Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Farewell and a Few Final Words

Several followers of this blog have emailed me to ask why I haven't posted for a while. The truth is I no longer work in the social care or youth sector. In fact, I have left the UK and returned to Ireland where I am originally from.

Overall, I loved the six years I lived in England and came to see it as my adopted home for the time I was there. However, on account of valuing my mental health I was no longer able to work in the youth social care sector and found it almost impossible to find other work, so I made the decision to return to my native country to be near my family and close friends.

On a final note, I would like to thank all the followers of this blog for their regular contributions over the last few years. Above all though, I want to dedicate this blog and the Orwell Prize that I received in 2010 to two groups of people. Firstly, to all those kids in care and young adults in supported housing that I worked with, who despite coming from tough or neglectful backgrounds and having many personal problems as a result, were still able to rise above their issues and strive to improve themselves and didnt use their backgrounds as an excuse to bully and intimidate their peers, the staff that worked with them, or their communities. Secondly, to all the staff that work in these care homes or housing projects and have to endure verbal and physical abuse on a daily basis I really dont know how you all stick it.

I will be leaving up the blog for the time being and there is plenty more material that is not on the blog on my experiences and observations of working with the underclass in my book Generation F.

Thank you again. Over and out.

Winston Smith

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Excuses For the Riots Debunked

Since the riots have subsided the excuse makers have been busy trying to find justification for the feral mobs that burned working and middle class families out of their homes as well as laying destruction to local businesses and people's workplaces. Wednesday's Guardian gives a few of them a platform in which to try and rationalise mob rule.

Last Thursday's edition of Young Voters Question Time on BBC 4, also revealed a disturbing antipathy to the concept of law and order by members of the audience and a palpable hatred for the police.Rudeness and an inability to converse and share ideas in a diplomatic manner were also on display in that the majority of these young people (between 18-35) wouldn't allow each other to speak or finish a sentence. Indeed, the presenter, Richard Bacon, had a hard time trying to facilitate discussion due to the lack of manners and etiquette needed to conduct a civilised debate. Myths and a multitude of excuses were put foward by members of the audience and have since been repeated by many commentators in the media. I will attempt to dispel a few of them here.

1)The killing of  Mr. Duggan by the police

How can stealing a wide screen TV from Currys or thieving a shiny new tracksuit or burning your neighbour's flat down be interpreted as a justifiable expression of grief and anger over the death of a stranger? The logical extension of this form of reasoning would allow anyone who felt aggrieved by any kind of violence to go out on an orgy of looting and destruction as a means of releasing anger and frustration. It would be like hearing that an elderly woman you never knew had her house broken in to and then responding to the news by torching your local family run corner shop. And as a local community worker observed on the program, where was the public display of anger at the twenty young people murdered in his borough in London by other young people over the past year?

2) Poverty and Inequality

Whilst I abhor the inequality that exists in the UK as a result of decades of neo-liberalism and indeed am a victim of it myself, it doesnt naturally follow on that this gives me a reason to loot shops, commit acts of violence and terrorise my community. The poverty that exists in the UK is of a relative kind. The welfare state in Britain provides the underclass with housing, benefits, education and a health service, all free of charge and the envy of sub-saharran Africa. I am not saying they have an ideal life, but their basic needs and those of their children are met. Whilst working in Supported Housing with today's poor I observed how many of them were so well fed they were obese and that they had money to spend on cheap alcohol and recreational drugs. The majority of them also possessed luxury electronic goods such as laptops, playstations and the newest in mobile phones. They may be poor compared to the folks that live in the mansion on the hill, but they are wealthier than the monarchs of medieval Europe. The grinding abject poverty that existed in Britain during the ninteen thirties (see Orwell's The Road to Wigan Pier) and that of the post war rationing period never led to marauding gangs of unsocialised teenagers ransacking their communities. The reason being that in those decades there was no uncivilised underclass and although society was too rigid and authoritarian we have now gone to the other extreme. The working classes of this earlier epoch had a sense of backbone and a collective set of norms to which they adhered and a Labour party that promoted collective values. Cultural relativism and the doctrine of non-judgmentalism that pervade the public sector along with the enchantment with all things materialistic thanks to the triumph of neo-liberalism have eroded the responsibility of  some young people to act in a civilised manner with respect and consideration for others.

