Wednesday, 29 January 2014


Social work grew out of humanitarian and democratic ideals, and its values are based on respect for the equality, worth, and dignity of all people. Since its beginnings over a century ago, social work practice has focused on meeting human needs and developing human potential. Human rights and social justice serve as the motivation and justification for social work action. In solidarity with those who are disadvantaged, the profession strives to alleviate poverty and to liberate vulnerable and oppressed people in order to promote social inclusion. Social work profession addresses the barriers, inequities and injustices that exist in society. Its mission is to help people to develop their full potential, enrich their lives, and prevent dysfunction. Professional social work is focused on problem solving and change. As such, social workers are change agents in society and in the lives of the individuals, families and communities they serve. It responds to crises and emergencies as well as to everyday personal and social problems. Social work utilizes a variety of skills, techniques, and activities consistent with its holistic focus on persons and their environments. Social work interventions range from primarily person-focused psychosocial processes to involvement in social policy, planning and development. These include counseling, clinical social, social work, group work, social pedagogical work, and family treatment and therapy as well as efforts to help people obtain services and resources in the community. Interventions also include agency administration, community organization and engaging in social and political action to impact social policy and economic development. The holistic focus of social work is universal, but the priorities of social work practice will vary from country to country and from time to time depending on cultural, historical, and socio-economic conditions.

    Social workers attempt to relieve and prevent hardship and suffering. They have a responsibility to help individuals, families, groups and communities through the provision and operation of appropriate services and by contributing to social planning. They work with, on behalf of, or in the interests of people to enable them to deal with personal and social difficulties and obtain essential resources and services. Their work may include, but is not limited to, interpersonal practice, group work, community work, social development, social action, policy development, research, social work education and supervisory and managerial functions in these fields. The field of practice for professional Social Worker is expanding day by day.

Field of Practice for Professional Social Workers
·  Addiction / Substance Abuse
·  Child Welfare
·  Clinical / Mental Health
·  Correctional Institutions/ Prisons
·  Child Protection Services
·  Counseling & Therapy
·  Consultancy Services
·  Community Development
·  Elderly Care
·  Environment
·  Family Welfare and Planning
·  Human Resource Management
·  Industrial Development
·  Medical Social Work
·  Mental Health
·  Mental Retardation
·  Management of Social Services
·  Mother & Child Health
·  Policy & Planning Services
·  Poverty eradication
·  People with Special Needs
·  Rehabilitation of Offenders
·  Rural & Urban Development
·  Relationship Problems
·  School Social Work
·  Social Research & Program Evaluation Service
·  Social Work Administration & Policy
·  Social Work Education & Research
·  Social development
·  Working with People with Disabilities
·  Youth Work etc.
    Social Work as profession in India has already passed its infancy long back and in the last few decades it has emerged as one of the most demanding profession in India. In India a person – holding a Bachelor (BSW) or Master (M.A in Social Work/MSW) degree in Social Work – is generally considered a professional social worker. As far as Indian scenario is concerned professional social workers can be found in direct practice in administrative, management and
policy planning positions in various Government and Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) as well as in government ministries. Both Governmental and Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) have a lot to offer, if you are willing to work hard and in any given conditions. International organizations too are socially aware and hence a number of opportunities are available in international social work. Industrial and commercial units too are looking to hire social workers. A degree or diploma in Social Work is creating a large number opportunities for the millions of Indian youth in various sectors.
Designations enjoyed by Social Work Professionals in different employment sectors
Governmental Sector
·  Lecturer/Professor
·  Director
·  Research Officer/Researcher
·  Welfare/Development Officer (like Child/Youth/Women/Labour etc.)
·  Community Development Officer
·  Jail Probationary/Welfare Officer
·  Urban Planners etc.
Non-Governmental Sector
·  Project Director
·  Program Director
·  Program Officer
·  Program Coordinator
·  Assistant Coordinator
·  Program Assistant
·  Project Officer
·  Community Mobilizer 
·  Program Manager
·  Block/District/State/Zonal/Regional Coordinator
·  Counselor
·  Social Scientist
·  Monitoring and Evaluation Officer
·  Research Officer/Researcher
·  MIS Coordinator
·  Area Manager
·  Fund Raiser
·  Social Worker
·  Supervisor
·  Resource Mobiliser
·  Training Coordinator
·  Development Professional
·  Consultant
·  Probation Officer
·  Psychiatric Social Worker
·  School Social Worker
·  Sociologist
·  Vocational Rehabilitation
·  Counselor etc.
·  Manager
   (HR/Personnel/Welfare etc.)
·  Executive Trainee
·  Labor Welfare Officer
·  Personnel Officer etc.
Corporate Sector
·  Manager
·  Executive Trainee
·  Community Development Officer
·  Social Development Officer
·  Rural Development Officer
·  Social Welfare Officer etc.
    There are three general categories or levels of intervention for Social Work professionals. The first is “Macro” social work which involves society or communities as a whole. This type of social work practice would include policy forming and advocacy on a national or international scale. The second level of intervention is described as “Mezzo” social work practice. This level would involve work with agencies, small organizations, and other small groups. This practice would include policy making within a social work agency or developing programs for a particular neighbourhood. The final level is the “Micro” level that involves service to individuals and families.
    Social workers help people to overcome some of life’s most difficult challenges: poverty, discrimination, abuse, addiction, physical illness, divorce, loss, unemployment, educational problems, disability, and mental illness. They help prevent crises and counsel individuals, families, and communities to cope more effectively with the stresses of everyday life. Social Work is a profession that serves individuals, families, and communities who seek preventative and rehabilitative interventions for an improved quality of life. Focused on social and emotional development within the social environment, the scope of social work is national and international. The profession is social justice and action oriented.
    Adopting a holistic approach and forging therapeutic relationships are not unique to social work. What makes the role of the social worker distinct is that it combines both. The social worker seeks to understand the person’s entire situation (the holistic approach) and to work with this. Developing an effective helping relationship with people who use services is central to the role of the social worker in order to ensure better outcomes. Social workers need sufficient time to combine knowledge of skills and values and demonstrate the effective listening, respect and sensitive engagement which this involves. The ability to form and maintain such relationships can be eroded by a workload which exceeds resources, by over management of risks and by increasing expectations from people who use services of the social worker’s capacity to meet their needs.
Prospect for professional social workers in development sectors:
    At present the development sector is largely controlled and managed by the welfare or Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs)–who are doing the pioneer work towards the overall development of the society. A person with a degree (preferably a Master degree) in Social Work is highly preferred in developmental agencies and NGOs. In other words, it can be said that NGO sectors as well as the development sectors are being dominated by the professional social workers. As far as the salary of a professional social worker in development sector (in India) is concerned – it varies from organization to organization. Generally it is negotiated at the time of interview. As salary is negotiable in development sector, likewise flexibility also exists in the recruitment process. Sometimes it is also observed that a person gets recruitment in a particular position – though he/she has not fulfilled the minimum requirements. Percentage of marks in M.S.W hardly matters in recruitment-process of development sector; 50% to 55% marks in M.S.W is enough to get a good job in a reputed organization. What does matter – is relevant working experiences, possession of suitable technical skills of project management, sound knowledge managing NGO administration (see table 3) etc; sometimes the reputation of the academic institution – from where the applicant obtained the degree in Social Work – is taken into consideration by the recruiting organizations. Students completing M.S.W from institutes like TISS, XISS, Delhi University – are generally preferred and get higher salary at the beginning.
Skills Required for a Professional Social Worker
·  Preparing Project Proposal
·  Preparing Management Information System (MIS)
·  Preparing Project Implementa-tion Plan (PIP)
·  Managing and coordinating project at district/state/national level
·  Program monitoring & evaluation
·  Report writing and presentation
·  Preparation of monthly plan and budget
·  Coordinating and liasioning with district and state administration, other stake holder and partner organizations
·  Organizing training, workshops, seminars etc.
·  Developing Information Education Communication (I.E.C) materials
·  Documentation and case studies
·  Team management
·  Facilitation and people mobilization
·  Doing long-hour field work and extensive travelling
·  Managing and coordinating projects at state and district level
·  Positive work attitude
·  Integrity and honesty
·  Doing long-hour field work in adverse situation
·  Have interpersonal communication skills
·  Have proficiency on the computer
·  Knowledge of community resources etc.
    Most of International NGOs have a specified pay structure for different positions – For entering into these organizations – at least three to five years’ prior working experiences in a reputed developmental organiza-tion is necessary.
Some of the Premier Universities/Institutes - Conducting Social Work Courses
·  Assam University, Silchar (Assam)
·  Agra University (U.P)
·  Amravati University (Amravati)
·  Andhra University, Waltair (AP)
·  Aligarh Muslim University, Aligarh (UP)
·  Bharathiar University (Coimbatore)
·  Banaras Hindu University, Banaras (UP)
·  Bundelkhand University, Jhansi (UP)
·  Christ University (Bangalore)
·  Chaudhry Charan Singh University, Meerut (UP)
·  College of Social Work, Nirmala Niketan (Mumbai)
·  Devi Ahilya Vishwavidyalaya (Indore)
·  Delhi School of Social Work, University of Delhi (Delhi)
·  Dr. R.M.L Avadh University, Faizabad (UP)
·  Guru Ghasidas University (Chhattisgarh)
·  Gujarat Vidyapeth, Ahmedabad (Gujarat)
·  Indian Institute of Social Welfare and Business Management, Calcutta University (W.B)
·  Institute of Social Sciences, Dr B. R Ambedkar University, Agra (UP)
·  Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU)
·  Jamia Millia Islamia University, Jamia Nagar (New Delhi)
·  Jain Vishva Bharti Institute, Ladnoon (Rajasthan)
·  Kashi Vidyapith,Varanasi (U.P)
·  Kurukshetra University, Kurukshetra (Haryana)
·  Kanpur University, Kanpur (UP)
·  Madurai Kamaraj University
·  M S University, Baroda
·  Madras School of Social Work, University of Madras (Chennai)
·  M.S.S College, Nagpur (Maharashtra)
·  Mangalore University (Mangalore)
·  Marathwada University, Aurangabad
·  Nagpur University (Nagpur)
·  Punjab University, Patiala (Punjab)
·  Rajagiri College of Social Sciences (Kerala)
·  Rajasthan Vidyapeth, Udaipur (Rajasthan)
·  Sri Venkateshwara University (Tirupati)
·  Sri Padmavati Mahila Visva Vidhyalay (Tirupati)
·  Sri Hari Singh Gaur University (MP)
·  Shivaji University, Vidyanagar, Kolhapur 
·  Sri Padmavathi Mahila, Vishavidyalayam, Tirupathi
·  Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai (Maharashtra)
·  University of Lucknow, Lucknow (U.P)
·  University of Bombay (Maharastra)
·  University of Puna (Maharastra)
·  Utkal University (Orissa)
·  Vikram University,Ujjain (MP)
·  Vidya Sagar University (W.B)
·  Visva Bharati Unversity (W.B) etc.
(The list is indicative only)
    Professional social workers are found in every facet of community life—in old age homes, orphanages, schools, hospitals, mental health clinics, prisons, corporations and in numerous public and private agencies that serve individuals and families in need. Social work is not just about doing good deeds and helping the under-privileged. Over a period of time, it has evolved into a profession. Correctly it is not a ‘conventional’ career. But with issues of disability, drug misuse, poverty, mental ill health, problems associated with aging etc. rising constantly, social work has become a vital need of our society today. If you are willing to take up a profession for emotional fulfillment and if your purpose of working is not just financial, this would be the ideal career for you.  

Friday, 24 January 2014

Social capital

Social capital. The notion of social capital is a useful way of entering into debates about civil society – and is central to the arguments of Robert Putnam and others who want to ‘reclaim public life’. It is also used by the World Bank with regard to economic and societal development and by management experts as a way of thinking about organizational development. We examine its nature, some of the issues surrounding its use, and its significance for educators.

