Statutory citizens.

It was the queen’s speech today, as it turns out. This happened.

“…the government intends to introduce a legislative bill to place the NCS [National Citizen Service] “on a permanent statutory footing”.”

So. To be honest, I am not terribly surprised. Youth work has been moving slowly in this direction for a long time, putting “stuff” over practice, and numbers over longevity. Just as it is with the employment statistics, it’s not about the quality it’s about the figures. It doesn’t matter if your job is a zero hours job you don’t want, what matters is you got one and you can be added to the employment figures (up by a whole 2,000 people by the way, someone find the party streamers…). And so it is with the National Citizen Service, who boasts with having worked with over 200,000 young people in the few years it’s been running.

Cameron wants this for his legacy. But what about the legacy of the young people? In five years time, will someone who has been on an NCS course be able to say their life has been changed for the better because of it? If we talk to all these 200,000 young people in 2026, how many will be able to say their lives have been improved and made better through being involved? I’ll wager it won’t be many.

We all know this isn’t youth work. It’s prescriptive and it pays absolutely no attention to the needs of the young people it’s working with. For some young people it’ll be a fun summer and a step up on their way into uni. But what about all the other ones who fall off the end once their involvement with NCS finishes? Every professional who works with young people knows young people like this and knows that NCS just will not work for them. It’s short-term work when what’s needed is long-term investment.

And where does this leave youth work? It leaves it unfunded and unappreciated. Money is being thrown towards the NCS, it’ll get more and more difficult to find funding for good, long term youth work projects. There is already a lack of investment in good youth work, now there’s a big shiny government-backed logo standing in the way of youth workers being able to do any kind of good effective practice.

We’re pumping £1.2 billion into something that no-one knows the long-term outcomes for. But then, what does the long-term matter when you’re going to be leaving your post as PM in 2020 anyway.

(also: see In Defence of Youth Work’s post on NCS here)


To be young and poor is a criminal act.

If there’s one group of people that have been repeatedly on the wrong end of the cuts, it’s young people. No more EMA, no more youth service. No more Connexions, no more jobs, no housing benefit and now, you’ll be put on workfare if you can’t find a job that doesn’t exist.

The idea is that 18-21 year olds will have 6 months to find a job. If they don’t manage to do that, they’ll be put on “Youth Allowance” (which, conveniently is the same amount as JSA – £57.35 a week) and be told they have to undertake 30 hours a week of community service. And 10 hours of job searching. £57.35 a week for 30 hours work comes out at just over £1.90 per hour.

According to the first thing that popped up when I typed “unemployment statistics young people” into Google, 740,000 16-24 year olds were unemployed in the period October to December 2014, 201,000 of which had been unemployed for over 12 months. Let’s take a random shot in the dark and say 500,000 young people would’ve been unemployed for 6 months and therefore required to go on the “Youth Allowance”.

Where do we find volunteering and community work places for 500,000 young people? For 30 hours a week each? Cameron suggests “cleaning litter or graffiti” at which point I think it’s very clear the meaning behind these new requirements.

The young people who are most likely to be unemployed for more than six months, who haven’t gone to uni, who haven’t secured an “unpaid internship” will be the most vulnerable young people from the poorest backgrounds.

To be young and poor is to be treated like a criminal.

Mr Cameron in his infinite wisdom, has made very clear what he thinks of young people. If you’re able to get the grades and go to uni (which we’ll charge you a fortune for) and get work then you’re a striver! You’re also much more likely to be middle class, not live in social housing and not have a family who are living on the welfare system. If your background is that way, well, we already know that you’re going to follow in their scrounging sponging footsteps, and so we’ll make sure you’re put in your place as quickly as possible.

“That well-worn path – from the school gate, down to the jobcentre, and on to a life on benefits – has got to be rubbed away,” Mr Cameron said. (BBC News, 20th February 2015)

This government has taken every ounce of support from young people with one hand, and used the other hand to point the finger at them and say “This is YOUR fault”. They have said “you’re not worth paying for work, you’re not worth helping because we have given up on you”. They have criminalised being young and poor.


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)

 


The Tories: Making Children Pay.

This post was prompted by Sue Marsh’s post about the Benefit Cap. You can read it here.

**Edited to add: Now, with new OMG!HOUSING!BENEFIT! section at the end of the post!!**

The new benefits cap states that no-one will be able to claim more than £26K per year in benefits. This figure is based on a couple, but it also states that it doesn’t matter how many children this couple have it will still remain at a cap of 26K. The reasoning behind the 26K figure is because the coalition say that this is an average household’s income. As Sue rightly pointed out in her blog entry:

“Of course it isn’t, because families bringing in 26k are likely to get a whole host of tax credits, child benefit and housing benefit too, but let’s not spoil a good bit of spin eh?”

