Speech to Chesterton Community Partnership

Thank you very much indeed for the opportunity to address you today. I have read the paperwork underpinning the Chesterton Community Parternship with great interest and I feel very enthusiastic about offering to you some simple words of encouragement in developing your key theme of involvement and reclaiming young people as central to your community strategy. You have chosen this theme at exactly the right time.

Let me ask everyone in this room firstly to recall their own youth. Think about that time of your life when you were 14 - 18. What were your worries and concerns, what were you doing, what did you look forward to ? Perhaps some of your friends dared you to do things against your better judgement ! You may have refused, you may have got away with it, you may have been cautioned not to do it again.

Think about the friends you had at the time. Your fall outs, your rows, your great trust, the promises broken. Think about life with your family - perhaps you couldn’t stand your loved ones for a while, perhaps you did not live with your natural mother or father. Perhaps you couldn’t stand the sight of your brother or sister. Perhaps you hated your home, loved your parents but hated being dependent on them and wanted to move out as soon as possible. What were your first part time jobs like ? Did you ever listen with awe to the stories that the older generation told ? Who most influenced your youth - your teacher, your parents, your friends, The Beatles, your pets !

Or think about the things you had to do. Housework, homework. You may have found school difficult. You may have been worried about the kind of job you would get. You may heve enjoyed your life out of school in the Guides, in the youth centre, in your sports group.

You may have gone to work at an early age and been introduced to trade unions. You may have been bossed about by skilled workers in your chosen job and taught how to learn and protect a trade. You may have hated work and moved from job to job. Your job may have meant everything to you or nothing.

As a teenager you may have fallen mad head over heels in love, - several times, and started to plan to elope, to build your own house, to have your own family. Where by the way did you get your sex education ? Was the real worry about sex as a youngster the possibility of pregnancy, or a terrible destructive virus ?

Did your friends experiment playfully with marijuana, or did they kill themselves with smack and crack ? What other risk temptations did you face ?

Remember saving up for your first vehicle, a thing with wheels to whisk you away from your usual environment ? Or in my case, because I bought an Isetta Bubble car, I didn’t really whisk anywhere !

What about your first holiday with school, with family, with friends. Your first time abroad. Who took you there ? What sense of adventure did you have ?

When you were sixteen and bored, what did you do ? Naughty things or nice things ? Were you always a saint ?

I wouldn’t mind betting that the answers we have all been giving to these questions in our heads and the images of ourselves that we have conjured up from our earlier life are very different from those that the young people in Chesterton today may give in twenty years time.

The world has changed very dramatically over the last twenty years. Growing up is very different now. It is a very risky business. Do you know what group in society is the biggest victim of crime of all sorts including violence ? Young people. Young people are in fact the group living most in fear of crime.

Let’s think for a minute of some of the social changes. I am lucky enough to travel the country for my work, and apart from the look on people’s faces, I notice the physical sights. Let’s take my trip this morning. I passed Keresley colliery near my house. It once employed 1300 miners. It is now closed, bunged up and the homefire plant next door processes Polish coal. The bedrock of Britain’s energy has been destroyed. What consequences for a nation ? What other country has ever in history before abandoned its natural resources so flagrantly. I travelled passed fields which in the summer will be stinking and bright yellow with rape seed plants. Why ? Because despite widespread hunger in the world and malnourished children in our own schools, the European Union pays British cereal farmers £2bn a year to set fertile fields aside and grow nothing really productive. I passed the once busy engineering factories of the Midlands. Its landscape used to be thriving. Engineering, machine tool production and the like are now in tatters. Where once young men particularly looked forward to apprenticeships and security for most of their working life, they now face insecurity and deskilling.

Many academics have studied how profound changes in society have affected young people. They have concluded quite clearly that young people are growing up in a different world to that experienced by previous generations - changes which are significant enough to merit completely reconsidering the important transitional moments in our lives that take us from youth to adulthood. Let’s use a simple metaphor. A train journey. Within school young people get on trains which are bound for different destinations. The trains they board are determined by factors like social class, where they live, gender and educational attainment. Once the train journey has begun, opportunities to switch destinations are limited. It may be possible to upgrade your ticket, or get off early, but it is difficult to actually change destinations. As a result of being on the train for a while at school, certain friendships with the other passengers begin. Young people become aware of their common experience and destinations. They become familiar with their train and its journey.