The notion of social capital is said to have first appeared in Lyda Judson Hanifan’s discussions of rural school community centres (see, for example, Hanifan 1916, 1920). He used the term to describe ‘those tangible substances [that] count for most in the daily lives of people’ (1916: 130). Hanifan was particularly concerned with the cultivation of good will, fellowship, sympathy and social intercourse among those that ‘make up a social unit’. It took some time for the term to come into widespread usage. Contributions from Jane Jacobs (1961) in relation to urban life and neighbourliness, Pierre Bourdieu (1983) with regard to social theory, and then James S. Coleman (1988) in his discussions of the social context of education moved the idea into academic debates. However, it was the work of Robert D. Putnam (1993; 2000) that launched social capital as a popular focus for research and policy discussion. ‘Social capital’ has also been picked up by the World Bank as a useful organizing idea. They argue that ‘increasing evidence shows that social cohesion is critical for societies to prosper economically and for development to be sustainable’ (The World Bank 1999). In this piece we explore the the idea of social capital, review some of the evidence with regard to the claims made about it, and assess its significance for educators.

Social capital for starters

For John Field (2003: 1-2) the central thesis of social capital theory is that ‘relationships matter’. The central idea is that ‘social networks are a valuable asset’. Interaction enables people to build communities, to commit themselves to each other, and to knit the social fabric. A sense of belonging and the concrete experience of social networks (and the relationships of trust and tolerance that can be involved) can, it is argued, bring great benefits to people.

Trust between individuals thus becomes trust between strangers and trust of a broad fabric of social institutions; ultimately, it becomes a shared set of values, virtues, and expectations within society as a whole. Without this interaction, on the other hand, trust decays; at a certain point, this decay begins to manifest itself in serious social problems… The concept of social capital contends that building or rebuilding community and trust requires face-to-face encounters. (Beem 1999: 20)
There is now a range of evidence that communities with a good ‘stock’ of such ‘social capital’ are more likely to benefit from lower crime figures, better health, higher educational achievement, and better economic growth (Halpern 2009b). However, there can also be a significant downside. Groups and organizations with high social capital have the means (and sometimes the motive) to work to exclude and subordinate others. Furthermore, the experience of living in close knit communities can be stultifying – especially to those who feel they are ‘different’ in some important way.

Exhibit 1: Defining social capital

Bourdieu: ‘Social capital is the ‘the aggregate of the actual or potential resources which are linked to possession of a durable network of more or less institutionalized relationships of mutual acquaintance and recognition’ (Bourdieu 1983: 249).

Coleman: ‘Social capital is defined by its function. It is not a single entity, but a variety of different entities, having two characteristics in common: they all consist of some aspect of a social structure, and they facilitate certain actions of individuals who are within the structure’ (Coleman 1994: 302).

Putnam: ‘Whereas physical capital refers to physical objects and human capital refers to the properties of individuals, social capital refers to connections among individuals – social networks and the norms of reciprocity and trustworthiness that arise from them. In that sense social capital is closely related to what some have called “civic virtue.” The difference is that “social capital” calls attention to the fact that civic virtue is most powerful when embedded in a sense network of reciprocal social relations. A society of many virtuous but isolated individuals is not necessarily rich in social capital’ (Putnam 2000: 19).

The World Bank: ‘Social capital refers to the institutions, relationships, and norms that shape the quality and quantity of a society’s social interactions… Social capital is not just the sum of the institutions which underpin a society – it is the glue that holds them together’ (The World Bank 1999).

The three thinkers that most commentators highlight in terms of developing a theoretical appreciation of social capital are Pierre Bourdieu, James Coleman and Robert Putnam. Bourdieu wrote from within a broadly Marxist framework. He began by distinguishing between three forms of capital: economic, cultural and social. A basic concern was to explore the processes making for unequal access to resources and differentials in power – and the ways in which these fed into class formation and the creation of elites. He understood social capital to be ‘the aggregate of the actual or potential resources which are linked to possession of a durable network of more or less institutionalized relationships of mutual acquaintance and recognition’ (Bourdieu 1983: 249). The possession of social capital did not necessarily run alongside that of economic capital, but it still was, in his view, an attribute of elites, a means by particular networks held onto power and advantage. In Field’s word, he ‘presumed that social capital generally functions to mask the naked profit-seeking of its holders, and is therefore inimical with the open democratic society that he espoused in his journalism and political activism’ (2003: 19).

James Coleman’s (1988) contribution to the development of the notion of social capital was to theorize it in a way that illuminated the processes and experiences of non-elite groups. In other words, he argued that those living in marginalized communities or who were members of the working class could also benefit from its possession. Drawing upon a base of rational choice theory James Coleman (1990, 1994) looked to social capital as part of a wider exploration of the nature of social structures. He argued that social capital was defined by its function. ‘It is not a single entity, but a variety of different entities, having two characteristics in common: they all consist of some aspect of a social structure, and they facilitate certain actions of individuals who are within the structure’ (Coleman 1994: 302). However, as Portes (1998), Foley and Edwards (1999) and others have pointed out, a number of problems flow from defining social capital by its function. In particular, the same ‘outcome’ could flow from very different processes. However, Coleman’s explorations were to highlight the possibility that different institutions and social structures were better suited to the cultivation of reciprocity, trust and individual action than others. Like other social investigators he highlighted the role of the family and kinship networks, and religious institutions in the creation of social capital. He believed that changes in both spheres were problematic. They were less able to socialize in appropriate ways; ties appeared to be looser and weaker (see Portes 1998).

It is interesting to compare Coleman’s and Bourdieu’s contributions to thinking about social capital. John Field brings out some interesting dimensions:

Bourdieu’s treatment of social capital is somewhat circular; in summary it boils down to the thesis that privileged individuals maintain their position by using their connections with other privileged people. Coleman’s view is more nuanced in that he discerns the value of connections for all actors, individual and collective, privileged and disadvantaged. But Coleman’s view is also naively optimistic; as a public good, social capital is almost entirely benign in its functions, providing for a set of norms and sanctions that allow individuals to cooperate for mutual advantage and with little or no ‘dark side’. Bourdieu’s usage of the concept, by contrast, virtually allows only for a dark side for the oppressed, and a bright side for the privileged. (Field 2003: 28)
It was into this situation that Robert Putnam’s work on social capital exploded. Returning to commentators such as de Tocqueville, and drawing on some of the debates around, and insights from, Coleman’s contribution, he looked to the significance of association and civic community (see Putnam 1993). He wrote from a background in political science and, as such, brought out some important dimensions. Based, initially, on a detailed study of Italian political institutions he argued for the significance of social capital and the quality of civic life in the cultivation of democratic society. He then turned his attention to social capital in the United States – first in an influential article (Putnam 1995) then in a major study: Bowling Alone. In the latter Putnam discussed social capital as follows:

Whereas physical capital refers to physical objects and human capital refers to the properties of individuals, social capital refers to connections among individuals – social networks and the norms of reciprocity and trustworthiness that arise from them. In that sense social capital is closely related to what some have called “civic virtue.” The difference is that “social capital” calls attention to the fact that civic virtue is most powerful when embedded in a sense network of reciprocal social relations. A society of many virtuous but isolated individuals is not necessarily rich in social capital. (Putnam 2000: 19)
Robert Putnam’s ability to draw upon a wide range of theory, to synthesize and write for a wider audience, and to catch the public mood in the United States would have been enough to encourage a wider embrace of the notion of social capital. However, when this was added to the depth and range of data he and his team were able to access and analyse with regard to social capital in the United States it was not surprising that Bowling Alone became a powerful focus for debate.

Exhibit 2: Putnam – why social capital is important

First, social capital allows citizens to resolve collective problems more easily… People often might be better off if they cooperate, with each doing her share. …

Second, social capital greases the wheels that allow communities to advance smoothly. Where people are trusting and trustworthy, and where they are subject to repeated interactions with fellow citizens, everyday business and social transactions are less costly….

A third way is which social capital improves our lot is by widening our awareness of the many ways in which our fates are linked… When people lack connection to others, they are unable to test the veracity of their own views, whether in the give or take of casual conversation or in more formal deliberation. Without such an opportunity, people are more likely to be swayed by their worse impulses….

The networks that constitute social capital also serve as conduits for the flow of helpful information that facilitates achieving our goals…. Social capital also operates through psychological and biological processes to improve individual’s lives. … Community connectedness is not just about warm fuzzy tales of civic triumph. In measurable and well-documented ways, social capital makes an enormous difference to our lives.

Robert Putnam (2000) Bowling Alone: The collapse and revival of American community, New York: Simon and Schuster: 288-290

His conclusion that that the possession of social capital held great significance in terms of human wellbeing struck a chord.

Types of social capital

Those concerned with social capital have looked to the density of social networks that people are involved in; the extent to which they are engaged with others in informal, social activities; and their membership of groups and associations (see la via associative). Their big worry is that in the USA, for example, there has been a significant decline in the active membership of associations (like PTAs, football teams and community groups) and a corresponding increase in individualized leisure activities (most especially watching television). For example, there has been drop in the number of people involved in league (team) bowling and a growth in individual bowling (hence the title of Putnam’s (2000) book – Bowling Alone). The result is that social capital is weakened (see below).

Exhibit 3: Bridging, bonding and linking social capital

Michael Woolcock, a social scientist with the World Bank (and Harvard) has helpfully argued that many of the key contributions prior to Bowling Alone failed to make a proper distinction between different types of social capital. He distinguished between:

Bonding social capital which denotes ties between people in similar situations, such as immediate family, close friends and neighbours.

Bridging social capital, which encompasses more distant ties of like persons, such as loose friendships and workmates.

Linking social capital, which reaches out to unlike people in dissimilar situations, such as those who are entirely outside of the community, thus enabling members to leverage a far wider range of resources than are available in the community. (Woolcock 2001: 13-4)

The Putnam team looked to whether social capital is bonding (or exclusive) and/or bridging (or inclusive). Putnam suggested that the former may be more inward looking and have a tendency to reinforce exclusive identities and homogeneous groups. The latter may be more outward-looking and encompass people across different social divides (Putnam 2000: 22).

Bonding capital is good for under-girding specific reciprocity and mobilizing solidarity… Bridging networks, by contrast, are better for linkage to external assets and for information diffusion…. Moreover, bridging social capital can generate broader identities and reciprocity, whereas bonding social capital bolsters our narrower selves…. Bonding social capital constitutes a kind of sociological superglue, whereas bridging social capital provides a sociological WD-40. (ibid.: 22-23)
These were not seen as either-or categories to which social networks can neatly assigned – ‘but “more-or-less” dimensions along which we can compare different forms of social capital (ibid.: 23). However, Putnam did not really look at linking social capital nor did he come to grips with the implications of different forms of social capital i.e. that ‘different combinations of the three types of social capital will produce different outcomes (Field 2003: 42).

The decline of social capital in the USA

Putnam demonstrated that on a range of indicators of civic engagement including voting, political participation, newspaper readership, and participation in local associations that there were serious grounds for concern. It appeared that America’s social capital was in decline. First in the realm of civic engagement and social connectedness he was able to demonstrate that, for example, over the last three decades of the twentieth century there had been a fundamental shift in:

Political and civic engagement. Voting, political knowledge, political trust, and grassroots political activism are all down. Americans sign 30 per cent fewer petitions and are 40 per cent less likely to join a consumer boycott, as compared to just a decade or two ago. The declines are equally visible in non-political community life: membership and activity in all sorts of local clubs and civic and religious organizations have been falling at an accelerating pace. In the mid-1970s the average American attended some club meeting every month, by 1998 that rate of attendance had been cut by nearly 60 per cent.

Informal social ties. In 1975 the average American entertained friends at home 15 times per year; the equivalent figure (1998) is now barely half that. Virtually all leisure activities that involve doing something with someone else, from playing volleyball to playing chamber music, are declining.

