Services for young people

Memorandum submitted by UNISON

1. UNISON represents over 1.3 million members, almost 75,000 of whom are young people between the ages of 16 and 26. UNISON’s young members are represented at all levels of the union and participate in the union’s decision-making processes, hold representative roles, and are active in the union’s campaigning.

2. UNISON is determined to defend our public services – services which are essential to our communities.  We believe such services delivered by committed and professional employees, and accountable to the needs of our communities through democratically-elected authorities. UNISON also believes that there is a decent, fair, and workable alternative to the coalition Government’s ideologically-driven programme of cuts.

3. UNISON believes that young people are being forced to pay the price for a crisis not of their making. Worse, they are being required to do so in order to sustain a system which rewards those who gambled with and decimated their heritage. This ‘double-whammy’ only serves to remind them of their powerlessness in our democracy, and how little they are valued and looked to as those we should be investing in rather than abandoning.

4. Young people are facing a comprehensive assault on key factors affecting their well-being, health, development and education, (e.g. child benefit, schools maintenance, Sure Start, Education Maintenance Allowance, child benefit, the Connexions service and the hike in tuition fees). Youth services may be one of the last vestiges of any genuine professional support for our young people so it is crucial they are supported and developed effectively.

5. UNISON believes that all young people are entitled to the rewards and benefits of good quality youth work - universal services provided in a variety of settings alongside proper support for targeted interventions. At the heart of youth work is the voluntary relationship between worker and young person and the creativity of the professional worker. However youth work is becoming more target and achievement driven than young people centred. There has been considerable pressure upon youth workers to reduce anti social behaviour and the numbers of young people not in education, employment or training or using drugs and to lower teenage pregnancy rates. Universal youth services are disappearing in the face of the targeted agenda. Youth workers are being turned towards an individualised case work approach, working on rather than with young people. There has been a shift from youth work on young people's terms to one focused on surveillance and policing.

6. Youth work is in danger of being squeezed by others in children’s services whose value and approach is mistakenly perceived to be more fundamental. Pooled budgets are often dominated by casework. Youth work does not fit into a culture of measurable targets. Good youth work transforms lives but the benefits may be less immediate and less obvious than in early years or social care for example.

7. All local government services are likely to be affected by the budget cuts. Many councils are meeting rising demand and costs in areas such as children’s social care by cutting youth services more deeply, perceiving their statutory duties are less clear. Therefore there needs to be a clearer legal requirement to provide youth services. Our concern is that youth services may effectively disappear in some areas. For example Norfolk’s cuts proposals include a complete withdrawal of youth services – losing over 100 posts plus funding to the voluntary sector. This means losing mobile and detached projects in rural communities, young mums’ projects, young carers projects, alternative curriculum projects in schools, information and advice projects, counselling services, anti-social behaviour diversion projects, Duke of Edinburgh's Award scheme, music projects, international youth work projects. The young people youth workers work with here tend not to be the ones that go to scouts, guides or sports clubs. In effect Norfolk is proposing to cut a direct service to 20,000 young people who will now have no provision at all.

8. We are extremely disturbed about the very damaging impact youth service cuts will have on the future well being of young people. To be substantially reducing the level of support at the very time more advice and support is needed, in these very difficult economic times, is very short sighted. A lesson learnt during the recession in the 1980s is the high unemployment carries a huge social cost – poorer health, higher crime and social breakdown. Current unemployment levels are having a disproportionate effect on those aged between 16 and 24. Nearly a million young people within this age group are currently out of work, a whole generation of young people risks being scarred by long-term unemployment. Significant periods of unemployment early in a young person’s working life can have serious consequences on their lives. Undermining the youth service will make the tragedy of youth unemployment even worse. The evidence is that youth work makes a significant impact on young people’s resilience and outcomes in later years.  Youth Services in England and Wales cost £300m per year so substantial cuts will have huge damage and build problems for the future. The cuts are short sighted – once the infrastructure is destroyed it will take a long time to recover.

9. In opposition, the Government made much of the neglect of young people not in education, employment or training. But in Government they have presented no strategy to include them in the labour market. This risks the creation of a lost generation which will carry long term damage to society, the economy and the future of our young people. The National Citizens Service is not going to fill the gap. It is a short term summer placement with £370m funding compared to £300 m budget for youth services which runs for 365 days each year with youth workers working with young people in their communities helping them make a positive contribution. The National Citizen Service is an unproven scheme and we question how this initiative will help youth unemployment – the key issue facing today’s young people.

10. The Government has also signalled its expectation that youth services should be delivered by providers outside local government looking especially at the Community and Voluntary Sector (CVS). The roles of the youth statutory and CVS sectors complement each other but we do not think that voluntary organisations should be left to pick up the pieces due to a lack of funding to support youth services. Also 70% of CVS funding for youth services comes from local authorities, so we question how services will be provided.

11. Over the last few years the way the CVS provides services has changed dramatically. Many organisations have to bid for contracts and can only win these contracts by competing on cost – focussing on short term efficiencies and under cutting their rivals. The result is under staffing; low morale; services not being delivered as they should be. For staff providing these services these changes means increased job insecurity unfair pay and high stress at work.

12. Small organisations are hit worst. They cannot compete with the big organisations, who win contracts because they can benefit from economies of scale. UNISON’s experience in areas such as housing associations shows that market forces lead to community based service providers merging or being taken over to create large organisations. If the CVS is to play a greater role in public service delivery, it must be on the basis that services are awarded to those who make a real difference - not those who can provide the cheapest service.

13. Funding for the CVS sector needs to be adequate and not a cut price answer to larger economic problems. The sector’s capacity to innovate, campaign and work with communities must be recognised and it must also be understood that the whole sale transfer of services to the sector may not be best use of the sector. Finally and not least there must be a commitment to having sufficient staff in place – staff employed on fair pay with the chance to progress and develop their skills.

14. The CVS has also seen an increase in paid staff being replaced by volunteers. This is driven in part by public sector commissioners who see contracting out to the CVS as a way of capitalising on the sectors unpaid voluntary workforce. This is based on a misconception of what the CVS is about. The CVS needs paid staff as much as public sector. There is ½ million volunteers engaged in youth work and these volunteers can only be effective in providing good educational value if they are supported by paid staff. There is a considerable turnover of volunteers and they cannot fill the gap of paid staff. There needs an infrastructure for recruitment, training and support for volunteers. Youth work has also become much more complex. For example youth workers need an extensive knowledge of legislation such as health and safety and child protection.

15. UNISON is also not convinced how redesigning services through a new mutual model will enable councils to face cuts in better way. There is relatively little experience of mutuals providing public services and we are concerned that the mutual approach could lead to fragmentation of the management and provision of services and undermine democratic accountability. We also question if they will be financially secure in the long run.

16. In conclusion our view is:

a. The distinctive characteristics of youth work must be protected – voluntary engagement of young people, young peoples active involvement in developing provision, the use of informal education as the primary method of engagement

b. Local authority youth services offer best value. Outsourcing and mutuals will not offer better alterative in a cuts environment

c. Service reviews must consider the impact on young people, the quality of the services as well as value for money and subject to equality impact assessing

d. Local young people should be consulted and involved in the decision making in how money is spent on local youth services

e. That existing youth services should take funding priority over new initiatives

f. Workforce development within youth work remains a priority – not just for professional staff but for youth support workers and volunteers.

g. Volunteering is already big feature of youth services. There should be good procedures in place and no job substitution.

December 2010