Our think of the transition from youth to adulthood itself as a journey What helps the journey. Love and family support are key. But what did the so called party of the family do to family life in Britain ? It simply is not as stable as previously - mass unemployment and poverty have. If you are becoming adult youh want to be independent and have a home - yet 4 out of 10 of the young people living on the streets of London are under 17 years old. 300,000 young people experience homelessness each year.

If you want to grow up you need a skill and dignity in secure work to give you self esteen and independence. Yet the unemployment rate for young people is twice the national average. There are seven million young people unemployed in the European Union and 40% of them have never had a job and there is no real strategy within the EU to tackle this. Also, think of the mental torture that poverty involves. You turn on the television, or walk down the high street and advertisers tell you to by Playstations, war games, Nike shoes, Addidas clothes, Reebok coats, barbie dolls, Hooch, fast cars, fine foods, strong liquors long cigarettes. You are told you haven’t made it unless you can afford these things. Yet most people cannot afford to live in the Sunday magazine world. The constant difference between waht actually is and what the advertisers say should be is deeply frustrating. If you have a desire to be more independent and less poor, yet you feel trapped, you get depressed and ill. Psychological disorders often caused by this sense of frustration are on the increase amongst young people and sometimes explain their anti social behaviour.

When you are growing up you need some reasonable money in your pocket. But young people who are in work face wage levels 50% below the average and this reflects also in their low levels of activiy in responsible collective organisations like trade unions.

So perhaps our metaphor doesn’t apply so easilly as it used to. While the easy train journey from school to work on the basis of relatively stable family, peer group and community relationships used to create responsible adults and citizens, we could say that over the last twenty years we have witnessed the wholescale closure of the railways. If the lines that young people travel haven’t been torn up, then huge obstacles have been put in their paths. Young people face greater risks, dangers, uncertainties and negative pressures today than every before. Let’s look as some overarching statistics:

- more than one in five people under 19 (approaching 3 million) are living in households dependent upon income support.
- some 25% of young people under 25 are out of work.
- two million young people under 16 are in part-time work, of whom three quarters are employed illegally.
- 20 years ago 61 per cent of 16-17 year olds were in work, now there are only 7 per cent.
- over 100,000 16/17 year olds are not in education, training or employment, despite the youth training ’guarantee’.
- nearly 4,000 young people of secondary school age are permanently excluded from school.
- one third of post 16 students fail to complete their courses.
over 150,000 under 25s experience homelessness each year.
- 8,000 young women under 16 become pregnant each year.
- three quarters of 16 year olds are offered illegal drugs, with half trying them.
- half of all known offenders are under the age of 20.
more than two million 18-25 year olds failed to vote in the last General Election.
- 35.5 per cent of the population are aged under 26. (i)
13.1 million young people are aged under 18; just over 8.5 million are aged between 16 and 25.
- 25 per cent of 16 and 17 year-olds in receipt of Severe Hardship payments need to beg, steal or sell drugs in order to survive, according to the Department of Social Security’s own inquiry in 1991.
- A young person under 25 calls the Samaritans every four minutes.
- Today, there are approximately 20,000 people under 21 in prisons or similar institutions, according to the Home Office’s own figures.
- One million young people are unemployed.
- 10,000 per day attempt to call Childline
- The Samaritans have this summer established an emergency helpline for young people.
- At the 1993 General Election 2.5 million young people who were eligible to vote did not bother.

It is hardly surprising then that new policies are being developed by local and national government to re include young people in all aspects of social life and to begin the rebuilding of Britain by concentrating on the young. I went to the Labour Party Conference to lobby on behalf of my Union this year. I have been going for several years and at all the fringe meetings my union’s representatives have been the first ones to wave the little flag of the youth service and issues as they effect young people. This year there were 350 officially listed fringe meetings. 45 or so were directly relevant to developing initiatives with young people. If you look also at the range of reviews and white papers the government has issued, no less than fifty concern the young: think of the Millennium Volunteers paper, the New Deal, Education, education, education, new youth justice measures, new behavioural support units in each local authority area, the New Start Programme. Most important of all the fortchoming white paper on Lifelong Learning which includes new measures to provide for youth services.

Young people have struggles for survival in a high risk society and now at last society is waking up to the fact that you have to be careful how you nurture your seeds, after all you depend for your own sustenance on what you grow. Young people are not and never have been the problem, they are the main part of our solution.

