Statutory citizens.

It was the queen’s speech today, as it turns out. This happened.

“…the government intends to introduce a legislative bill to place the NCS [National Citizen Service] “on a permanent statutory footing”.”

So. To be honest, I am not terribly surprised. Youth work has been moving slowly in this direction for a long time, putting “stuff” over practice, and numbers over longevity. Just as it is with the employment statistics, it’s not about the quality it’s about the figures. It doesn’t matter if your job is a zero hours job you don’t want, what matters is you got one and you can be added to the employment figures (up by a whole 2,000 people by the way, someone find the party streamers…). And so it is with the National Citizen Service, who boasts with having worked with over 200,000 young people in the few years it’s been running.

Cameron wants this for his legacy. But what about the legacy of the young people? In five years time, will someone who has been on an NCS course be able to say their life has been changed for the better because of it? If we talk to all these 200,000 young people in 2026, how many will be able to say their lives have been improved and made better through being involved? I’ll wager it won’t be many.

We all know this isn’t youth work. It’s prescriptive and it pays absolutely no attention to the needs of the young people it’s working with. For some young people it’ll be a fun summer and a step up on their way into uni. But what about all the other ones who fall off the end once their involvement with NCS finishes? Every professional who works with young people knows young people like this and knows that NCS just will not work for them. It’s short-term work when what’s needed is long-term investment.

And where does this leave youth work? It leaves it unfunded and unappreciated. Money is being thrown towards the NCS, it’ll get more and more difficult to find funding for good, long term youth work projects. There is already a lack of investment in good youth work, now there’s a big shiny government-backed logo standing in the way of youth workers being able to do any kind of good effective practice.

We’re pumping £1.2 billion into something that no-one knows the long-term outcomes for. But then, what does the long-term matter when you’re going to be leaving your post as PM in 2020 anyway.

(also: see In Defence of Youth Work’s post on NCS here)

To be young and poor is a criminal act.

If there’s one group of people that have been repeatedly on the wrong end of the cuts, it’s young people. No more EMA, no more youth service. No more Connexions, no more jobs, no housing benefit and now, you’ll be put on workfare if you can’t find a job that doesn’t exist.

The idea is that 18-21 year olds will have 6 months to find a job. If they don’t manage to do that, they’ll be put on “Youth Allowance” (which, conveniently is the same amount as JSA – £57.35 a week) and be told they have to undertake 30 hours a week of community service. And 10 hours of job searching. £57.35 a week for 30 hours work comes out at just over £1.90 per hour.

According to the first thing that popped up when I typed “unemployment statistics young people” into Google, 740,000 16-24 year olds were unemployed in the period October to December 2014, 201,000 of which had been unemployed for over 12 months. Let’s take a random shot in the dark and say 500,000 young people would’ve been unemployed for 6 months and therefore required to go on the “Youth Allowance”.

Where do we find volunteering and community work places for 500,000 young people? For 30 hours a week each? Cameron suggests “cleaning litter or graffiti” at which point I think it’s very clear the meaning behind these new requirements.

The young people who are most likely to be unemployed for more than six months, who haven’t gone to uni, who haven’t secured an “unpaid internship” will be the most vulnerable young people from the poorest backgrounds.

To be young and poor is to be treated like a criminal.

Mr Cameron in his infinite wisdom, has made very clear what he thinks of young people. If you’re able to get the grades and go to uni (which we’ll charge you a fortune for) and get work then you’re a striver! You’re also much more likely to be middle class, not live in social housing and not have a family who are living on the welfare system. If your background is that way, well, we already know that you’re going to follow in their scrounging sponging footsteps, and so we’ll make sure you’re put in your place as quickly as possible.

“That well-worn path – from the school gate, down to the jobcentre, and on to a life on benefits – has got to be rubbed away,” Mr Cameron said. (BBC News, 20th February 2015)

This government has taken every ounce of support from young people with one hand, and used the other hand to point the finger at them and say “This is YOUR fault”. They have said “you’re not worth paying for work, you’re not worth helping because we have given up on you”. They have criminalised being young and poor.

Young people deserve so much more – a reaction to Iain Duncan Smith’s Party Conference Speech

There are so many things I could say about Iain Duncan Smith’s speech today. A lot of them I said on Twitter.