Tolerance and trust. Although Americans are more tolerant of one another than were previous generations, they trust one another less. Survey data provide one measure of the growth of dishonesty and distrust, but there are other indicators. For example, employment opportunities for police, lawyers, and security personnel were stagnant for most of this century – indeed, America had fewer lawyers per capita in 1970 than in 1900. But in the last quarter century these occupations have boomed, as people have increasingly turned to the courts and the police. (summarized from Putnam 2000)

He went on to examine the possible reasons for this decline. Crucially, he was able to demonstrate that some favourite candidates for blame could not be regarded as significant. Residential mobility had actually been declining for the last half of the century. Time pressure, especially on two-career families, could only be a marginal candidate. Some familiar themes remained though:

Changes in family structure (i.e. with more and more people living alone), are a possible element as conventional avenues to civic involvement are not well-designed for single and childless people.
Suburban sprawl has fractured the spatial integrity of people’s. They travel much further to work, shop and enjoy leisure opportunities. As a result there is less time available (and less inclination) to become involved in groups. Suburban sprawl is a very significant contributor. (See, for example, Duany et. al. 2000)
Electronic entertainment, especially television, has profoundly privatized leisure time. The time we spend watching television is a direct drain upon involvement in groups and social capital building activities. It may contribute up to 40 per cent of the decline in involvement in groups
However, generational change came out as a very significant factor. A “long civic generation,” born in the first third of the twentieth century, was passing from the American scene. ‘Their children and grandchildren (baby boomers and Generation X-ers) are much less engaged in most forms of community life. For example, the growth in volunteering over the last ten years is due almost entirely to increased volunteering by retirees from the long civic generation’ (

Subsequently, there has been some evidence appearing linked to working patterns – with only one third of British workers, for example, working ‘normal hours’. Halpern (2009a) comments, ‘A consequence of our modern service economy appears to be that the majority of people now work part-time or do shift work, leading to a ‘de-synchronisation’ of our leisure and social activities’. One study, by Matt Clark and associates (forthcoming but quoted by Halpern), found that ‘even controlling for levels of working hours, those who do shift work end up spending substantially less time in social and participative activities’ (op. cit.).

Some critiques and developments of the Bowling Alone thesis

Francis Fukuyama (1999) raised some useful questions around the ‘Putnam thesis’ and the late Everett C. Ladd (1999) was very critical of the approach – disputing the interpretation much of the evidence in Putnam’s original (1995) article. Ladd’s argument was that American civic life was not so much in decline but rather ‘churning’. Some organizations had lost members, others had sprung up in their place. He believed that ‘the individualism at the heart of the country’s conception of citizenship gave Americans no alternative but to cooperate with one another’ (Lenkowsky 2000). Lenkowsky continues:

This being so, ebbs and flows in organizational membership should be seen as stemming not from any broad disaffection with civic groups or public life per se but from uncertainty about how best to work together during changing times. The very concern sparked by Putnam’s lament was itself, Ladd suggested, a sign of America’s still abundant supply of social capital.
However, Ladd was writing prior to the marshalling of evidence in Bowling Alone (Putnam 2000). In many respects, Ladd’s central thesis was undermined by the data assembled by Putnam.

Four more recent contributions have shed new light on the interpretation put on the data.

From membership to management in American civic life

First, Theda Skocpol has powerfully demonstrated that one of the most significant changes lies in the changing shape of associational life. In particular she questions the over-focus in the work of Putnam and others on the workings of local groups and associations. ‘American civic voluntarism’, she writes, ‘was never predominantly local and never flourished apart from national government and politics’ (Skocpol 2003: 12). Social capital theorists have tended to examine ‘all forms of social connectedness at once’ (ibid: 176). Rather than there being some major generational shift, she suggests, a ‘confluence of trends and events sparked a shift from membership mobilization to managerial forms of civic organizing’. She continues:

After 1960 epochal changes in racial ideals and gender relationships delegitimated old-line US membership associations and pushed male and female leaders in new directions. New political opportunities and challenges drew resources and civic activists toward centrally managed lobbying. Innovative technologies and sources of financial support enabled new, memberless models of association building to take hold. And finally, shifts in American class structure and elite careers created a broad constituency for professionally managed organizing… The most privileged Americans can now organize and contend largely among themselves, without regularly engaging the majority of citizens. (Skocpol 2003: 178)
There may well have been a decline in social capital, but these shifts are perhaps more significant and have led to ‘fraying’ of vital links in US associational life.

Community participation

A second significant contribution has come from those theorists exploring the realities and experiences of family and work life. Here, the work of Ann Bookman (2004) is of interest. She argues that we need to extend our appreciation of what constitutes community participation – especially if we are interested in what women do. Bookman has drawn attention to the informal connections formed to help with family care – and which do not register with many social capital commentators.

New forms of “social capital” – just as important as money in the bank – are developing among working families in both urban and suburban environments. These new relationships are binding us together and reshaping our communities in a literal and social sense. (Bookman 2004: 19)
Bookman charts the ways in which working families reach out to each other and to community-based programmes to address the issues they face – especially around caring for children and relatives (ibid.: 25). In addition she draws attention to the impact of what she describes as the ‘stalled gender revolution’ – and the extent to which women are still expected to shoulder disproportionate responsibilities for care, community engagement and domestic functioning.

Hybrid associations

Third, as Robert J. Sampson and his associates on the Project on Human Development in Chicago Neighborhoods, have shown in their multi-cohort study, while traditional associations like close relationships with neighbours are declining, other ‘hybrid’ associations are beginning to be significant. One of these is the non-profit organization which is an important site of collective action (Sampson et. al. 2005).

Social capital and inequality

Last, there has been some significant discussion with regard to the relationship between social capital and inequality. As Wilkenson and Pickett (2009: 54) put it, ‘does inequality create low levels of trust, or does mistrust create inequality?’. Putnam (2000: 359) viewed community and inequality as ‘mutually reinforcing’, with casual arrows running in both directions. However, commentators such as Eric Uslaner (2002) along with Bo Rothstein (Rothstein and Uslaner 2005; Rothstein 2005) have argued that it is inequality that affects trust rather than the other way around. The causality lies with inequality.

While we can see that there have been some significant changes in the ways that people engage with local institutions and networks, we need, thus, to be careful of arguing for an overall decline. There may well have been a movement, as Skocpol (2003) put it, away from active membership toward professionalization and management in civic life. There may also have been a decline in involvement in local associations and groups, and in national membership organizations and fellowship groups – but whether this adds up to a significant diminution in social capital s another matter. At present, the balance of evidence as far as the USA, UK and other Anglo-Saxon countries, as well as France, are concerned is that there has been a broadly similar decline (Halpern 2009b). In other countries, such as in Scandinavia, trust levels have remained relatively high and even increased. As Bo Rothstein (1998) has argued, this can in part be explained by differing moral and political logics in societies. Thus, while in the USA and UK there has been a significant shift towards privatisation and individualism, this can be contrasted with a less egotistic and more mutual or ‘solidaristic individualism’ in some societies (ibid.: 199. See, also, Rothstein 2005).

The concrete benefits associated with social capital

While the jury may be out over aspects of the arguments around decline, Putnam’s assessment of the benefits of what he defines as social capital remains an important reference point. He is able to demonstrate that:

Child development is powerfully shaped by social capital. Trust, networks, and norms of reciprocity within a child’s family, school, peer group, and larger community have far reaching effects on their opportunities and choices, educational achievement, and hence on their behaviour and development (ibid.: 296-306).
In high social-capital areas public spaces are cleaner, people are friendlier, and the streets are safer. Traditional neighbourhood “risk factors” such as high poverty and residential mobility are not as significant as most people assume. Places have higher crime rates in large part because people don’t participate in community organizations, don’t supervise younger people, and aren’t linked through networks of friends (ibid.: 307-318). As Sampson and his associates have also shown those communities with ‘collective efficacy’ – the confidence to intervene born of higher rates of social capital – are characterized by lower crime rates.
A growing body of research suggests that where trust and social networks flourish, individuals, firms, neighbourhoods, and even nations prosper economically. Social capital can help to mitigate the insidious effects of socioeconomic disadvantage (ibid.: 319-325). The growing presence of non-profit organizations in some areas as one aspect of this (see Sampson et. al. 2005). Another is the quality of the networks in the ‘underground economy of the urban poor’ (Venkatesh 2006).
There appears to be a strong relationship between the possession of social capital and better health. ‘As a rough rule of thumb, if you belong to no groups but decide to join one, you cut your risk of dying over the next year in half. If you smoke and belong to no groups, it’s a toss-up statistically whether you should stop smoking or start joining’ (ibid.: 331). Regular club attendance, volunteering, entertaining, or church attendance is the happiness equivalent of getting a college degree or more than doubling your income. Civic connections rival marriage and affluence as predictors of life happiness (ibid.: 333). (See, also, Wilkinson and Pickett 2009).
Many of these findings have been underlined by subsequent explosion in studies around happiness and well-being (see, for example, Haidt 2006, Offer 2006).

The World Bank (1999) has also brought together a range of statistics to make the case for the social and economic benefits of social capital. For example they argue that there is evidence that schools are more effective when parents and local citizens are actively involved. ‘Teachers are more committed, students achieve higher test scores, and better use is made of school facilities in those communities where parents and citizens take an active interest in children’s educational well-being’. They also indicate some negative impacts, for example, when disgruntled local elites joined together to close health clinics in Uttar Pradesh. Child mortality rates soared as a result (The World Bank).

Social capital in organizations

The idea of looking at social capital in firms and organizations was, as Cohen and Prusak (2001: 6) said, relatively new. This may be because of the way in which the dominance of more mechanistic and system-oriented conceptions of organizational activity have ‘masked their deeply social nature (op. cit.). A number of those concerned with organizational development, like Cohen and Prusak, have become increasingly suspicious of the ‘people, processes, technology’ mantra, ‘ceaselessly intoned as a summary of the sources of organizational effectiveness’ (ibid.: 8). There has, of course, been a significant embracing of the notion of human capital – but those writing about it rarely approach the social nature of organizations – and often fall prey to a tendency to draw upon theories and metaphors that derive financial and physical notions of capital. The argument of those concerned with social capital is that when harnessed it generates economic returns. More particularly, the benefits claimed include:

Better knowledge sharing, due to established trust relationships, common frames of reference, and shared goals.
Lower transaction costs, due to a high level of trust and a cooperative spirit (both within the organization and between the organization and its customers and partners).
Low turnover rates, reducing severance costs and hiring and training expenses, avoiding discontinuities associated with frequent personnel changes, and maintaining valuable organizational knowledge.
Greater coherence of action due to organizational stability and shared understanding. (Cohen and Prusak 2001: 10)
Given the relative infancy of the application of social capital to organizational life there is little sustained or substantial research that can support attention to the notion within organizations. It certainly isn’t the key to success (ibid.: 11), but it is part of the fabric of organizational life – and the need to engage with it is, arguably, growing. The increasing complexity of organizations and the scale of informational activity; globalization; external and internal volatility; and what Cohen and Prusak (2001: 155-181) call ‘the challenge of virtuality’ (work carried out over a distance of time and space) all contribute here.

Informal education and social capital

Robert Putnam’s discussion of social capital, in particular, provides informal educators with a powerful rationale for their activities. After all the classic working environment for the informal educator is the group, club or organization. The evidence and analysis also provides a case against those who want to target work towards those who present the most significant problems and tie informal educators’ activities to the achievement of specific outcomes in individuals. Several points need underlining here.

First, from the material marshalled by Putnam and others we can see that the simple act of joining and being regularly involved in organized groups has a very significant impact on individual health and well-being. Working so that people may join groups – whether they are organized around enthusiasms and interests, social activity, or economic and political aims – can make a considerable contribution in itself. Encouraging the development of associational life can also make a significant difference to the experience of being in different communities. Here we might highlight the case of schooling. Educational achievement is likely to rise significantly, and the quality of day-to-day interaction is likely to be enhanced by a much greater emphasis on the cultivation of extra-curricula activity involving groups and teams.