3)Unemployment

Several young rioters being interviewed on Sky News claimed that because they couldnt get work they were taking revenge on the local businesses and high street chain stores that had overlooked their job applications. As recipients of the already generous welfare state and as products of a comprehensive education system that eschews the concept of personal responsibility by labelling badly behaved children with non-existent psycholgical conditions such as ADHD, ODD (Oppositional Defiant Disorder) and CD (Conduct Disorder) these young rioters have been imbued with the notion that their behaviour is not their fault and that it is the responsibility of the state to cater to their every whim. They will have been indulged in this fallacy by every agency of the state they will have come in to contact with be it their schools, social services, supported housing sector, youth offending service, youth workers, Connexions and so on.  Whilst I believe strongly in the welfare state I believe that every citizen has reciprocal rights and duties towards her or his fellow citizens which precludes burning peoples homes and places of work to the ground. The UK's youth unemployment rate runs at around twenty percent and Spain's is at forty percent. The reason the Spanish youth are not rioting is that they have strong communities. Above all though their police force wouldn't spend days debating with politicians whether using water cannon was an infringement the human rights of criminals who were blighting the lives of working class communities.

4)Boredom

A middle class girl in the audience on the aforementioned BBC programme claimed that as young people are so bored what with being unemployed and not having enough youth clubs to go to they took to the streets out of frustration with the dullness and ennui of their existence. I like to call this the 'Throwing One's Toys Out of the Pram' theory. In other words, if I am not indulged and provided with entertainment and leisure by others I will terrorise my community and the lives of my neighbours. This excuse is actually insulting to the majority of the sullen, withdrawn and bored teenagers who don't resort to arsonry or throwing molotov cocktails at the police just to kill some time. I spent a large proportion of my teenage years rigid with boredom but I never once thought I would alleviate the monotony of my existence by setting fire to a school or stabbing one of my friends or a passer by as we spent hours stupified with disaffection up alleyways and on street corners. A few years ago, I used to volunteer at a Youth Club which provided the youth in the area with meaningful activities and somewhere to socialise. However, it was taken over by young hoodlums who disobeyed the rules and bullied and victimised their well behaved peers. When I challenged them I had a bottle thrown at me and a bin thrown over my head. As is usual I got no support from the other staff as they were afraid of the thugs and instead they tried to reason with them which didn't work. I almost responded Clint Eastwood style to this attack, but in the interests of keeping my job in the school next door I restrained myself. We had to close the Youth Club for several months as the manager couldnt control the rough element that kept turning up and the police and local people complained about an increase in anti-social behaviour in the area on the nights it was open. It is a glib prouncement to asssume that the building of a Youth Club will eradicate anti-social behaviour and boredom is a pathetic excuse for violence and destruction.

To end on a positive note, there was one young black man in the audience on Young Voter's Question Time who stated that it was the lack of respect for other people and their own communities that were the cause of the riots. He too was unemployed and relatively poor he stated, as were his friends, but at the end of the day he remarked that his mother and other people in his community had instilled in him with respect for others and his fellow human beings. This is the challenge that Britain must now rise to and that is instilling a common value system based on respect for others and the rule of law in our young people. This will involve a complete reversal in a lot of the social policy and a re-imagining of the welfare state where individuals are encouraged to not see themselves as victims and passive recipients but as citizens with both rights and concomitant responsibilities towards members of your community.

Thursday, 11 August 2011

Riot Talk in Monotone on Radio 5

I was on BBC Radio 5 Live with Shelagh Fogarty yesterday talking about the riots in my monotone voice with a clued up lady from Manchester. I wish they had given me an hour after my rant to play some seventies soul and jazz to soothe my mind after talking about social breakdown and the urban underclass. Click on the show for the 10th August it's roughly an hour in to the programme. I am in the Mail tomorrow, Friday the 12th, for those of you who are interested.