I could talk about how introducing pre-paid benefit cards for people with addiction or debt problems will lead to a black market of people selling their cards for cash. Or how, the pre-paid cards will only be redeemable in specific supermarkets, meaning local shops will suffer, and that means traveling to your nearest supermarket. Difficult if you don’t have a car.

I could talk about how rolling out Universal Credit next year is a very bad idea, considering it’s been “dogged by delay due to IT problems”, and that while IDS intended to have 1 million people on Universal Credit by last April, there were in fact only 7,000. (source)

No, what I want to focus on is what IDS said about young people specifically. What with me being a youth worker an’ all.

“Today I can announce my intention for Jobcentre Plus coaches in my department to work with young people in schools across the country, for the first time, from as early as 15…targeting those most at risk of falling out of education, employment or training…working with them before they end up with a terrible wage scar, as happened too often in the past.

For the first time, 15 to 21 year olds will have a single package of help, support and assistance that will radically improve the hope and aspirations of a generation that the last Government left behind.”

Young people have been dragged through the mud by this government. Youth centres all across the country have been closed, experienced and good youth workers out of a job. Youth workers worked holistically with young people. We understand that it’s no good getting a kid a job if he’s not no home to go to, or he’s got no food, or if he can’t control his anger. Youth workers deal with the whole person. We were really good at that. But the Tories got rid of us.

And put this in its place. It’s all very familiar – I believe an almost identical service called Connexions was axed a few years ago – but then again the Tories are well known for axing services and then putting something else exactly the same but with a different name in its place. But my argument is this: Jobcentre Plus advisors are advisors. They are not equipped to handle the complexities and chaos that is a young person’s life, particularly the young people who are likely to end up as “NEETs”. Youth workers are QUALIFIED in doing this, we are qualified in working with young people in a way that doesn’t just tick the boxes of “job” and “qualification” but that can help that young person build a positive relationship on their own terms with an adult. Young people are told what to do all the time. They need to be given the choice to make their own decisions.

The problem is, this doesn’t tick boxes. The targets are not “how many are in work” or “how many gained a qualification” (although we can do that too, if we need to!) The problem is that the government refuses to invest in good youth work services for young people. But, I would challenge IDS’s idea that a single package of help, support and assistance is being delivered “for the first time”. Youth workers have been delivering exactly this for years. Trained, experienced youth workers who know how to work with young people where they are. Who equip young people with the skills to give direction to their lives themselves. I am willing to believe that the Jobcentre Plus workers being placed in schools will not be using those skills.

Young people are being treated so, so badly by this government and the cuts it has imposed. They deserve so much better than this. They deserve not to be treated as a statistic, a problem, as something to be dealt with. They deserve to be treated as complex, fantastic human beings and we are doing them a huge disservice.

(You can read Iain Duncan Smith’s speech in its entirety here)


Why I should be the Tory poster gal (but I’m not).

Mr Duncan-Smith is positively champing at the bit to get sick and disabled people back into work. He’ll get you back into work even if you’re comatose, his belief in disabled people working is so strong.

Clearly the “people in comas being found fit for work” is a terrible thing, but IDS really makes no secret about how much he wants us to work. Well Mr Duncan-Smith, I’m your gal. I have my own business, I am capable of getting myself enough work to make a full time job, I love my work and it’s even work that helps communities work better together, which is what your Big Society is all about. Mr Duncan-Smith, I am the girl you’ve been looking for. (I swear that line sounded less dodgy in my head).

However. As someone who has taken 6 months out of work due to becoming chronically ill, I do not see people who are trying to get me back into work. I am at the bottom of lists, I am under a pile of paperwork and I am at the end of strict budget cuts. Apart from the fact that I’m working in a line of work that is getting royally shafted from all sides by budget cuts (but that’s another blog entry…) I am waiting for Personal Independence Payments that, despite having applied for them at the beginning of February I’m not expected to hear anything until June. I’m applying for Access to Work which, despite its name, seems to be having smaller and smaller criteria as to what “access” actually means.

I’ll lay my cards on the table right here Mr Duncan-Smith. I’m chronically ill yet desperate to work. I’m a professional in a job that is all about Big Society (despite you sacking us all but y’know, whatever). I have my own business and I can make it full time if I just have the right support. Yet, you’re not willing to give me the right support. So if I can’t work, what’s going to happen to the people who have never worked who are now suddenly being told they have to? What’s going to happen to people who have even more limitations than I do? If I can’t get enough support to work, how the hell are you going to support them?

