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)
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.
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.
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.
Today 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.
This Saturday, I’m going to somehow manage to take myself off to London to take part in A Future That Works. I went to the previous one, which was HUGE, and so it only seems fit that I went to this one. The previous march was titled March For The Alternative, meaning of course that there was an alternative to the austerity measures the government is imposing on the country (I’m looking at you Vodafone) and the aim of this march is to give the message that the government needs to look at proper job creation (and I mean proper jobs, rather than people working for nothing) and to build an economy rather than taking things away from people who cannot afford to have things taken away, either financially or socially.
So. What will I be shouting about on Saturday? I will be shouting about the terrifying way the government is targeting young people, and in doing so completely screwing up any chance we can fix this crisis in the future. Two local authority youth services that I have worked with have gone in the last year and a half, either to move to referral-only work or have their work commissioned out to the private sector. The government have got rid of Education Maintenance Allowance, meaning that young people who are at college have lost a lot of financial support. It costs a fortune to go to university, jobs are scarce (when companies will actually pay you, see above) and the government is now slowly eroding away the amount of support you get to actually start by extending the restrictions on Housing Benefit until you’re 35 years old. If you come from a background where your family will find it difficult to support you financially (which at the moment will be a lot of young people) you will find it so difficult to become properly trained, get a good career and move out into the world.
It’s not a case of “workshy scroungers” or blaming the parents for their children not achieving. This is not a case of “pulling yourself up by the bootstraps” or getting on your bike and looking for work. This is a case of the government not valuing, or even caring about young people. We are not preparing young people for the big wide world. If young people are reaching their mid-twenties with little to no qualifications, unable to move out of their parent’s home and unable to find a career then how will this ever solve the money issues we’re facing? In ten years time, when the 15-year-old GCSE students become the 25-year-old benefit claimants, how will we have done anything to serve them and give them what they so rightly deserve? People love to wax lyrical about all those nasty benefit claimants – why are we not making sure our young people have a good start now, so that they have the opportunities and support to achieve not just in a work capacity, but to raise their aspirations and build their confidence. This isn’t done by the government pulling away any support they had, this is done by throwing support at young people by the bucketful.
We need job creation for young people that pays a decent wage. The workfare scheme needs to be abolished, and young people need to be paid properly for work. This means they will start being financially active citizens paying back into the economy! Isn’t that what the government want? They need to be involved with agencies that boost their aspirations, good careers advice that give them access to courses and training so they can be a mechanic/barrister/doctor/CEO of their own company. We need professionals to support those young people who come from challenging backgrounds, those who have alcohol and drugs issues. Give them support now through social housing, good housing benefit support and a positive start for them to make it on their own and you will have people who are achieving and paying those good healthy taxes that make HMRC so very happy. And how will we afford to give all this support? Well a cool £6bn from Vodafone would be a good start.
If we don’t do something now, it will come back and bite us. We will not solve the crisis in the economy by pulling money and support away from those who will be the next generation bringing income into the country. All it will do is leave those people even worse off. But of course by then Cameron, Osbourne et. al. will be off in their glorious retirements. Not having to worry about the unemployment figures.
We have to invest in our young people. That is why I’m marching on Saturday.