Second, informal education’s longstanding concern with association and the quality of life in associations can make a direct and important contribution to the development of social networks (and the relationships of trust and tolerance that is usually involved) and the strengthening of democracy. Informal educators interest in dialogue and conversation, and the cultivation of environments in which people can work together, take them to the heart of what is required to strengthen and develop social capital and civic society. Their ethical position also demands they attend to the downsides of networks – in particular, the extent to which they are oppressive and narrowing. A focus on tolerance and the acceptance, if not the celebration, of difference is required. There is a place for bridging, bonding and linking social capital.

Third, there is a strong argument here against those who wish to concentrate the bulk of resources on groups and individuals who present the strongest social problems (currently the received thinking among many policymakers). If we follow Putnam’s analysis through then we can see that, for example, crime can be reduced, educational achievement enhanced and better health fostered through the strengthening of social capital. Significantly this entails working across communities – and in particular sustaining the commitment and capacities already involved in community organizations and enthusiast groups, and encouraging those on the cusp of being actively involved. The majority of the people we are talking about here cannot be classified as suffering from multiple disadvantage, will not be engaged in criminal activity, and will be (or have been) engaged with education systems and/or the world of work. In other words, open and generic work needs to be afforded a far higher priority – and so-called ‘issue-based’ work needs to be more closely interrogated as to the benefits it brings.

Conclusion – some issues with the notion of social capital

To conclude it is worth highlighting four key issues with regard to the notion of social capital. The way in which the notion of social capital is used by the central writers Bourdieu, Coleman and Putnam while offering some important insights, and a focus for data collection and analysis, is not as yet rich theoretically. This may simply mean that more work needs to be done, or imply that the concept itself is problematic.

First, while the notion of social capital clearly has some utility we need to be aware of the dangers of ‘capitalization’. As Cohen and Prusak (2001: 9) have commented, not everything of value should be called ‘capital’. There is a deep danger of skewing our consideration of social phenomenon and goods towards the economic. The notion of capital brings with it a whole set of discourses and inevitably links it, in the current context, to capitalism.

Second, there has been a tendency not to locate exploration properly within a historical framework. Coleman and Putnam do analyse data and material over time – but fail to fully contextualize it. Skocpol (2003), by placing her work within historical analysis, has been able to show just how some of the important assumptions made by Putnam, for example, need to be questioned.

Third, much of the main work undertaken around social capital has failed to properly address the gender dimension of social capital. As we saw in the work of Skocpol (2003), Bookman (2004) and others, the way in which women engage and create local networks, and have to manage caring often falls beneath the radar of social capital researchers and theorists. To give him his due, Putnam does address gender in terms of changing patterns of local involvement – but does not theorize it substantially, nor does he really connect with the sorts of concerns that Bookman has been subsequently voicing around the way in which we think about networks of caring, for example.

Fourth, much of the discussion of social capital has treated it as a ‘good thing’. Bourdieu, at least, was interested in the notion as a way of explaining how some were able to access resources and power, while others were not. However, the scale of local surveillance that can be involved, the possible impacts around what is deemed acceptable behaviour, and the ways in which horizons may be narrowed rather than expanded are not unambiguously ‘good things’.

In terms of developing social analysis it might well be that those theorists who have explored within society (and most particularly Beck 1992, 1999) have something more to offer than social capital theorists. That said, though, some of the empirical work that has been done linking involvement in associational life and participation in social networks to the enhancement of educational achievement, the promotion of health and the reduction of crime is of great significance. Social capital researchers, and Robert Putnam in particular, has done us a great service. While aspects of his argument and research will continue to be disputed over the coming years, his central message is surely true. Interaction enables people to build communities, to commit themselves to each other, and to knit the social fabric.

Social exclusion, joined-up thinking and individualization – new labour’s connexions strategy

Before the Labour Party came to power in 1997 there was some talk of reforming the careers and youth services in England. This was given fresh impetus following the establishment of the Social Exclusion Unit by the new Government, and their much-trumpeted concern with ‘joined-up thinking’. By 1999, the Government was indicating that it wanted to establish a  ‘comprehensive structure for advice and support of all young people beyond 13’ (DfEE 1999: 51). The idea was that every young person would be allotted a personal adviser who could provide one-to-one support, and information, advice and guidance. However, talk of a universal service was largely a matter of rhetoric. The primary interest lay in those young people who were deemed to be at risk of social exclusion – and what was seen as the ineffectiveness of then current provision (due in significant part to the proliferation of specialist agencies and a lack of coordination between them). It was out of this that the Connexions strategy was developed (at the heart of which is the Connexions Service). Attention was to be given to 'those facing substantial, multiple problems preventing them from engaging with learning' or 'those at risk of not participating effectively in education and training'. This means, first, that resources are being taken away from the vast bulk of young people who do not pose a threat to order and to economic development. It means they will receive less guidance and help around career choice, and that fewer resources are channeled into their leisure. Second, it entails a shift of resources from young women to young men – for, as we have seen, it is the latter who are largely seen as problematic in terms of behaviour and educational achievement.

The Connexions Strategy for England (the Assembly for Wales and the Scottish Parliament have chosen to take very different routes) is based on the belief that there are clear links between participation and success at school and participation post-16. The aim of the strategy is to create a ‘step-change in participation and attainment through the teenage years’ (DfEE 2000: 6). This change is necessary, the government argues, to provide ‘a ladder out of social exclusion’ by ‘breaking the cycle of non-participation and underachievement’ (DfEE 2000: 14). There is also some concern around developing citizenship and building ‘stronger, vibrant communities’ (via initiatives such as the Millenium Volunteers, the Neighbourhood Support Fund and citizenship education). Finally, it is argued that ‘by raising participation and attainment we raise individual earnings and boost economic performance’ (DfEE 2000: 15). The strategy brings together a number of estblished and new initiatives and is intended to work across existing departmental and agency divides.

Four key themes have been identified by the government in the strategy:

Flexible curriculum that engages different young people and leads to the relevant, sought-after qualifications. This includes opting out of elements of Key Stage 4 to spend more time on work-related training, broadening options, and reviewing the national curriculum (including an increased emphasis on citizenship). A ‘Graduation Certificate’ is proposed for all by age 19 that recognizes qualifications, key interpersonal skills and voluntary work.

Ensuring high-quality provision in school sixth forms, further education colleges and work-based learning. This entails altering the funding and coordination of provision (through the new Learning and Skills Council and learning partnerships); extending inspection to all 16-19 provision, and recognizing ‘Beacon Colleges of Excellence in Further Education’.

Targetting financial support for those in learning. Policies here include the development of a ‘Youth Card’ that gives some discounts in leisure and rewards participation in learning; extending access funds in further education and introducing them for 16-19 year olds in schools; and piloting Education Maintenance Allowances.

Outreach, information, advice, support and guidance. Included here, are various anti-exclusion and anti-truancy measures; Millenium Volunteers, the Neighbourhood Support Fund, and the new Connexions Service. (DfEE 2000: 18 – 19)

Here we focus on seven key, guiding ideas that run through the strategy. Five of these are explicit: social exclusion, ‘the knowledge economy’, ‘joined up thinking’, ‘transition’, and ‘targets’; and two, individualization and surveillance, are not. However, all seven are central to the New Labour project.

Social exclusion
The underlying theme in the Connexions strategy is that if people become disconnected from schooling and further education, and thence the labour market, they are more likely to pose significant problems for welfare systems and society as a whole. Drug-taking, crime, family breakdown and teenage pregnancy are oft cited examples here. This understanding harks back to notions of a so–called ‘underclass’ of unskilled and disaffected people. Such a group is seen as both a source of social destabilization, and a drain on society’s resources through a ‘welfare state which still only compensates people for poverty and lack of opportunity’ (Brown 1999 quoted in Cisse 2001). One obvious way of eliminating such a drain on resources is to make every effort to ensure people gain entry to the labour market, and to increase the cost to them of not working (through changes to the income support system etc.). As Tony Blair (SEUb 1999: 6) put it, ‘The best defence against social exclusion is having a job, and the best way to get a job is to have a good education, with the right training and experience’.

Significantly, the notion of ‘social exclusion’ has only been in use in the UK for a comparatively short time – and its widespread usage could indicate that it ‘describes a phenomenon that already existed, but lacked a suitable name’ (Page 2000: 4). Room (1995) has described it as ‘the process of becoming detached from the organization and communities of which the society is composed and from the rights and obligations that they embody’. In other words people become disqualified from enjoying the fruits of living in a community. This isn’t simply a matter of people not being able to access material goods, it is also about the nature of the social relationships they can engage in. Thus, for example, when a person loses their job, not only do they usually experience a drop in income, important relationships fostered by the workplace e.g. through unions, may also disappear. For this reason those concerned with social exclusion have tended to draw attention to the interaction of different forces upon individuals and groups such as unemployment, poverty and lack of marketable skills.

The next step that many proponents of the notion take is to argue that the interaction of different forces leads to a spiral. One acts upon the other and the individual is increasingly pushed to the margins. It is this sort of thinking, mixed in with ‘cultural’ notions of an ‘underclass’ (Murray 1994) and analyses of profound structural change (Wilson 1987; 1996), that informed the establishment of the Social Exclusion Unit. The Unit describes social exclusion as ‘a shorthand label for what can happen when individuals or areas suffer from a combination of linked problems such as unemployment, poor skills, low income, poor housing, high crime environments, bad health and family breakdown’ (SEU 1998). Significantly, this understanding looks to a process that can happen to both individuals and neighbourhoods. As Page (2000: 6) has commented, this sort of definition, while being somewhat imprecise, offers certain advantages to its users. It focuses attention on processes, rather than the outcome, of multiple disadvantage. Arguments about the causes of social disadvantage are, thus, sidestepped. In addition, ‘it encourages the search for new ways of intervening in the process’ and is ‘a term with no pejorative implications’ (op. cit.).

There are a number of significant problems with analysis and policies of this kind. However, here we note three. First, there is a tendency in some of the literature to approach social exclusion as a byproduct, or an accident, of economic and social processes. It is either seen as something that occurs as a natural part of wealth creation and change, or what happens to people when they choose to drop out of key social institutions like school and employment. Where policy makers have some care for the welfare of society’s members a likely response is to attempt to contain the worst excesses of ‘exclusion’ (by, for example, providing welfare to work programmes) and to discourage drop out. However, there is a fundamental flaw in such analysis. It fails to properly attend to social closure. Social closure, as Weber has shown, is a process by which social collectivities seek to ‘maximize rewards by restricting access to resources and opportunities to a limited circle of eligibles’ (Parkin 1978: 44). It entails the singling out of social or physical attributes as a means of justifying exclusion.  In other words, exclusion isn’t simply a byproduct or the consequence of a personal choice. It is also the result of deliberate action on the part of a social collectivity or collectivities. It could, thus, be argued that age has been used as a way of judging eligibility for rewards. For example, since 1988 lower rates of income support are paid to those aged under 25 years. Many under 18 years receive no support. The structure was a clear case of age discrimination, ‘since it became possible… for three people who have identical accommodation and living costs to receive different levels of benefit dependent on their age’ (Killeen 1992: 193). In a similar fashion, action by Conservative governments in the 1980s to advantage higher earners by relieving their tax burden has been a significant factor in the growing inequality of wealth in the United Kingdom during the last twenty years of the twentieth century. As a Rowntree study (2000) notes, ‘During the 1980s incomes substantially diverged and in the late 1990s there are signs that the income gap is again widening’. In 1983 14% of households lacked three or more necessities because they could not afford them. That proportion had increased to 21% in 1990 and to over 24% by 1999 (op. cit.). The Labour government elected in 1997 committed to reducing social exclusion, in fact presided over an increase in poverty in the late 1990s.