Link to Radio

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

The Riots in London are a Culmination of Decades of Failed Social Policies

The underclass are rising up. No longer content with simply burglaring and mugging the decent law abiding working classes that have the misfortune to dwell amongst them, they have now decided to torch and terrorise the very communities they come from. What we are witnessing in London and in other cities across Britain at the moment is an attack upon the decent and law abiding citizenry of the country. Their places of work have been attacked, looted and even burned down. Opportunisitic burglaries have occured and violent attacks upon the police and innocent individuals are widespread. Fear is endemic and people are anticipating a fourth night of chaos and disorder. The nation of Britain is being brought to its knees by a festering amoral underclass that has been fostered by decades of failed social policies in the spheres of education, criminal justice, social services and by a well intentioned and necessary welfare system state that has unwittingly produced an attitude amongst some young people that being a citizen of a country is all about what you can get without ever considering what you are contributing to the community that you come from.

The rightful abandonment of excessively harsh discipline only to swing to the extreme of having no discipline in schools along with the namby-pamby non-judgementalism that pervades social services and the youth offending service are all contributory factors to the chaos on our streets. The Police who purportedly exist to protect the masses of law abiding working communities from criminal elements and who exist to guard the peace are stymied in their efficacy by a political class that eschews robust policing when it is needed. This morning on Sky News, the Home Secretary, Theresa May, dismissed the option of using water cannon when she said: "The way we police in Britain is not through use of water cannon...the way we police in Britain is through consent of communities." I am sure if she consulted the vast majority of people on this island she would discover that very few people would be too concerned about a few thousand drenched tracksuits if it meant a return of law and order and an absence of terror within communities. She then went on to assure us that, "people will start to see the consequences of their actions".

Now, just what will these consequences be you may ask? Well, for those over eighteen whatever custodial sentences they do receive, if any, they will no doubt serve just a fraction of their sentences as is common for most criminals in the UK. However, in what will clearly be a perversion of justice, those rioters under eighteen will be treated as if they too are the victims of the very crimes they have commited, as this is the ethos at the heart of the youth justice system. I know this from having worked alongside and in the Youth Offending Service. Within a few weeks many of these rioters that you are now watching loot, burn and terrorise on a twenty four news channel will be on an Intensive Surveillance and Supervision Programme, where they will spend the majority of their 'sentence' being escorted to gyms, adventure centres, DJ courses and having their lunches bought and paid for and they will even be given the bus fares to attend their 'punishment'. There will be a minimum of community work as part of their ISSP and in some parts of the country the Youth Offending Service will fail to implement this part of the ISSP. I know this will occur because I have seen it first hand. Another part of their ISSP will involve them sitting in on classroom based sessions where staff will ask them what feelings they were experiencing prior to setting their community alight and how best they could channel those feelings in the future. We may even get them to do some 'poster work', as I have heard it referred to, where they will draw and colour in examples of criminal behaviour just in case they were not aware that torching homes in their communities as well peoples place  of employment  and throwing masonry at innocent passers by as well as the police, fire brigade were indeed criminal acts. When this is the system charged with preventing youth crime is at any wonder we have such high rates of recidivism amongst the more serious of young criminals? Many of the rioters you see on the streets will have been through this sytem. They know there are no real consequences for their actions and thus they behave in the manner we are now viewing.

One thing is clear to me about these riots that set them apart from the race riots of the eighties, or those of the late sixties/early seventies in the aftermath of state suppression of civil rights marches in Northern Ireland and it is that these disturbances are not political in nature, or as a result of one ethnic group feeling rightfully disenfranchised and discriminated by the police. This is a rainbow coalition of the underclass, all shades and colours are present on the streets. If it was political in nature the main targets of the rioters would be the state and whilst the police are being attacked the perpetrators are more concerned with acquiring the contents of high street shops. These riots are purely criminal and materialistic in nature and it is the state and its failed social policies along with the pervading culture of selfishness as a result of neo-liberalism that have bred the savage and feral mentality of the perpetrators. It is no surprise that our police force has proved ineffective in protecting working and middle class communities when wetting criminals and louts is seen as a step too close to draconian policing? Is at any wonder we fear another night of chaos?

