So Rob Wilson, MP for Reading East, has been reappointed as Minister for Civil Society with responsibility for youth. It never seemed likely that we’d get a Minister for Young People. Last Monday NCVO were predicting the demise of the Office for Civil Society in its entirety and the Minister with it, so after two days of reshuffles the news of business as usual was welcome. If it was an elaborate plan to manage youth sector expectations, it worked.
The positive of retaining a Minister is of course that they are already acquainted with their brief. Rob Wilson was appointed in September 2014, and so has had a reasonable time to get to grips with the ins and outs of his responsibilities. Youth work is not like other departments, education for instance, where (almost) everyone already has an inherent appreciation of its importance. Youth work requires an understanding of its theory as well as demonstration of its impact, and first-hand experience of the role it can play in changing young people’s lives. The Minister should by now have surrounded himself by youth work in all its different settings and have gained an appreciation of the benefits good youth work can bring.
His experience in his role should equip him to champion youth policy across government, as that is what is desperately required. He is in a great position in the Cabinet Office with a cross departmental view, to fly the flag for young people and the role of youth work in particular.
To do this effectively he will need to depart from the scepticism that has characterised government ministers’ approach to youth work. Since Tim Loughton was shuffled out several years ago, the government has taken a stance which could be summed up by ‘go on prove it’. That’s not to say the sector hasn’t been slow to apply rigorous analysis to clearly quantify the benefits of youth work – it has, but it has also now bridged that gap quite effectively and there is a lot of evidence of the positive impacts of youth work. Also as my colleague Jon Boagey noted in a blog post a few months ago, according to the DfE’s own analysis, military ethos lacks evidence but has still managed to scoop £13 million in government funding since 2012. So let’s drop this line and acknowledge youth work as effective and beneficial to young people.
My colleague was in a meeting recently with some youth workers from Essex. It was very refreshing he reported – there were more than 100 youth workers employed by the County Council and they talked optimistically about the appetite for youth work from a whole range of organisations – from the police, to hospitals, schools, colleges, businesses and many more.
If all these dissimilar organisations recognise the power of youth work in a whole range of different settings and circumstances, surely it’s government that needs to catch up? They are convinced – it’s time our Minister was too.