It is absolutely clear then that a concern to include young people in all social policy initiatives is a central priority for this government and for local government. The community development approach which you ahve adopted must involve young people. The key is often not just providing new opportunities and services for the young, but ensuring that two things happen, firstly, that young people are engaged in decision making processes on their own terms and with others. Youth Forums are springing up all over again. Secondly, all departments, whether social services, health or housing, must ’youth proof’ their service delivery so that it can be properly co ordinated.

Two other things are needed. One is very difficult. If you look at the history of youth policies since the beginning of the century they have all been based on negative views of young people. One of the previous President’s of our Union bernard Davies wrote a book called ’Threatening Youth’ which described how policies in the 1970s and 80s developed from the notion that youth were a threat, a menace, to be contained and restrained. Previous generations did something about the condition of young people because when it came to a time of war they found young people, malnourished, lacking skills and fitness. Other social policy objectives are based on the idea of using young people as cheap labour - and the proposal to exclude young people from the minimum wage appear in this category. If we are to develop successful local and antional policies which involve young people, seek to ease their transition to adulthood, enable them to become independent responsible citizens and so on, we must work from a starting point of confidence in our young people, they are strong, responsible and worthy of our undivided support. I am fully aware that when you take lofty ideals like this out on the street and the young people tell you to - get lost - and then let your car tyres down or worse, morale sometimes drops ! But unless we have a positive starting point and unless we prioritise resources in favour of the young we will get lost again in an even more worrying way.

The next thing we have to attend to is the youth service itself. I could say a great deal about this. But here are a few points Youth workers, properly and professionally qualified and paid under the special terms and conditions they have - the JNC - help young people to negotiate their way safely on the journey to adulthood. They empower and enfranchise young people and our work is now essential to any policy development. The frusatration, challenging behaviour, desperation and alienation of many of our young people is often something that youth workers can counter more effectively than any other group. Youth workers educate young people in a unique way. They do not judge them, do not directly tell them what to do, they point out options, offer new opportunities, they ease the traumas, they build self esteem, they encourage collective solutions not individual and reckless ones. I have seen youth workers transform some of the most despairing, abused and self destructive lives. No hope can easilly be transformed to happiness via the youth work method.

Youth work compliments school education. it penetrates those parts that no other services reach. Skilled youth workers are worth more than their weight in gold. They help prepare young people for work. Their friendship and guidance of young people reduces crime and anti social behaviour. You workers provide many new experiences for young people, whether it is organising their first camping trip, their first trip abroad, their first disco, their first wall painting, their first fun games session, their first play. They education the imagination and cultivate a sense of fun. Many youth workers are trained to promote healthy living. Many give advice and counselling and help house hunting. Many support young people in schools and colleges. They provide social education. They encourage a love of learning and other people. A passion for collective approaches to community problems.

The Youth Service in which youth workers work is now high up the government’s agenda. Currently the government is undertaking a comprehensive audit of youth service provision. They will shortly be requiring all local authorities to undertake annual plans to develop strategies for work with young people. Many local authorities are currently reorganising their services to make every department responsive to young pe ple’s needs. They are putting trained youth workers at the heart of this process. I commend your local plans to prioritise work with the young next year. But let’s not see this as a theme for one year, let’s see this as the start of a pioneering project to permanently involve young people in community development.

The tasks that confront us are vast and the government clearly cannot tackle them without democratic community involvement at local, regional and national levels. But we will not tackle any of them unless we tackle the youth question. On the one hand we are told that we can do nothing because of the global market, the ability of transnational companies to ransack nations and overpower individual governments. On the other we are told that only narrow regional, or local solutions are the answer. I don’t agree, I feel that we should restore the idea, a new kind of nationalism if you like, that we are part of rebuilding an integrated nation capable of looking after its own people first and foremost. In this process, we need to make sure the next generation has an identity and a place in shaping its destiny. We should inveset in youth, create a clear agenda for a generation and demand national, public resourcing for creating full employment as the main bench mark for the future of our country. We have had our heads so low for so long, that it is really important to raise them and once again envisage high ideals. Let me leave you with a quote from a poem written sixty years ago warning of the dangers of the rise of fascism. The quote is imagining a new society:

"..where both heart and brain can understand

The movements of our fellows;

Where life is a choice of instruments and none

Is debarred his natural music,

Where the waters of life are free of the ice-blockade of hunger

And thought is free as the sun,

Where the altars of sheer power and mere profit

Have fallen to disuse.."

Articles

clear.gif