Thursday, 21 July 2011

He Don't Need No Education

A few months ago a female colleague at the Youth Offending Service, Chrissy, asked me to sit in with her and a young male offender of seventeen. She hoped I could be a positive male role model in getting him to do something constructive with his time rather than burgle his neighbours.

"Hi I'm Winston. You must be Noel. Nice to meet you."

Chrissy then asked him what had he been doing since she last saw him several weeks ago.

"I've been looking for jobs but I'm not having any luck."

Having read his file and knowing he was completely illiterate I deduced that luck wasn't really the issue here. I felt that the cart wasn't so much before the horse as completely without one. Anyway, how do you look for work when you can't read? I think Noel was telling us what he thought we might want to hear.

"Noel, in the interests of helping you in the long run, I am going to be blunt with you. There is no point in you seeking work until you learn to read. There's not a job out there these days that will not require you to be literate. To even lug rubble around a building site requires you to do a health and safety course which you will need to be able to read to pass."

"I'll be fine. I'm not doing any courses or college. I hate classrooms and teachers. I'll get work eventually. My Uncle says he has six weeks cash in hand work with him as a gardening assistant in a few months."

"Noel, that's not a secure job its some black market work. There's no future in that for you. If its an issue of being embarrassed in a group we can arrange one to one literacy lessons for you."

"Am not interested. I'll get a job in the end my way. I don't want to talk about this any longer. Are we nearly finished here I've got to be off. I've got stuff to do."

Chrissy arranged his next appointment and dismissed him.

"I've given up with him. He's been in and out of here for a few years now for various offences and despite arranging courses for him and even one to one tuition he just wont engage. He'll turn up for meetings here to prevent being breached, but he refuses to do anything constructive. I've even had work experience arranged for him and they let him go due to turning up late all the time."

We both head back to our respective offices utterly frustrated. Later on I have a discussion with another Youth Offending Officer who informs me that as part of their orders many Young Offenders are required to engage in education, but that some officers wont breach them for failing to attend a course in that they believe it is against their human rights to coerce them in to education. It's nice to know that educated middle class left wing idealists are defending the rights of disadvantaged young people to remain ignorant and disempowered.

For those of you who are interested I've been interviewed here by the Manchester Evening News

Monday, 13 June 2011

Its Just Like Prison

A few weeks ago I accompanied an assortment of teenage rogues to a youth club where we punished them by means of video games, snooker, take away food and supervising them in a music studio where they had access to records that extoled the virtues of misogyny, gangsterism and drug abuse. However, there was no structure to the activities and even in the DJ studio they were left to their own devices with no one guiding them in how to become gangster DJs. In fact, even if the senior youth offending worker who sat their looking in to space and playing on his mobile phone had wanted to instruct them in scratch mixing he couldn't have done so as some other scallywags had stolen the needles from the turntables. So what ensued instead was that the young lads attempted to play instruments without having any knowledge or skill of how to do so. I had to sit there for an hour as several of them banged on drums frantically and incessantly without any rhythm and a few others made several keyboards emit noises akin to that of a cat being strangled. Thankfully, just before my ears started to bleed we broke for lunch.

In the afternoon, I supervised a few of them as they played on a Wi console and a playstation. One of the lads, 17, who was on the Intensive Supervision and Surveillance Programme (ISSP) for his second time, told me he had no remorse for the students and other innocent young people whom he had violently mugged as they were only 'muppets'. I asked him how he would feel were he violently mugged by a stranger to which he replied "If any c**t did that to me I'd stab them." So I asked him, "Well can you see how that would also be a horrific experience for your victims?", to which he replied, " they were soft shits that deserved it." He then went on to complain and swear aggressively as he did so, whilst he played a video game, that being on the ISSP and having to come to this youth club was just like prison, (he had been in custody) in that he was having his freedom taken away from him by being made go somewhere he didnt want to. I responded to him in this manner.

