In a remarkable piece of Orwellian ‘Newspeak’ the Tories running DCC are trying to claim that their proposed budget cuts to the County Youth Service were in fact part of an ambitious plan to make youth provision in the County ‘Bigger and Better’. Their original plan to axe all youth clubs and to scale back its professional youth workers met with such an outcry of opposition that the Council has been forced into a rapid rethink, which they are trying to dress up as the product of a consultation. One is forced to wonder why they didn’t think to consult first and avoid all the uncertainty for young people, parents and workers.
Adults have a moral responsibility to ensure there is adequate provision for young people in society, enabling them to develop and mature into citizens who are able, in time to take over the running of society. It is wrong to think that we can cut and privatise youth services, leaving them to the whims of ‘the market’, as if youth provision was some sort of expendable luxury. It is not. It is a necessity, never more so than in times of economic hardship and high youth unemployment.
Young people face the same range of problems that adults do, but of course they can lack the experience of knowing how to handle them. It is in our collective interest to ensure that they are able to find and implement solutions to these problems before they become deep seated and built in to the fabric of the emerging adult. Of course some of these problems can be properly handled by parents or by close relatives, some can be addressed at school, but in many instances this is not enough. A young person may feel unable to approach a parent or simply doesn’t have the opportunity to do so and teachers might seem too remote. In the absence of any other provision, they will turn to friends, who also lack experience, to the internet, that may give poor advice, or fall into a fantasy world making up strategies that have no basis in reality.
To give structure to a youth service, the Green Party supports the introduction of ‘youth schools’ in every community, as found in some European countries such as Denmark. These are informal, but professionally managed providing a safe place for young people to go and meet out of school hours. They are like an enhanced youth club but offering a much wider range of activities, and free at the point of use. In addition to structured courses along the lines of adult evening classes, they offer the opportunity for socialising and for finding informal but informed advice, attendance is voluntary and the management aims to be inclusive.
Green education policy recognises the importance of involving young people in the design and content of their education. This is taken from article 12 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. Any policy relating to youth provision must closely involve young people themselves. It is not enough to ask them what they want, often they will not know. Why should they? It is adults who have the understanding of what works and of what is possible, and who hold the purse strings. But they must ensure that what is being provided does meet young people’s needs and not the needs and wishes of the older generation. We want to see ‘youth schools’ develop as a partnership between the users and the providers, not tied to an imposed curriculum with targets, but meeting the needs brought by the young people involved.
While we want to see a properly financed and managed structure to youth provision, we also recognise the importance of the voluntary sector. The enthusiasm and energy that volunteers bring to youth activities is inspiring and so important in firing the young imagination and sense of belief. To hand over youth provision to voluntary groups as the Tories want to do under their ‘Big Society’ banner will overwhelm this volunteer enthusiasm with the day to day demands of management, financing and insurance regulations. We believe that the Local Authority has to back up the volunteer sector with professional management, help and advice, training and secure finance.
The idea of the ‘youth school’ is not meant to be some stand alone solution to the ‘problem of youth’. We do not see young people as a problem, however we do see that too often their ability to grow and develop their own potential is frustrated by the constraints of adult society, and too often by the policies of Government fixated by the demands of the avaricious market. Too often politicians, who talk of the ‘problem of youth’ rather than the ‘opportunity of youth’, seem incapable of making any other provision than organised activity that usually centres on sport. Providing properly funded and universally accessible sporting opportunity is good, but it is not a complete youth policy. Of greater importance is developing the means by which young people can become active members of their society, including becoming economically active. Green economic policy recognises the importance of fostering the often dismissed informal economy and self employment. Often crudely dismissed as the black economy, this sector makes a significant contribution to the local economy and can provide a route into employment. Helping young people into self employment would be another function of the ‘youth school’, giving help and advice on converting their ideas into a viable business proposition.
Greens therefore want to see increased provision for young people away from formal education. We accept that this has cost implications but we regard these costs as an investment not a waste. It is our responsibility to make this provision, it is not some ‘bolt on’ extra. The fact that Government does not do this is symptomatic of their priorities, set by powerful vested interests. Despite the so called ‘economic crisis, we can afford to give a £160 million tax break to the oil industry, the richest business on the planet, with a visceral aversion to paying tax. We can afford to spend a similar amount on a decade long programme of weapons procurement for the Ministry of Defence. Spending £5 billion on refitting the Aldermaston nuclear weapons facility passes ministers without even an announcement. The Treasury is defrauded annually out of £30 billion on unpaid tax that is legally due to it, and of course we can’t even begin to discuss the £37 billion bonus pot paid out by business, most of which will disappear off shore. So it’s not a matter of what we can afford, it is where we choose to spend – and in a democracy, that should be down to us. It is time for the people to speak.
It is in our collective interest to provide a nurturing and enabling environment for each emerging generation, they after all will inherit the Earth.
© Mike Shipley