This got me thinking, and two things (among MANY issues with this whole idea) stood out for me.

  1. That 26K would be the average household income for most households.
  2. That it doesn’t matter how many children you have, you still get 26K

So, to test both these theories I had to do a few calculations. I tell a lie, I hopped over to the awesome website turn2us.org.uk who are brilliant at telling you your benefit entitlement just by you plugging your details into their website. I came up with a partly-biographical-partly-hypothetical family and created a couple of scenarios.

**note: in both these scenarios I just plugged in my and my partner’s details for simplicity – dates of birth, local authority, social housing, rent, council tax etc. The only difference was I made us both non-disabled so I could take that out of the equation. I also gave us three school-aged (10,7 and 5) children, all born on Jan 1st. Birthdays seem to be an expensive time in my fictional household. I also assumed we had the “allowed” number of bedrooms in both cases to take out any Bedroom Tax complications**

Scenario 1 – Married couple with 3 children. Both partners work 37 hours a week at £6.75 an hour (just over minimum wage) bringing our joint income to £26,000 (the “average income” figure from the government). No other earnings/savings/capital.

Scenario 2Exactly the same as above, but with neither partner working. No income of any sort recorded in the calculation.

Scenario 1 results:

hb1 A benefit allowance of £7,822.88. Add that to the income of £26,000 and you get a total of £33,822.88.

Scenario 2 results:

hb2A benefit allowance of £23,992.28. Which is £9,830.60 lower than the first scenario.

So, what does all this mean, really? Is this realistic? Possibly not entirely – the earned income is GROSS income for a start, so there will be some tax and NI to pay which will take it down a bit. But I think we can safely say that Sue’s thought that earning 26K would still get you additional benefits on top is clearly correct. – it gets you nearly £8,000 a year on top of your £26K.

But, I think this hypothetical scenario raises some interesting questions. Firstly, is this morally right? The Tories are all about “making work pay” and there’s no denying that the working fictional family is definitely better off than the unemployed one. Is this a good thing? Does this mean that our fictional unemployed family should “get off the sofa and look for work?” Maybe. But, to me the really worrying thing is about the rest of this fictional family. Our three fictional children.

Having our three fictional children has earned our non-working family an extra lump of cash, that’s for certain. But, the cap for benefits is set at 26K no matter how many children you have. This smacks of the “well, if you can’t afford ’em, don’t have ’em!” attitude but that doesn’t account for a massive amount of societal problems that cause people to have children they may not be able to afford. The lack of aspirations among young women who can only see themselves having kids as a future. People who haven’t been educated enough in sexual health to take proper precautions to avoid unwanted pregnancy. The closure of sexual health clinics, youth projects, sexual health workers whose job it was to bring down the rate of unwanted pregnancy.

I believe that you should not punish children for the actions of their parents. This policy of the benefit caps does exactly that. It is unethical, it will push more children into poverty and it will punish children for the acts of their parents, and punish parents for not being able to access resources they need. The policy is a punishment, not an incentive, and only does more to push the vulnerable further into poverty. It needs to go.

**if you feel my calculations or my conclusions are wrong in any way or you feel I’ve misinterpreted something, please let me know in comments. I’m very interested to see what people think.**

EDITED TO ADD: THE OMG!HOUSING!BENEFIT! CLAUSE (because I’m going to have to point this out 30 times in the comments otherwise…)

“But, the people on benefits will get their rent paid for them while the other family won’t, so it’s not accurate!”

Exhibit A

Exhibit A

Please see Exhibit A. It’s a part of the benefits breakdown from Scenario 2, our family on benefits. As you can see, by the big red ring I’ve drawn round it, Housing and Council Tax Benefits are INCLUDED in this family’s total amount of money for the year.That means that, just like the working family have to pay their £500 a month of rent from their total income of £33,822.88, the family on benefits have to pay their £500 a month rent from their total income of £23,922.28. I haven’t missed anything out, both have to pay the rent.

(Seriously guys, trust me on this one. Not only am I currently on Housing Benefit myself, I worked for 3 years for the local council in their housing department and spent 8 hours a day talking to people about their rent and housing benefit. Please believe me when I say I know how Housing Benefit works!!)


A letter to Mr Gove.

