our young people. That is why I’m marching on Saturday.