This is why you need to listen to what the Spartacus Network are saying. Beyond the Barriers was released to the public last Wednesday and lays out a practical way of getting sick and disabled people back into work. It means people who cannot work are not living constantly under the eyes of the DWP. It means those who are able to work get the correct support that is on-going. It means that sick and disabled people are not punished simply for being ill or being disabled.

I miss my job. I am desperate to go back to it and I’d like to believe Irritable Duncan Syndrome when he says he wants sick and disabled people to get into work. But he’s not doing a very good job of showing it.

Access To…What, Exactly??

On Sunday it’ll be one month since my PIP form arrived at the DWP. I thought I’d celebrate by calling them on Monday to see if they actually received it (as I’ve not had the “You didn’t send your form back” letter but I also haven’t had the “we’ve got your form and we’re going to put it in a large pile for the next six months” letter). So we’ll see how that pans out. Prediction: it’ll be painful.

Up until last week I’d pretty much only been thinking up to my rheumatology appointment, like it was going to offer me all the secrets of being able to function again. In the end, the appointment was a little underwhelming and now I have to think about what to do next. My long-term goal, however, is that I want to go back to work. Now because I’m not *completely* stupid, I’ve realised that my ability to work may not be as it once was. I love my job, however, and I’m willing to do whatever I can to try to get back to it.

One option to help me out in this is the Access To Work scheme. Once a very effective way to give disabled people the support and equipment to help them have a career, now a long list of things you’re no longer allowed to have. Good luck finding a way you can be supported by the scheme if you need a specialist desk, chair, computer equipment or office equipment because they now no longer supply these. So, in a perfect world, if I wanted to go back to work tomorrow, what would I need?

  • Someone to drive me to work and back. I live an hour’s drive each way from where I work. In order for me to still be able to work once I get there, I’d need someone to do the driving for me. Also, if I wanted to be pain-free while working I’d have to take painkillers, and I’m not fond of driving on painkillers.
  • A way to get around while I’m at work. Maybe not completely essential – I could run my youth work sessions sitting in a chair all evening, if I really had to – but it’s difficult to take charge of a group of young people when you can’t move around.
  • Someone to help with the lifting and carrying. I’m self-employed,my office is my spare room. I’m a youth worker, I use a lot of resources. When I’m working, the back of my car is normally full of them. As I’m currently not able to lift anything heavier than a small cat, some help carrying and moving boxes of resources would be needed.

And that’s pretty much it. Not a lot, but if I had that I could go back to work tomorrow. Literally. However. From reading accounts such as BendyGirl’s attempts to access the ATW scheme, I know full well that I’d probably have a full recovery from my chronic condition before anything like these support means would get put into place. I could get a job closer to where I live, and I’m in the process of looking into how I might be able to do that. But the project I currently work on I’ve worked on since 2007, when I started it. It’s about to go through a couple of years of MAJOR change that I and the community and the young people have put years worth of work into. Would you want to pull out of your job at such a crucial time?

No. Me neither.

I am *desperate* to go back to work. I have other projects and things up my sleeve that I can do at home while working really isn’t an option but I want to go back to work. The thing is, I don’t know if I’ll actually be able to. And it’s not because I can’t work – I can work! I have been working and I want to work again! But accessing my job is a lot more difficult now than it used to be. I hope I get some support, somehow.  But I’m not holding my breath.

A letter to Mr Gove.

Dear Mr Gove,

Earlier today, you laid out your new reforms for state schools. I can see that you’re clearly very concerned about the state of our schools, and with good cause – there are some real problems in some schools and that needs addressing.

I was, however, somewhat alarmed to hear your solution to these problems.  Making state schools more like private schools.

Now, I’m sure you have good reason for this. You yourself went to an independent school. You can see problems in schools in the country and so you think to yourself “I know! I went to a good school! I should make schools like my school! What a jolly good idea!” I see your thinking there, Mr Gove. I do have to take some issues with it, however. Now, in the interests of transparency I must admit; I am not a teacher. I have never been trained as a teacher and I have never worked as a teacher. I have, however, worked as a youth worker in many secondary schools – somewhere in the region of four years in total. I know this is not a lot, but that’s four years more education experience than you’ve had.