Dear Mr Gove,

Earlier today, you laid out your new reforms for state schools. I can see that you’re clearly very concerned about the state of our schools, and with good cause – there are some real problems in some schools and that needs addressing.

I was, however, somewhat alarmed to hear your solution to these problems.  Making state schools more like private schools.

Now, I’m sure you have good reason for this. You yourself went to an independent school. You can see problems in schools in the country and so you think to yourself “I know! I went to a good school! I should make schools like my school! What a jolly good idea!” I see your thinking there, Mr Gove. I do have to take some issues with it, however. Now, in the interests of transparency I must admit; I am not a teacher. I have never been trained as a teacher and I have never worked as a teacher. I have, however, worked as a youth worker in many secondary schools – somewhere in the region of four years in total. I know this is not a lot, but that’s four years more education experience than you’ve had.

I’ve worked with all kinds of kids, Mr Gove. I’ve worked with kids from broken homes, kids who don’t see one or other of their parents because they’re not allowed to. I’ve worked with kids who don’t know which house they’re going to be going home to that night, or who get told by Social Services during their maths lesson that they can’t go home to live with mum again, and dad will be picking them up.

I’ve worked with kids whose parents don’t know where their next meal is coming from. Whose only means of getting cooked food is their free school dinner. I’ve worked with students, Mr Gove, who are so hugely clever and intelligent and bright but because they’re worried about their mum being beaten by her new boyfriend, or if dad will have sold their telly for cash again, that they find it really difficult to concentrate on their Geography lesson. That stress, that worry that no teenage kid should have to go through, means they get cross, Mr Gove. They get cross and angry and they start fights with teachers and they get up and walk out of school.

If you’re worried you’re going to find the police outside your house when you get home arresting your older brother, you can’t concentrate on learning about Pythagoras.

You talk of falling behaviour standards in schools, Mr Gove and you’re probably right. But that’s because there are students in these huge, overcrowded schools whose lives are falling apart, and your government is taking all their support out from under them. Youth services, youth support, crisis centres, social care, all cut. How do you expect kids to achieve in school if their home life is falling apart? Behaviour and attainment and the general happiness of students is not going to be raised by getting them to do lines, or clean the dining hall.

Mr Gove, I can think of a lot of students I’ve worked with where if they’d been asked to clean the dining hall as a punishment, they’d have laughed in your face and walked out of school for the rest of the day.

These reforms are a class war, Mr Gove. A class war. Your reforms smack of middle class, private school, Enid Blyton dreams of jolly hockey sticks, writing lines, going to orchestra and masters in cap and gown. This might have been your reality, Mr Gove, but it is far from the reality of thousands of students going through the education system in 2014. And because you seem to care so little about those students – the ones who need so much more help than a slap across the knuckles and being told to “straighten up and fly right” that I’m going to assume that you’ve forgotten about them. You’ve forgotten about them and you don’t care.


News at Eleven: the government do not care about young people.

I was sat in the library earlier today reading a copy of Children and Young People Now, which had an article about the “reform” of the probation service. I’d been marginally aware that something was happening but hadn’t looked at it in any particular detail up to this point, but when I did I was struck by something (that wasn’t my head hitting the table at the ridiculousness of it all).

This is exactly the same as the youth work reforms. Pretty much down to the letter. Here are some choice quotes from the Guardian’s article on the changes:

“The public probation service is to be scaled back and “refocused” to specialise in dealing only with the most dangerous and high-risk offenders and public protection cases.”

“Unions expect that as much as 70% of the work currently done by the probation service in working with offenders in the community will move to private and voluntary sector providers under the plan, including the supervision of nearly all medium and low-level risk offenders.”

It’s all so familiar. Generic services will be shipped out to private and voluntary sector orgs while the public sector only deals with the high-risk, and removes most of its (trained, highly knowledgeable and experienced) staff in the process.

Compare this to the youth service restructures that have happened in Local Authorities all over the UK over the past couple of years – generic “Youth Services” have been disbanded, save for a few case workers now working with specific high-risk young people, generic youth provision has been left to the private and voluntary sector – and it’s a horrifyingly familiar story.

So not only have the government removed all responsibility for the more generic provision of services for young people from themselves, they’re pretty open about not wanting to have it back either. “Youth policy is not a priority for central government and should be developed by local authorities rather than Whitehall, the Education Secretary has said.”

That’ll be the same local authorities who have just removed most of their youth provision, then. It’s a catastrophic pass-the-parcel of responsibility for our young people. Central government don’t want it so they fob it off onto local authorities, local authorities can’t do anything about it so they throw money at the problem and hope the vol orgs will deal with it.

