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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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