I’ve worked with all kinds of kids, Mr Gove. I’ve worked with kids from broken homes, kids who don’t see one or other of their parents because they’re not allowed to. I’ve worked with kids who don’t know which house they’re going to be going home to that night, or who get told by Social Services during their maths lesson that they can’t go home to live with mum again, and dad will be picking them up.

I’ve worked with kids whose parents don’t know where their next meal is coming from. Whose only means of getting cooked food is their free school dinner. I’ve worked with students, Mr Gove, who are so hugely clever and intelligent and bright but because they’re worried about their mum being beaten by her new boyfriend, or if dad will have sold their telly for cash again, that they find it really difficult to concentrate on their Geography lesson. That stress, that worry that no teenage kid should have to go through, means they get cross, Mr Gove. They get cross and angry and they start fights with teachers and they get up and walk out of school.

If you’re worried you’re going to find the police outside your house when you get home arresting your older brother, you can’t concentrate on learning about Pythagoras.

You talk of falling behaviour standards in schools, Mr Gove and you’re probably right. But that’s because there are students in these huge, overcrowded schools whose lives are falling apart, and your government is taking all their support out from under them. Youth services, youth support, crisis centres, social care, all cut. How do you expect kids to achieve in school if their home life is falling apart? Behaviour and attainment and the general happiness of students is not going to be raised by getting them to do lines, or clean the dining hall.

Mr Gove, I can think of a lot of students I’ve worked with where if they’d been asked to clean the dining hall as a punishment, they’d have laughed in your face and walked out of school for the rest of the day.

These reforms are a class war, Mr Gove. A class war. Your reforms smack of middle class, private school, Enid Blyton dreams of jolly hockey sticks, writing lines, going to orchestra and masters in cap and gown. This might have been your reality, Mr Gove, but it is far from the reality of thousands of students going through the education system in 2014. And because you seem to care so little about those students – the ones who need so much more help than a slap across the knuckles and being told to “straighten up and fly right” that I’m going to assume that you’ve forgotten about them. You’ve forgotten about them and you don’t care.

News at Eleven: the government do not care about young people.

I was sat in the library earlier today reading a copy of Children and Young People Now, which had an article about the “reform” of the probation service. I’d been marginally aware that something was happening but hadn’t looked at it in any particular detail up to this point, but when I did I was struck by something (that wasn’t my head hitting the table at the ridiculousness of it all).

This is exactly the same as the youth work reforms. Pretty much down to the letter. Here are some choice quotes from the Guardian’s article on the changes:

“The public probation service is to be scaled back and “refocused” to specialise in dealing only with the most dangerous and high-risk offenders and public protection cases.”

“Unions expect that as much as 70% of the work currently done by the probation service in working with offenders in the community will move to private and voluntary sector providers under the plan, including the supervision of nearly all medium and low-level risk offenders.”

It’s all so familiar. Generic services will be shipped out to private and voluntary sector orgs while the public sector only deals with the high-risk, and removes most of its (trained, highly knowledgeable and experienced) staff in the process.

Compare this to the youth service restructures that have happened in Local Authorities all over the UK over the past couple of years – generic “Youth Services” have been disbanded, save for a few case workers now working with specific high-risk young people, generic youth provision has been left to the private and voluntary sector – and it’s a horrifyingly familiar story.

So not only have the government removed all responsibility for the more generic provision of services for young people from themselves, they’re pretty open about not wanting to have it back either. “Youth policy is not a priority for central government and should be developed by local authorities rather than Whitehall, the Education Secretary has said.”

That’ll be the same local authorities who have just removed most of their youth provision, then. It’s a catastrophic pass-the-parcel of responsibility for our young people. Central government don’t want it so they fob it off onto local authorities, local authorities can’t do anything about it so they throw money at the problem and hope the vol orgs will deal with it.

Young people are not a problem to be dealt with. They are not a service that you can fob off onto a young people’s organisation and hope they buy some footballs with the pot of money you’ve thrust at them. They are the future of a country, the MPs and doctors and teachers and parents and the ENTIRETY of the next generation. What kind of message are the government sending to young people in the UK?

So far, young people have been told they just don’t matter enough. And we wonder why young people feel disenfranchised. The way the government has been treating young people has been nothing short of shocking. They have been the first to lose out on services, on access to their education and on making sure they have a solid future ahead of them.  I am left to draw only one conclusion: that this government just does not care about its young people.