THE leader of the union which represents many of Britain's youth workers fears the Government does not appreciate his service's contribution to educating young people in England.
Doug Nicholls, general secretary of the Community and Youth Workers Union, says that the service has been consistently neglected by successive govern-ments which have failed to understand its pivotal role.
The Government is poised to publish a much-delayed consultation paper on youth policy in England.
Official reports on the role of the service in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have already said that youth and community workers will play a key role in implementing the Government's lifelong learning and social inclusion agendas.
However, in an interview with The TES to mark the 60th anniversary of the founding of the union, Mr Nicholls says he fears that the Government does not understand how the service can contribute in England. He said: "While the youth service has been bathing in a sea of warm words it has actually been drowning in local authority funding cuts."
Much of the youth service's work is about social inclusion, Mr Nicholls added, educating for citizenship, supporting the transition to adulthood and helping young people to make responsible lifestyle choices. The service had also, he said, virtually invented the idea of lifelong learning.
However, the Government did not seek the advice of the youth or community service when it crafted its lifelong learning strategy, Mr Nicholls said.
"We have got to see the education system as a seamless whole. Educational skills do not just exist in the formal teaching environment of schools. Some of the most advanced education skills have come about in the informal education sector where young people and adults choose a creative educational relationship with a social educator."
The educational work, he added, done by his members was very cost beneficial. People who had never had a chance in the education system were very quickly re-motivated and re-energised by contact with members of the youth service. Their sense of self-esteem was massively enhanced and their love of learning kindled.
Mr Nicholls said his union wanted the youth service to be given parity of esteem with the education service and to be funded much more generously than at present.
He warned that access to the youth service was incredibly uneven. A recent audit found that some local education authorities provide a youth worker for every 266 young people while others only provide one worker for every 5,000. The same audit found that for every pound of official funding, eight pounds' worth of volunteer work was generated.