Second, there are questions around the tendency to focus on employment, education and training in the strategy. The lack of paid work is clearly an important factor in causing both poverty and social exclusion. However, as the Rowntree poverty study (2000) comments:

Even if full employment were achieved, poverty and exclusion would not disappear. Earnings can be too low unless there are minimally adequate child benefit and other allowances to complement them and unless minimally adequate benefits are available for all pensioners and all disabled people. People who cannot work require adequate incomes to meet their needs. High quality, affordable services in every part of the country will also be needed if poverty and social exclusion are to be eliminated.

For a significant number of young people, problems of dislocation, insecurity and deprivation arise from inadequacies in the income support system, the lack of affordable housing and the failure to provide adequate services and opportunities, for example, around care and social support, mental health and leisure. Here we might highlight, in particular, the position of lone parents (the vast bulk of which are women).

The attack on welfare dependency during the 1980s resulted in a change in the way in which lone mothers were viewed. They were no longer seen as victims with special needs for financial support and, as in the case of young married mothers, for casework, but rather as irresponsible, and probably, again in the case of unmarried mothers, manipulative people, willing, for example, to have a baby in order to jump the queue for social housing. (Lewis 1998: 274)

The focus within the Connexions strategy is on the reduction of teenage pregnancy, rather than with enhancing financial and other support for young mothers. It does little to alter their position or the way they are viewed. There are long-term economic problems associated with teenage pregnancy (SEU 1999a). Young mothers suffer from a substantially greater loss of in lifetime earnings than those who have children later in life, whatever the skill level eventually obtained (Davies and Joshi 2001: Rake 2000). But they are not ‘bad mothers’, nor do they lack social skills. As Dowler found in her survey, with one exception, the teenage mothers ‘showed great self-reliance and strength. For all their difficulties - and on the whole they were well able to articulate these - they presented as balanced, responsible, caring parents, who were determined to do the best they could for their children’ (1999: 93). This was despite the fact that a majority were living on benefits so low that it was difficult, if not impossible to maintain an adequate diet.

Third, there is a particular problem with regard to the ‘shorthand’ reduction of complex social phenomenon. Johnston et al (2000: 3) comment, ‘like the underclass concept before it, social exclusion seems to have become a “catch-all” phrase, meaning all things to all people’. Under the banner of social exclusion we find bundled together a complicated array of social issues. Clearly, there are linkages between experiences in say, the housing market and education, and income, but each involves a differing and often conflicting set of factors and forces. Such problems cannot be simply reduced to unemployment and income inequality. The debates around social exclusion do, at least, highlighted the ‘diverse and interconnected problems which face young people’ and ‘the processes whereby some young people become socially included and some do not’ (op. cit.).

The ‘knowledge economy’
A further, key element underpinning the strategy was the Government’s concern with the ‘knowledge economy’ (and the ‘learning society’). Here, interest lay in sustaining economic growth in Britain and Northern Ireland while operating in a global environment that had altered its character in significant ways.

Productivity and competitiveness are, by and large, a function of knowledge generation and information processing: firms and territories are organized in networks of production, management and distribution; the core economic activities are global – that is they have the capacity to work as a unit in real time, or chosen time, on a planetary scale. (Castells 2001: 52)

Nation states have to make their way in this environment. The particular means chosen by those concerned with the New Labour project was to attract and foster the development of industries and services based around new technologies; encourage local innovation, product development and the exploitation of new markets; nurture entrepreneurship; and to develop a skilled and committed labour force. Following writers like Leadbeater (2000), the key resource in this new economy was knowledge.

The significance of the Connexions strategy is, arguably, less about the generation of a highly skilled labour force rather than the elimination or containing of destabilizing influences. At an ideological level this entails a shift from a ‘dependency culture’ into one in which entrepreneurship and work is valued. ‘Environmentally’, it involves making the United Kingdom a more attractive locale for investment and activity. It is believed that business can be generated by enhancing the quality of life through, for example, reducing crime and tackling the overt signs of social exclusion from the streets (such as graffiti, begging and people sleeping rough). At the level of practical skill, there is also the belief that improved levels of literacy and numeracy, and the ability to use information and computer technologies will make the country more attractive to potential investors and entrepreneurs.

‘Joined-up thinking’
Another important part of the equation has been the Government’s concern with the duplication of, and lack of coordination between, agencies and services. Here government policy has been significantly influenced by work undertaken by the ‘think-tank’, Demos (Bentley and Gurumurthy 1999). As Watts (2001) has commented:

The core of the analysis was the belief that a key cause of the ineffectiveness of current provision was the proliferation of specialist agencies, each dealing with a disconnected part of the young person's life…Accordingly, there was a widely-held view that the agencies needed to be brought more closely together, and that - as part of this process - there was a strong case for each young person to be linked to a key worker who could form a relationship of trust with them, see their problems as a whole, and 'broker' the support of the relevant specialist agencies.

As with ‘social exclusion’ there are significant problems with ‘joined-up thinking’. First, there has been little detailed or sustained research with regard to the analysis. Where it has been a focus, for example, Cole (2000), the material has been largely anecdotal or case-study based. We lack hard evidence that the approach works in this context. It may well be that many partnerships between agencies are not well planned and ‘suffer from bureaucratic and funding straightjackets which seem to prevent suitable and sensitive partnerships and “joined-up” solutions’ (Cole 2000: 17) – but there is some evidence that the Connexions strategy will exacerbate this. It has its own bureaucratic and funding straightjackets (as many agencies within the pilot areas have found).

Second, the notion of ‘joined-up’ services proceeds from a dubious assumption – that young people benefit from dealing with services that share information with one another. At one level there is some sense in trying to avoid duplication, and in ensuring that those working with particularly problematic clients know important information. However, there is a downside to it. It could work to curtail the freedom of young people to ‘shop around’ for services. The ‘key worker’ or personal advisor allocated to them may not be competent or appropriate. As Richard Sennett (1973) wrote in a different context, there can be considerable benefits in disorder. There is also an issue for agencies. Many work on the basis of a ‘fresh start’ – and may well not welcome such information. Unfortunately, in the current context they may not be able to avoid making use of it. In addition, the compilation of comprehensive files on young people, allied with an emphasis on coordinating the efforts of agencies can lead to an depersonalised approach that emphasizes the management of cases rather than working with the young people’s accounts of situations and experiences. It also involves a significant extension of the surveillance of young people.

Surveillance, monitoring and control
There has been a strong focus on the surveillance of those who may cause a problem to social order. In recent years this has resulted in the growing use of close circuit television, failed attempts at curfews and the use of welfare workers to monitor the activities of families and individuals. More covert or implicit forms of surveillance have gone almost unnoticed - such as the use of course work for qualification and the monitoring of individual 'progress' within schooling. These are what Staples (2000) has termed the ‘mundane’ practices of surveillance. The Connexions strategy is a further extension of this activity. Detailed records are kept on individual young people. Those deemed to be 'at risk' are subject to special monitoring – notably with regard to post 16 options. Tasks that flow from this monitoring include: 'seeking to prevent drop-out from options, arranging alternative provision when they unavoidably leave options - including links with specialized agencies, and using outreach to bring back into learning those who are not in it' (Social Exclusion Unit 1999b: 81).

There is also an element of compulsion in the scheme, although it is said that people will generally not be required to use the new service. Some, such as young offenders supervised by Youth Offending Teams (YOTs) will be subject to a mandatory assessment of their educational needs. However, a range of financial and other incentives will be brought into play. The question that immediately arises concerns the environment such 'incentives' will create. If people feel compelled, rather than actively choosing to use the service then a number of serious questions arise about the work that can be done.

As a result, there are fundamental questions concerning the infringement of civil liberties within the strategy. More comprehensive records are kept on individual young people - and they are shared among agencies. One significant element here is the possibility of bringing together records from different sources. An agency may well gain information from the Connexions database, and be able to combine this with healthcare records. (Under Clause 65 of the 2001 Health and Social Care Act, the Secretary of Health can open computerised patient data to any organization where they consider it to be in the public interest. This requires neither the patient’s consent nor knowledge). This creeping process of gathering information on individuals renders them ‘more and more transparent, relentlessly reducing the private spaces into which people have traditionally been able to retreat for refuge and self-definition’ (Whittaker 1999: 4). The practical effect of this for those individuals who are deemed to need of ‘in-depth guidance’ or ‘intensive sustained support’ is that they will be subjected to increased monitoring and intervention. They will have to meet regularly with their personal adviser and be subject to assessment, planning and review. It is this that increases the danger of inhibiting the process of  ‘self-definition’. Working through issues and questions with another person is not a problem in itself – in fact we could argue that through conversations with others we can develop a deeper understanding of who we are and what we want to be. Rather, here it is the focus and context of the work, and the fact that substantial use is made of material gathered on the person, rather than from them that is the issue. Personal advisors will also have targets to achieve, and these reveal the constraints on self-definition that the Government desires.

As we have seen in relation to schooling and other areas of welfare British governments increasingly have made use of crude outcome targets by which to direct and judge the activities of agencies and individuals. Alexander (2000: 532) argues that the English system has become, within the space of a decade, ‘centralized and ruthlessly policed’. Its focus on goals, curriculum and achievement has meant that other key aspects of the education process get sidelined. Much more of teachers’ time is spent on administration and upon demonstrating that they have ‘delivered’ the required curriculum. There has been a corresponding decline in their ability to build relationships with students and to develop and sustain extra-curricula activity such as clubs, teams and the performance arts. One of the strange features of this movement is that there is now substantial evidence to suggest that a focus on relationships and involvement in clubs and groups brings substantial benefits to those participating. This can involve better health and a significant improvement in educational performance (larger, possibly, than the testing regime produces) (Putnam 2000: 296-306, 326-333).

This emphasis on outcome and delivery is the result, in significant part, of the importation of business thinking and ideology into public services. As Stewart demonstrated some time ago there is a fundamental problem with the way that such business models have been applied to welfare agencies.

The real danger is that unthinking adoption of the private sector model prevents the development of an approach to management in the public services in general or to the social services in particular based on their distinctive purposes, conditions and tasks. (Stewart 1992: 27)

Not only has there been a lack of proper regard for the purposes and nature of public services, the introduction of targets has brought with it a great deal of dishonesty. In schools, for example, there are issues relating to the way in which attendance is managed and reported, and how students are inappropriately primed for SATs tests (Davies 2000: 150-163). In target-driven environments significant advantages flow from fiddling figures (providing the agency or individual isn’t caught). This is something that applies from the bottom to the top of the chain. There is some evidence that senior DfEE figures have colluded with the massaging of figures (and engaged in a little of their own) as ‘good results’ show the electorate that their policies are working (ibid.: 39-51). A culture where figures are manipulated, and students inappropriately primed is not the best basis for the cultivation of citizenship

The new Connexions Service has a similar target culture:

It will be an outcome-driven service, allowing local discretion over delivery, but with clear targets to cover the multi-agency nature of its work. The principal targets will relate to participation and attainment in education, training or work, since it is clear from the Bridging the Gap report and other research that participation has a major impact on a young person’s more general ‘well-being’. (DfEE 2000)

For the moment we have some broad policy targets, for example reducing truancy from school by a third by 2002. These will be translated into specific attainment targets for local service providers. Under these arrangements workers are judged on the numbers of people that they work with entering education, training or employment, and the shifts occurring in other behaviours. They are not going to be assessed to any significant degree on the happiness, well-being or development of the individual or the community of which they are a part. There is an inbuilt dynamic to act upon people rather than work with their concerns and interests.