"I suppose you are right it is just like the youth prison you have been to recently in that in there you also have access to entertainment in your room such as TVs and video game consoles. However, in many countries in the world their youth detention centres are a lot tougher and the emphasis is on punishment, discipline and order."

"Whatever. I'm bored now are we nearly finished here today?" he responded insouciantly.

Ten minutes later we drove him back to the Residential Care Home where he lived as he had completed another succesful day on the road to rehabilitation as well as having paid another hefty portion of his dues to society.

If you live in the south I have been interviewed in the Big Issue there. Here is a link to the article or alternatively buy a copy of this worthy and dignified magazine.

Thursday, 2 June 2011

Imparting Poetic Delusions

A few weeks ago at our local Youth Offending Office we hired an ex-offender to read poetry to our assorted crew of delinquents on the Intensive Surveillance and Supervision Programme (ISSP) before we took them out in the afternoon to play basketball. The reasoning behind this initiative was well intentioned. Here was an ex-convict who whilst in prison had learned to read and write and discovered a talent for poetry and creative writing. Now empowered, he wanted to give something back. And so here he was on a miserable Monday morning hoping to inspire our young offenders to swap the stanley knife for the pen, that said, many of them would still stab you with the pen given half the chance.

Indeed our poet lived up to the awards he had won. His poetry was energetic, lively and raw just like his life story. He was a charming scouser from the wrong side of the tracks and you couldn't but be inspired by the manner in which he had turned his life around and the teenagers warmed to him even though initially they thought he was a bit unusual.

However, whilst he was good at making words rhyme and injecting his scouserly wit in to conversation, at imparting life skills he was hopeless. He told the young lads present that spelling and grammar were not important at all and not to worry about it. All I could do was sit there and nod my head in exasperation. Surely for every hand written CV and application form they send out for a job they will need to adhere to standard English? However, this was not going to be an issue I learned in that every young criminal in the room possessed the combined poetic skills of Yeats, Byron and Wordsworth, according to this jovial Liverpudlian, and what's more they could become very wealthy in the process. The fact that at least half of them were either completely or semi-literate didn't seem to be an issue.

"So how much do you make a day?" asked one young prolific burglar.

"I get a few hundred quid for just coming here talking to you today to show you there is another way of life. I drive a nice car and wear the best of clothes and have most of the day to myself and all because I learned to read and write. You can earn good money giving talks to schools and in detention centres and to the Youth Offending Service. If you grasp at the chance to improve your reading skills you all can have a life like mine if you want it. I believe in you lads you just need to believe in yourselves. Words can set you free. You can have a life like mine if you work hard for it. I know inside everyone of you is a story you can tell with words. If you work for it you can be a writer or poet like me."

I must admit it was great rhetoric and I really liked the guy, but he was talking gobbledegook. For a start there is a limited demand for scouser poets that spell badly and believe that grammar is irrelevant. Im pretty sure he has cornered the market there.

I wanted to stand up and scream:

"Poetry and creative writing are lovely hobbies but you should learn to read and write because you will all need at least the basic level to even get a job washing dishes in a pub nowadays. You will not all be award winning poets like our nice friend here. He is one of the lucky ones. The country is full of talented creative types be they poets, actors and writers and most of them haven't a pot to piss in never mind awards hanging off the walls of their damp bedsits. So learn to read and write for its own sake and to improve your chances of even getting a job stacking shelves in Tesco where you will be competing with graduates with English degrees. If you take pleasure in writing poems about how you used to enjoy robbing from pensioners but nowadays prefer to spend your time lying in meadows writing sonnets then thats great but please dont believe a word this man tells you about it affording you the material comfort he has and if you don't believe me go home tonight and put the word poet in to the search engine on at least five or six jobsearch sites."

Instead of saying this I just sat there. My sentiments would not have been welcomed as I've said before injections of common sense are seldom welcomed in the youth dependency sector.