Young people are not a problem to be dealt with. They are not a service that you can fob off onto a young people’s organisation and hope they buy some footballs with the pot of money you’ve thrust at them. They are the future of a country, the MPs and doctors and teachers and parents and the ENTIRETY of the next generation. What kind of message are the government sending to young people in the UK?

So far, young people have been told they just don’t matter enough. And we wonder why young people feel disenfranchised. The way the government has been treating young people has been nothing short of shocking. They have been the first to lose out on services, on access to their education and on making sure they have a solid future ahead of them.  I am left to draw only one conclusion: that this government just does not care about its young people.

 


Let’s Talk About Sex

307491_139801916186045_388700540_nToday is Valentine’s Day. Today is also the day where One Billion Rising will be undertaking events all over the world to call for the end to violence against women and girls.

As part of this, there is a cross-party debate in Parliament today for sex education to include information about abuse and appropriate relationships. A recent article in The Guardian saw that young people going through secondary school now are still concerned about the quality of Sex Education they receive, saying that “…SRE is too much about sexually transmitted infections (STI) and saying no, and not enough about feelings and relationships.”

Sex Education has changed massively even since I was at school (which wasn’t that long ago!) Sex Ed in the 90s usually consisted of the biology approach, the classic video of a woman giving birth and giggling over the “reproduction” section of our science text books. If there was any more to it then I don’t remember it. We didn’t put a condom on a banana, we didn’t look at STIs or contraception. In fact, all my information about anything that wasn’t biology came from Just Seventeen magazine and their endless and brilliant articles, booklets and information on everything to do with sex, relationships and general Growing Up Stuff. It was invaluable.  However, that was then. Now, young people are a lot more clued up on all thing sex, and usually in a very positive way. From my experience working with young people in a variety of settings, most of them will know how to access free condoms, they’ll know about the implant, the injection or the pill and they’ll know how to protect themselves. A lot of schools are part of condom distribution and C Card schemes, those who have a school nurse are able to offer contraception services right there in the school for young people to access for free. It’s definitely come a long way. Young people are clued up.

But judging by the information coming from newspaper reports and campaigns like One Billion Rising, Sex Education needs to change again. Issues around healthy relationships, abuse and exploitation are not being covered, meaning that although we’re equipping our young people with the practical knowledge and equipment to keep themselves from getting an STI and avoiding unwanted pregnancy, we’re not equipping them mentally for the impact of having a relationship. The self-respect to say no, the means to keep themselves free from exploitation. And it’s not only for the girls! Young men need to be taught these things just as much as young women. The internet means that young people have access to a whole load of sexually explicit stuff a lot earlier, and they get extremely mixed and skewed messages as to what is and isn’t acceptable in a relationship. Respect, mutual consent and communication are not messages that young people usually pick up from pornography. They need an education that teaches them about relationships in the real world, not the one they might access through their computer.

But of course, for any improvement to Sex Education to happen, there needs to be a requirement for a high level of competency in the delivery of Sex Ed across the board. It should be a progressive process across education, teaching age-appropriate relationships education to kids from a young age. It should be required teaching. If young people are taught to respect and value themselves from a young age, it will be part of their development into an adult. It’s completely possible to teach sex and relationships education in whatever cultural or religious setting the young person is in, without indoctrinating them into believing sex is wrong, immoral, dirty or a taboo. In fact, teaching those things often means young people will find it more intriguing. Talking openly about sex and relationships removes the mystery and stops it from being a taboo. Facts are facts, and there’s still space within SRE to encourage discussion and debates around sex and morals as that’s what helps young people form their own opinions and make their own choices.

It’s time for Sex Education to take another step in its development. In order for this to happen I believe a number of things need to be put in place:

– Sex Education needs to be compulsory in secondary school. There needs to be a basic curriculum around sex, STIs, contraception and relationships that is compulsory teaching.

– Every school should have access to a professional who is trained in teaching PSHE to the appropriate level, and who is capable of delivering that curriculum.

– PSHE needs to focus just as much on relationships, sexuality, abuse and exploitation, and online safety as it does on STIs and contraception.

– People need to recognise that teaching young people about sex and relationships means they have knowledge to make decisions about their life, it means they are empowered to keep themselves safe and it stops sex from being an illicit taboo.

Sex Education has come on a lot since I was at school, but it needs to keep developing and progressing along with young people’s needs. We cannot stick our heads in the sand and think that if we don’t talk about it then it’s not a problem. I’m hoping that the Government stops sticking on this issue and makes a proper step forwards on Sex Education.