The Connexions strategy retains a rather tired emphasis on the problems of the transition from 'school to work' (or youth to adulthood). Sociologists of youth have, in the main, during the last two decades sought to free themselves from the straitjacket of viewing youth as a homogeneous group undertaking a fixed journey through adolescence. They wanted to escape from the constraints of an all-encompassing linear model of psychosocial development, assumed to be applicable to all. This process has been encouraged by a growing willingness to acknowledge the variable impact of gender, race, locality and class on the lives of young people. Coles (1995; 2000) in particular has encouraged a shift away from placing a primacy upon the transition from education to employment. He has argued that we must recognise three main youth transitions that should not be categorised as having a pre-determined order of importance. These being the transition from:

full-time education or training to full-time employment in the labour market (school-to-work transition);
family of origin to the family of destination (domestic transition);

residence with parents or their surrogate to ‘independence’ (the housing transition).

We have been highly critical of the transition model and do not wish to re-visit those critiques in any detail (see, for example, Jeffs and Smith 1999). However it is helpful to note that a growing volume of research highlights the need to avoid placing undue reliance upon this model. The fundamental weakness remains the emphasis it places upon the uniqueness of the youth experience. Mounting evidence has obliged the transitional model to move on from a uni-dimensional stance by recognising that its differential transitions from childhood to adulthood follow variable timescales. Moreover they occur and re-occur throughout the life course. In order to sustain the artifice advocates of the transitional model and supporters of discrete services and policies directed at ‘young people’ have retreated and re-written the script. The ploy has been to add to ‘transition’ a ‘succession of qualifying adjectives … “long”, “extended”, “fragmented”, “fractured”, “disrupted”’ (Cohen and Ainley 2000: 80). It has been a ‘repetitive and redundant’ (op cit) exercise. One that has succeeded only in eroding the validity of the transitional model espoused.

The flaw flows from the erosion of the transitional pathways themselves. Little more than three decades ago over 90 per cent of young people moved from school direct to employment, where with minimal or no training, they expected, like their parents, to work, often for the same employer, until retirement or in the case of women marriage or pregnancy heralded closure. Now for the best and worst reasons increasing numbers of people move in and out of education throughout their lives (Field 2000; Tuckett 1997; DfEE 1997). Re-training has become a prerequisite for flexible labour markets, so that even those not changing careers or employers are expected to constantly update their skills. We have moved rapidly from a society where for all but a tiny percentage education was confined to the ‘school years’ to one where lifelong learning and continuous education are increasingly the norm. Post-school education and training now embrace a burgeoning remit with almost every life event deemed to necessitate an educational input – preparation for entry to school, marriage, parenting, retirement, divorce, a significant illness, loss of a partner, and so on ad nauseam. Within such a context the notion of a transfer from schooling to work linked to a narrow age band has diminishing credence. Likewise concerning the transition from the parental to an independent home. As Fitzpatrick (2000; see also, Furlong and Cartmel 1997) shows the process of leaving the parental home has become more prolonged and complex in recent years. In part this is because working class young people are acquiring the middle-class pattern of returning home for periods before setting up an independent home. The reasons vary between what Jones (1995) distinguishes as the ‘positive’ and the ‘negative’. The former linked to study, training or employment; the latter to conflict with parent(s), moving due to unemployment or a desire to escape parental surveillance. Irrespective of what produces the break two trends are apparent. First, young people are remaining in the parental home for much longer. Second, whether they live in the parental home or in a state of quasi-independence elsewhere, an increasing number of young, and not so young, people are reliant partially or wholly upon parents for financial support (Schneider 2000). The reasons include growing levels of student debt; unemployment and short-term employment that make forward planning difficult; a discriminatory benefits system that assumes parental support up to the age of 25; and the high costs of entering the housing market, especially in London and the South East. Such dependency has not emerged by accident. It is the direct consequence of government policies, some of which have been in place for over a decade, designed to make young people ‘more dependent upon their families for practical and emotional support’ (Morrow and Richard 1996: 14). Such policies have also been designed to transfer welfare costs relating to young people from the state and employer to the family and individual (Jones and Bell 2000; Jeffs and Spence 2000).

We can see how a number of the elements we have discussed combine in the strategy.

Our challenge is simple, but vital. If we are to succeed as a nation, and if our young people are o succeed as individuals in the knowledge economy of the 21st century, we must provide all teenagers with the opportunity they need to make the transition to adulthood…. This Government has established a wide range of programmes designed to improve the health and welfare of young people and to support them in making the transition to adult life. We now need to build on these developments, provide support for young people wherever and whenever it is needed, and overcome the fragmentation of much of the current services… (DfEE 2000: 8-9)

At one level the focus on transition is odd given the Government's discovery of lifelong learning and the practical, and conceptual problems associated with the notion of transition (see Jeffs and Smith 1998). Transitions of the kind focused on in the strategy, for example, around training and education, getting and changing jobs, and having children, are not just the preserve of youth and can occur at different times in a person’s life. At another level, the use of an outdated model should not surprise us given what we have already said about the ‘shorthand’ reduction of complex social phenomenon that characterizes the project. In such circumstances it is very easy to draw upon established explanations. Furthermore, a significant number of those advising and prodding the government have a vested interest in the notion of transition to adulthood. Some work for agencies that seek to offer solutions to the problem of transition (e.g. through youth work, experiential learning and training). Others may well have made their name as ‘experts’ on young people and transition. Rethinking the nature of young people’s experience could be a risky business for them – they stand to lose resources and influence.

Last, we should note that the strategy falls in line with other elements of government policy. There is an increasing focus upon targeting interventions at named individuals. Essentially a form of case management is seen as the dominant way of working. People are identified who are in need of intervention so that they may re-enter education, training or work. Individual action programmes are devised and implemented. Programmes are then assessed on whether these named individuals return to learning or enter work - rather than on any contribution made to the quality of civic life, personal flourishing or social relationships that arise out of the process.

This orientation can be contrasted with working to enhance the readiness and capacity of groups and communities to better meet their members' needs. While there is recognition within the activities of the Social Exclusion Unit of the significance of neighbourhood and community, this has not been expressed in a sustained and coherent way in government policy as a whole. The folly of this can be seen in the mounting evidence concerning the significance of ‘social capital’ – and its impact upon community safety, health and educational achievement. This is how Putnam (2000: 19) introduces the idea:

Whereas physical capital refers to physical objects and human capital refers to the properties of individuals, social capital refers to connections among individuals – social networks and the norms of reciprocity and trustworthiness that arise from them. In that sense social capital is closely related to what some have called “civic virtue.” The difference is that “social capital” calls attention to the fact that civic virtue is most powerful when embedded in a sense network of reciprocal social relations. A society of many virtuous but isolated individuals is not necessarily rich in social capital.

In other words, interaction enables people to build communities, to commit themselves to each other, and to knit the social fabric. A sense of belonging and the concrete experience of social networks (and the relationships of trust and tolerance that can be involved) can, it is argued, bring great benefits to people.

Gauthier and Furstenberg (2001) found that in those countries where the state invested most in cultural and sporting facilities young people responded by investing more of their own time in such activities. The research literature strongly indicates a positive outcomes from engaging with education, in the broadest sense; structured leisure activities; good social contacts with friends; and participation in the arts, cultural activities and sport. The higher the score relating to each of these the enhanced the overall performance in terms of education and lowered the likelihood of involvement even in low-level delinquency (Larson and Verma 1999). There is really nothing unique in this outcome - for similar engagement amongst older people also produces improved health and well-being (Rowe and Kahn 1998; Putnam 2000).

Part of the problem of approaching the different themes in the strategy is the extent to which many of the ideas are part of the dominant way of ‘making sense’. ‘Joined-up’ thinking seems like an obvious good – but when it is placed in a growing environment of centralization, surveillance and control the dangers become clearer. Similarly, a focus on individuals doesn’t seem bad – but when it is at the cost of working for communal coherence and democracy, and when, in the words of C Wright Mills, public issues become defined as personal troubles, it becomes deeply problematic. Fine words about social exclusion will come to little unless governments grasp the nettle of income redistribution. In a society characterized by a growing divide between rich and poor, talk of ‘breaking the cycle of disadvantage will amount to little. Talk of community and citizenship in this context is a thoroughly one-sided affair.

An alternative strategy would look somewhat different. It involves looking to strengthen civic community and association Putnam (2000); to moving beyond a patronizing and outmoded focus on ‘youth’ (Jeffs and Smith 1999b); to attempting to contain the worst excess of late capitalism and globalization, and to working to narrow differences in wealth and income via progressive taxation and other means. Sadly, the Connexions strategy is simply another aspect of the growing centralization and control that has characterized education and welfare policy in recent years. However, as has been argued elsewhere, possibilities for more convivial and holistic ways of working are there . The question is whether agencies, educators and local people are ready to grasp them.

The connexions service in england

The Connexions Service in England was part of a government strategy to reduce social exclusion among young people. We explore its strange roots, the emergence of the personal adviser role, and the current state of development of the Service. We also highlight some fundamental questions and issues that were present from the start, and discuss the failure of the Connexions project.
The government first announced its intention to set up a support service for young people in Learning to Succeed: a new framework for post 16 learning (1999). The aim was to ensure ‘a smooth transition from compulsory schooling to post-16 learning’ and to the world of work. The setting up of a youth support service (now known as the Connexions Service) was seen as representing a significant change in the way support was provided to young people. There was a focus on 'coherence across current service boundaries, so that someone has an overview of the whole of a young person’s needs'. The development of a comprehensive record system was also proposed to 'ensure that prompt, coordinated action is taken if a young person stops being involved in education or training and risks "dropping out"’. Elsewhere we have explored seven key themes running through the Connexions Strategy – social exclusion, ‘the knowledge economy’, ‘joined-up thinking’, surveillance and control, the focus on targets and outcomes, transition and individualization. There are significant problems associated with each. When these are linked to key flaws in the design of the service itself – and the way the government has sought to ‘transform’ youth work to serve Connexions objectives - we can see that the whole enterprise is deeply problematic. Here we provide an overview of the Connexions Service and the role of personal advisers within it. We also examine some key design flaws.

The Connexions Service outlined
The aim, targets and underlying principles of the new service were announced in April 2000 (DfEE 2000).

The Connexions Service – aims and principles
Aim. The key aim of the Service will be to enable all young people to participate effectively in appropriate learning - whether in school, FE college, training provider or other community setting - by raising their aspirations so that they reach their full potential. The new service will play a central role in helping to deal with problems experienced by young people, removing any wider barriers to effective engagement in learning that young people are suffering. It will do this by providing high quality support and guidance, and by brokering access for young people to a range of more specialist services. The Connexions Service will ensure that all young people have access to the support and guidance they need, when and wherever they need it, irrespective of their circumstances. The Service will be universal and comprehensive, and will ensure that no young person falls through the net of support. (6.2)

Principles. The Service will be based on eight key principles:

raising aspirations - setting high expectations of every individual;

meeting individual need - and overcoming barriers to learning;

taking account of the views of young people - individually and collectively, as the new service is developed and as it is operated locally;

inclusion - keeping young people in mainstream education and training and preventing them moving to the margins of their community;

partnership - agencies collaborating to achieve more for young people, parents and communities than agencies working in isolation;

community involvement and neighbourhood renewal - through involvement of community mentors and through personal advisers brokering access to local welfare, health, arts, sport and guidance networks;

extending opportunity and equality of opportunity - raising participation and achievement levels for a l l young people, influencing the availability, suitability and quality of provision and raising awareness of opportunities;

evidence based practice - ensuring that new interventions are based on rigorous research and evaluation into ‘what works’.

While the aim of the Connexions Service may well have made for a widening of focus for some of those arriving at it from the 'modern' careers service (although not from older notions of careers work), it entailed a considerable narrowing of focus for many youth workers and informal educators. It was problem-oriented and individualizing. It was also outcome driven - and this was a particular worry. As we know at the time from the experience of careers companies and some youth work initiatives, a narrow concern with outcome leads to an inability to follow-up on significant areas of interest and learning. Perhaps most significantly, the injunction to fulfil targets, for example around sexual activity, meant that the Connexions Service was fundamentally concerned with moulding and directing behaviour - rather than with education.

A further, significant, aspect of the Connexions Service was the extension of the surveillance of young people. A comprehensive record system that operates across area boundaries was instituted in order to track progress and assess outcomes. In part, this system was an evaluation tool (linked to national and local targets), in part, a mechanism by which young people do not 'slip though the net'. (We discuss issues around this extension of surveillance within the Connexions Service when looking at the strategy overall).

Two key design flaws
As Watts (2001) has pointed out there were two crucial design flaws. The first was linked to the claim that the Connexions Service is designed not just for young people at risk of social exclusion, but for all young people. It was supposed to be both a targeted and a universal service.

The conventional and logical way to reconcile these dual aims is first to design the universal service and then extend it to ensure that the distinctive needs of the targeted group are satisfactorily addressed. But Connexions was designed on the reverse basis… In other words, universality was a second-order consideration. As a result, efforts were made to extrapolate to all young people measures designed to address the needs of the primary target-group. If the needs of young people at risk were perceived to require the merging of services, then the services must be merged as a totality. If young people at risk were to have a Personal Adviser, then all young people must have one. (Watts 2001)

The second flaw identified by Watts was that the original Demos aim of merging the youth, careers and educational welfare services was only part-implemented. The only service brought into the Connexions Service as a whole was the Careers Service. Other services remained as entities, but were expected to take part in, and help fund, Connexions.

The main reason for this distinction was administrative convenience: the Careers Service was the only budget that the Department for Education and Employment (DfEE) - as the main Government department responsible for the planning of Connexions - was able to control; without it, the funding base for the new service looked fragile. But the decision to commit the whole of the Careers Service budget to the Connexions Service and Strategy, alongside the failure to secure similar commitments from other budget-holders, immediately produced an imbalance in the structure of Connexions Service partnerships. It also meant that careers services' existing mainstream work was placed under threat.

When these flaws are added to the original, questionable assumptions concerning social exclusion and ‘joined up’ services then the problematic nature of the Connexions Service became clear. These difficulties can be seen in the role of the personal advisor, the priority groups identified and the organizational structures that have emerged.

Personal advisors
A new occupational grouping was established within the Connexions Service – that of personal adviser. The influential Social Exclusion Unit report, Bridging the Gap, argued for the development of a comprehensive service employing staff with a range of professional backgrounds, such as careers officers, youth workers and counsellors. It was suggested that there was room for a new specialism or professional group. The notion of a 'youth broker' or personal adviser – had been put forward by DEMOS (Bentley and Gurumurthy 1999). The DfEE (2000) argues that personal advisers are the ‘heart’ of the service. Their role is to:

Work with, or as part of, schools, colleges or training providers.

Provide one-to-one support and information, guidance and information.

Undertake assessment, planning and review.

Work with parents and carers.

Access and contribute toward community support networks.

Work with other agencies

Keep in contact and monitor with regard to progress and outcomes.

A new training structure was introduced (and then ended after the initial cohorts were trained). It involved the introduction of a short Diploma Course that all Connexions Service personal advisors were required to undertake. Designed centrally, and run under contract by a range of training agencies, it had a strong emphasis on guidance and case management. However, and rather fatally, it entailed no supervised and accessed practice. Further programmes, including an introduction to the Connexions Service (Understanding Connexions) followed. The personal advisers recruited by the initial schemes came, as was expected, from a range of backgrounds including the careers service, youth work and social work.

Several key questions arose with regard to the new occupational role – and these flowed from the original design flaws, and the ideology underlying the Connexions strategy.

First, there were questions as to how careers guidance could be sustained at a satisfactory level within the Connexions Service. The new role of personal advisor was essentially a ‘bright idea’ by people who did not have a solid grounding in the practice and nature of vocational guidance. By adopting this conception and drawing in personnel and funding from existing careers services, the government effectively reduced the resources that can be devoted to careers guidance and raised the danger of a ‘serious erosion of professional standards’ (Watts 2001). Personal advisors had to work with a range of issues and problems and were not be able, in the normal course of their activities, to develop a specialist knowledge of career opportunities and questions. The emergence of specialist Connexions advisers concerned with guidance still didn't improve services sufficiently (as was recognized in later government papers including Youth Matters). Furthermore, careers guidance and advice only formed a small part of the new training programme for personal advisers within the Connexions Service.

Second, the orientation of the personal adviser role within the Connexions Service was essentially toward case management, placement and advice. In a sense this can be seen as the ‘natural’ outcome of trends that had been occurring within both careers and youth work over a number of years, but there was a serious downside. The role entailed a shift from casework to case management. The role (and the system in which it makes sense) was oriented to the achievement of externally set targets concerning the behaviour of the young people it dealt with – and the completion of the necessary paperwork to facilitate and demonstrate this. It was not oriented to working with young people to explore how and where they may flourish, and to develop their own strategies for growth. The role also entailed a shift from education to placement and advice. While the educational practice of youth and careers services in England had left a lot to be desired - at least there was in the case of youth work the possibility of appealing to educative statements of purpose or traditions of practice.

Third, from the start is was not clear how the role was to be defined. How far the personal adviser within the Connexions Service was to be expected to be ‘a first-in-line adviser, a nominated specialist with an additional generic role, a new additional generalist, or a merging of existing specialists into a multi-skilled generalist’ (Watts 2001). Each had very different implications for the knowledge and skill base of personal advisers. There was also a potential question of the erosion of professional standards.

The notion grew that in the case of career guidance, Personal Advisers might be expected to deliver what was required. But, of course, not all Personal Advisers would have been trained to provide career guidance. It was suggested that a small element of training in a short generic course might fill this gap. This raised the danger of serious erosion of professional standards in service delivery. When, later, a clearer distinction was established between generic Personal Advisers and specialist support in vocational guidance, the issue was still blurred by using the term 'specialist personal advisers' for the latter - these being distinguished from those who wished to become 'fully qualified Connexions personal advisers'. (Watts 2001)

Watts (2001) went on to comment that locating ‘careers advisers as specialists within a new profession of Personal Advisers, in which they were not regarded as being fully qualified, seemed paradoxical, confusing and indeed demeaning’.

Fourth, to achieve the proposed coverage within the Connexions Service an increase in funding was required. A significant number of personal advisers, it was initially thought, would be recruited/seconded from existing youth and careers services. The government realized that somewhere between 15,000 and 20,000 personal advisors would be required. However, there was a major problem. There are only around 7000 careers service advisers in the whole of the UK, and probably around the same number of youth workers. A significant number of the former were still required to provide traditional career guidance, and a significant number of the latter continued to work outside the Connexions Service and Connexions Strategy. The additional finances was not forthcoming on the scale required. In addition there was some significant diversion of funds from the vocational guidance and open youth work arenas.

Last, there were, and remained, considerable doubts as to the standards of the personnel recruited. This, allied with the limited nature of the training, meant that professional standards in the generic adviser area were variable.

Priority groups
While the service was supposed to be universal, there was a prioritization of those with ‘multiple problems’ and who are ‘at risk of disengaging’. It was argued that it is possible to distinguish between:

General advice and support - at those key episodes in each young person’s life when information, advice and support on educational and vocational issues will be necessary to help them make decisions that affect their future.

In-depth support - for those at risk of not participating effectively in education and training. This group include those: whose aspirations do not reflect their abilities; who do not attend school regularly, who have learning difficulties or disabilities, who are unlikely to achieve as they should and those who are not undertaking any education or training post-16. Young people in these situations need in-depth guidance and support to help them to address barriers to learning and to enable them to fulfil their potential.

Integrated and specialist support - for those facing substantial, multiple problems preventing them from engaging with learning, who are likely to be involved with a number of different professionals engaged in education, social welfare, criminal justice, health and housing. Equally, we will integrate support for the especially gifted. They will need Personal Advisers to take effective action on their behalf to help them gain access to a range of more specialist services, to ensure that barriers are overcome in a coordinated way, and keep in touch with their progress. (DfEE 2000: 37)

The new personal advisers within the Connexions Service were expected to carry a caseload of 10-20 people requiring integrated and specialist support, 250 people requiring in-depth support, and 800 people requiring general support (unpublished DfEE papers). Particular attention was to be given to young people with special educational needs. A key aspect of this work was the monitoring of progress so that further interventions can be made.

Two particular questions arose here. First, as Watts (2001) commented, the scale of these caseloads rather undermines claims that the service is universal. ‘With large case-loads …the rationale for the role of a Personal Adviser - able to form a relationship, view the young person in holistic terms, broker specialist services - was clearly neither credible nor sustainable’. Second, the Connexions Service reflected two classic policy errors arising out of adopting a deficit model – and focusing attention on those deemed to be ‘the problem’:

The individualistic focus sidelines the structural issues that largely create the problem. In other words, there is a focus on ‘private problems’ rather than ‘public issues’ (see C. Wright Mills on this error). We discuss this issue in relation to the broader Connexions Strategy.

Even if we accept the idea that individuals may need special help, the key questions then concern the most effective points of intervention, and what the most appropriate intervention may be. The best point of intervention may not be with individuals themselves, but with their friends, families and ‘significant others’, and with the institutions they encounter.

Elsewhere on these pages we discuss the overwhelming evidence emerging from US studies that health, happiness, educational achievement and community safety are significantly increased by addressing questions of social capital rather than focusing strongly upon individualistic interventions. One consequence of this is that resources may be better directed towards encouraging people to join groups, clubs and associations (whether these are enthusiast groups, churches, political parties, social clubs…). This entails working with those people likely to sustain the life of groups and networks – and a large proportion of these were not be in the priority groups identified by the English government.

The organization of the service
The Service was ‘delivered’ through a national unit. Partnerships at the area Learning and Skills Council (LSC) level were responsible for strategic planning and funding. These partnerships are expected to produce three-year business plans, that include ‘the optimum mix of delivery through private, voluntary and public partners’ (DfEE 2000: 49) and show how outcomes will be met. On the basis of these plans, the National Unit apportioned funding. If the National Unit was not satisfied with the plan or the work of the Partnership, it could withhold funding or contract directly with private or voluntary sector organizations. The Partnership was also be responsible for ensuring that a database of young people was created and maintained.

Locally, (usually based on local authority boundaries or groupings of local authority areas) there was supposed to be a committee responsible for the day-to-day operational ‘delivery’ of the service. A local manager will be responsible to the committee for day-to-day management.

The committees will be responsible for ensuring the Personal Adviser service works to uniform standards and reaches all young people without duplication of effort. It will also be responsible for managing the relationship between the personal advisor service and important specialist support services on which Personal Advisers will need to call to help young people enter or stay in learning and play a positive role in their local communities. When thinking about the areas to be covered by the local management committees, local partners will take into account the configuration of existing partnership areas, such as those for Learning Partnerships , so that there are effective links with services such as the adult information, advice and guidance service. (DfEE 2000: 50)

Local committees, along with Connexions Partnerships and head teachers were supposed to agree a ‘coherent management structure for personal advisers’. This included staff seconded to the service, and staff working under formal or informal partnership agreements (DfEE 2000: 50). These arrangements were phased in over a period of two to three years. Early evaluations indicated a number of problems including issues arising out of bringing together workers from very different occupational cultures (part of this arises from resistance to the dominance of one occupational group in senior management); questions concerning what the most effective structures and organizational arrangements may be; and the inevitable problems of sorting out what a personal adviser might be expected to do (see above). Besides this there was a fundamental issue with regard to schools.

From the start there was a failure to properly address the relationship of the Connexions Service and personal advisors to schools –and a number of problems flow from this. As Watts (2001) has pointed, out pastoral care structures in schools were virtually ignored in the initial design – and the tutor system in many schools clearly held considerable possibility with respect to the mentor/personal advisor role. Reference was made to learning mentors in schools (these were introduced as part of the Excellence in Cities initiative in certain selected local education areas) – and this generated a great deal of confusion. There seemed to be some threat to the relative freedom enjoyed by schools and mentors to develop the role. It had been possible to develop a range of groupwork activities; to explore the school as the 'problem' rather than the student; and to look to the possibilities of association. The linking of the personal adviser and learning mentor role was problematic in these respects. The imposition of a fairly rigid caseload requirement would not allow for the space that mentors require to respond in the best way to the experiences of students. Subsequently there has been a recognition of the need to 'build on successful pastoral systems and curriculum provision, including careers education and guidance' (DfEE 2001: 3). But equally, the pilot projects have shown there is no single blueprint. 'Connexions will operate in many ways in schools, to reflect how young people can best benefit and how individual schools are organised and resourced (op. cit.).

Within schooling there are also issues related to impartiality.

Because the role of Personal Advisers pre-16 was focused largely on combating disaffection from learning, there appeared to be a strong case for basing them in schools… This immediately raised concerns about the long-standing issue of the impartiality of advice offered on post-16 options in 11-18 schools which had a financial interest in persuading their pupils to stay on rather than move elsewhere. The main assurance of impartiality of advice was access to careers advisers based outside the school: this was the rationale for mandating such access in the Education Act 1997. But if many Careers Advisers were to be replaced by Personal Advisers appointed and managed by headteachers, the extent of this access seemed likely to be severely reduced; and insofar as career guidance was in future to be offered by these Personal Advisers, the likelihood of overt or subtle pressures being placed on their impartiality was significantly enhanced. (Watts 2001)

In the arrangements that were agreed ‘the potential for conflict or collusion’ (op. cit.) was considerable. The government stressed the impartiality of advice in its guidance to schools - but the substantive points raised by Watts stand. Heads had and retain a strong influence over the way the role emerges and the direction it takes. 'Headteachers will have a large say in the selection of PAs being recruited by Connexions for schools' work. They will negotiate the role and deployment of the PA(s) working in their own school (DfEE 2001).

The failure of Connexions
It became abundantly clear to Ministers that the flagship, or at least most prominent, New Labour policy initiative in the youth field - Connexions - was deeply problematic. Although obvious to many commentators at the time of its announcement in 1999 (see the critiques on these pages) flaws in its organization, execution and focus became a political issue. A Green Paper for Youth seemed like a good mechanism for dealing with this.

Some of the flak headed for Connexions was down to a basic political mistake. The original Connexions strategy was bulldozed through and in the process alienated key stakeholders. This would not have mattered if Connexions had strong support from the 'top' (like SureStart) but it had few friends among senior ministers and had annoyed some key lobby groups. Perhaps the most significant of these was head teachers. A number had become vocal critics of the new service (as were many parents and young people - despite what Connexions-funded research may have reported). Not unexpectedly, and with some reason, the Secondary Heads Association argued that with additional resources schools could do better both with regard to careers advice and to work with 'youth at risk'.

Second, there were strong grounds for believing that the quality of general and specialized careers guidance for young people had dropped with the onset of Connexions. An ‘End-to-End Review’, the outcomes of which were said to have fed into the Youth Green Paper' (DfES 2004c) concluded that 'the current arrangements are patchy and not sustainable' ( 2005). According to a Public Accounts Committee Report (2004), 50 per cent of schools are apparently failing to fulfil their current duties (under the 1997 Education Act) for careers education and guidance.

Third, there was a basic problem with the way in which Connexions was supposedly established as both a universal and a targeted service. As Watts (2001) pointed out, 'universality was a second-order consideration', and this effectively meant that the main strands of careers guidance and youth work (via Transforming Youth Work) were neglected. This conclusion has been supported by research by Hoggarth and Smith (2005) which concluded that Connexions looks more like two services than one, and is not adequately resourced to meet the demands of both universal and targeted youth provision. The Select Committee on Education and Skills (2005) also considered that the current trajectory of Connexions meant that 'a targeted service for those in most need will always be the priority at the expense of young people in general' (House of Commons 2005: para 103).

Fourth, there were growing doubts about the claims made for Connexions with regard to its reducing the numbers of young people classified as NEET (not in employment, education and training). Figures published covering the first full two years of the Connexions partnerships showed a reduction of the proportion of young people designated as NEET (from 9 to 7.7 per cent) (Connexions 2005). This was, on the surface, a 14 per cent reduction (that comfortably exceeded the 10 per cent target set for Connexions). However, departmental ministers were reported as coming to believe that it was other policy initiatives such as those within schooling itself that were main contributors to the reduction in youth labelled as NEET (Times Educational Supplement March 4, 2005). The Public Accounts Committee Report (2004) had also drawn attention to the impact of sustained economic growth on such figures. They had commented: 'The effectiveness of Connexions is difficult to distinguish from changes in employment patterns attributable to economic factors... Connexions cannot be solely responsible for any change'. The National Audit Office (2004: 17) had also judged that it was on the 'inherent difficulty' to measure the impact of Connexions in this area. It had, further, drawn attention to the extent to which socio-economic factors outside the control of Connexions and other government institutions make it hard to sustain long-term and continuing reduction in the percentage of NEETs (ibid: 21)

Fifth, the cost of the Service relative to the number of young people targeted (£533 million in 2004/5 - DfES 2004b) and the numbers of people involved in middle management positions were also factors (the service employed some 15,000 people). There was a general concern on the part of Labour Party strategists to make some gestures to cost-cutting/efficiency in the run up to a general election. If we break down the the figures provided by Connexions then the 14 per cent claimed reduction in young people classified as NEET actually translates into 21,500 young people. If we then strip out what was being spent on careers services before Connexions (and make allowance for inflation) the crude cost of achieving this result was £243 million or £11,300 per person - and this assumes that the Service effected the change. If other factors were significant (see above) then the cost per person would rise significantly. In addition, it has been reported that Tony Blair and his chief adviser Andrew Adonis were 'ruing the fact that £450 million a year was now being spent away from schools and colleges' (Times Educational Supplement, March 18, 2005). This was a large sum of money - but as the National Audit Office report concluded in 2004 - it wasn't enough. There was still a significant shortage of personal advisers - and this would need a further £150 million a year.

Sixth, there were questions about the abilities of some front-line personnel.  In areas like London, personal advisers appear to have had no other relevant professional qualification, and the hastily put-together training for personal advisers was short-run and contained no supervised and assessed practice element. Significantly, the rush to impose the personal adviser role on careers officers led to a number quitting the new service and many being pushed into more generic roles where their careers expertise was under-utilized. Furthermore, some careers officers did not have the orientation and range of skills that was necessary for the generic personal adviser role.

Finally, the impact of the Connexions strategy on youth work was unpopular in some sectors - especially in the way it had driven moves toward targeting and accreditation - and undermined informal educational character of youth work. The Transforming Youth Work agenda was specifically designed to align state-sponsored youth work with Connexions targets and concerns. While state youth service institutions such as the National Youth Agency, and voluntary organizations dependent on state-sponsorship such as UK Youth may have gone along with this agenda - there was much muttering amongst local groups and projects about the impact on the work - and this did feed through locally to politicians and then nationally. One route was through to the UK Youth Parliament where some members were growing alarmed at the closure of open provision and its replacement by outcome-oriented work (Young People Now November 10, 2004). The Conservative Party picked up on this and came out against a strong emphasis on outcomes. Shadow education secretary Tim Collins, argued that the Government was 'driving young people away' from youth provision through its policy focus on learning outcomes (Young People Now, November 3: 4).

Introducing a new service is difficult enough. However, when it is built upon such flawed thinking the potential for problems was greatly enhanced. As we saw when discussing the Connexions Strategy the notion of social exclusion that runs through the Service is not built on solid ground. The Connexions Service reflected a further move towards ways of working that pathologize and individualize young people. There was an overriding concern with personal troubles rather than public issues. Unfortunately, this has been combined with the extension of the surveillance of young people and mechanisms by which they can be tracked and controlled. The 'commonsense' notion of 'joined-up' thinking and services can act against the interests of many young people. It can work to cut back of the range of choices they have, and allow for sensitive information (including medical details) to be spread among an increasing range of people.

It was not uncommon to find senior managers within the new services talking very pessimistically about the future and direction of the Connexions Service. Some did not expect it to work in any very meaningful way (meaningful, that is, in terms of achieving the targets that have been set for it). Others bemoaned the bureaucracy involved. Yet others were worried about the sort of business models involved and the extent to which these may work against the giving of a proper and appropriate service to young people.

In 2005 the green paper on youth - Youth Matters - argued that all young people should be able to access 'quality' information, advice and guidance. The paper continued:

The advice should be impartial, comprehensive and free from stereotyping. It should be available in ways that young people want – for example, face-to-face support and advice from people who know them and their abilities; but also on demand and interactively via the web, text and telephone. (HM Government 2005 [Youth Matters], para 5.1)

Better national on-line information around things like post-14 choices and by phone and web access to 'skilled' advisers had already been trailed. The Labour Party manifesto had earlier talked about 'A nationwide system of advice – bringing together support on skills, jobs and careers – helping people to get on at work' (2005: 20). So too, had the other elements of the proposals - moving the primary responsibility for information, advice and guidance from Connexions to Children's Trusts - but with schools and colleges taking on more of the more 'universal' and generalized work.

We would expect children’s trusts, schools and colleges to work in partnership to commission IAG locally...  Following a phased approach from 2006, we would expect these new arrangements to be in place by 2008. (op. cit)

Crudely, this meant that the work of the Connexions Service was to be split with responsibility for the provision of careers guidance to 13-18 year olds resting with schools and colleges; and responsibility for work with young people who do not attend a learning institution going to the newly emerging Children’s Trusts. Around £150 million had been earlier reported as being earmarked for these reforms in 2008 with around £80 million being put aside for staff redundancies. It appears that only around half the existing £450 million spent on Connexions Services (we believe this figure refers to the 2002-3 outturn figures) was to be allocated to the new service - 40 per cent of the cash will go direct to schools and colleges, and 60 per cent to Children’s Trusts. However, there may well be a significant amount of smoke and mirrors here. At the moment Children’s Trusts will, it appears, be responsible for producing a ‘prospectus’ of local employment opportunities. Children's Trusts will also have to maintain information systems ‘inherited' from Connexions. The Connexions brand - tired and tarnished as it is - and possibly elements of the organization will be retained within many Children's Trusts for some aspects of the work both to save some face over what has been a monumental policy blunder (see the background briefing on the failure of Connexions) and to give some stability to services.

In the Youth Matters framework the actual shape of provision can differ from trust to trust depending on local circumstances. In most cases the government expects to see children’s trusts, schools and colleges agreeing on new arrangements. However, where schools and colleges believe existing provision is poor, 'they would have the right to commission services directly and withdraw from arrangements brokered by the children’s trust' (HM Government 2005 [Youth Matters], para 174). The Youth Matters green paper continues, 'How far IAG commissioned by schools and colleges met quality standards would be determined by inspection. Where provision commissioned by schools and colleges was not meeting quality standards, devolved funding could be withdrawn by children’s trusts'.

There are some very significant questions around the current proposals in Youth Matters for the organization of careers guidance and how its quality will be enhanced. Hopefully, the proposal to move substantial resourcing into schools for careers guidance and advice will later be matched with money to establish a specialist external service perhaps along the lines of Careers Scotland and Careers Wales at some point. As Tony Watts (2005b) has recently pointed out the OECD’s work 'strongly favours a delivery model based on a partnership between schools/colleges and an external service. This is precisely the model that the UK has had in the past.... and that the rest of the UK has retained'. The issue when information advice and guidance moves into schools is whether the proper degree of independence and expertise can be ensured. For the moment it is difficult to see how it can. Thus, while the End to End Review of careers education and guidance argued that the  the greatest potential for 'improving CEG delivery lies in driving up the quality and relevance of careers education in schools'; it also concluded that 'schools (especially those with sixth forms) do not always provide impartial guidance to 14-to16-year olds on the full range of local learning opportunities' DfES 2005d: 5).