Friday, 9 April 2010

When Policies Clash with Reality

If the Tories get in I will be ending my blog. Why? Well, it’s because David Cameron has come up with one simple idea that will solve all the problems associated with British youth and thus my rantings will become obsolete. He has decided to send all 16 year olds to concentration camps for the summer where they will be shown T.V footage from days gone by of how tough the majority of teenagers used to have it what with getting belted about the head at school day in day out before having to endure a lifetime of tedious backbreaking work down a mine or in a factory.Well, at least in those days young people had jobs to go to and houses they could afford to buy or rent.

Cameron is the master of gimmicks and policy announcements that at the end of the day will go nowhere and if they do, in many instances, will have no effect. Didn’t he used to have a wind turbine on the roof of his house to generate electricity that he was forced to take down? Maybe he could stick it to his head to see if it can generate any sensible ideas in relation to youth issues.

The main problem, amongst others, with Cameron’s National Citizen Service is that it’s voluntary. He has embarked upon this plan as an antidote to gang violence and the more serious manifestations of youth disengagement. If these youths won’t engage constructively with the myriad of services already available to help them turn their lives around then how does he think he is going to manage to do it? Maybe he will threaten to hug them again as he did a few years back. If Cameron wants to help the really disaffected youths at the fringe of our society, a minority but a sizeable one, then he should take his lead from the Eastside Young Leaders Academy.

He says that the root cause of vandalism and youth crime is a lack of discipline and that this initiative will be the cure. Well, discipline involves people often having to do things they would rather not be doing in order to improve their character and requires one individual to transmit the discipline to another as there are very few teenagers that willingly and openly invite discipline in to their lives. The more feral kids in society need discipline and structure so let’s have a plan that has these values at its heart and in order for it to be effective it needs to be compulsory. As a voluntary measure it’s akin to shooting the horse before you’ve even opened the barn door.

The initiative is also aimed at all 16 year olds and not just gang members and those youths who haven’t been effectively socialised. What sane teenager who behaves well or relatively ok at school and isn’t involved in crime or anti-social behaviour will want to spend time in the company of their unruly and aggressive peers? For some of these kids the summer is the only break they get from thuggish behaviour that blights their lives in bog standard comprehensives. Luckily for them it’s voluntary so they can spend their summers doing what they please a right they have surely earned.

Cameron’s speech to announce the National Citizen Plan also reveals Cameron’s strategy of trying to appeal to voters of all persuasions. In this speech he was careful to mention the word discipline (to appeal to the more Conservative voter) but emphasized that this scheme would be voluntary (trying to appease the more liberal minded). I am tempted to vote for the Conservatives (I like the noises they are making about school discipline and cutting police bureaucracy) as well as the Lib Dems (tax policies and efforts to cut inequality) but Cameron’s lack of any clear, committed and consistent stance in many areas worries me. He appears to be a man more concerned with seizing power than one with a clear vision.

After reading about Cameron’s plan to turn the lives of yoofs around it got me thinking about all the harebrained plans and policies I have to work with. In fact, right outside the office on a notice board there is one outlining our policy on Keyworking (a.k.a Support Working, Link Working just in case anyone finds the term Keyworking offensive they have options). The policy outlines all the different qualities that the resident’s personal assistant, sorry KeyWorker, should exude, thus instilling at a young age that the state is there to serve you before you have done anything in service of the state. Most notable of all though is the definition of what keyworking purports to do: “helping you to realise your goals in order to move forward in life.” This definition doesn’t allow for the fact that many of our 16-25 year old residents don’t have goals beyond getting as wasted as they can on a regular basis. This then involves me having to support them in setting some goals all the while being “careful not to impose one’s own value system” as one manager put it to me recently. The residents who don’t have goals never turn up for their Keyworking sessions and have to be threatened with eviction to engage in setting goals they don’t aspire towards. All of this is recorded, monitored and audited by layers of state financed bureaucrats.

Then there are those residents, usually the older ones but not always, who have goals and aims and are progressing and just want to be left alone to do so which they should be permitted to do. They resent formal support plans that state obvious goals like: continue to pay your rent, go to work etc. etc. They can’t understand and neither can I, why all this needs to be written down and why they have to talk about it every two weeks for an hour. They feel patronised for having their lives interfered in and they are right. However, as they can’t afford to rent properties of their own due to unjust rents they are forced to adhere to the state’s ludicrous interference to qualify for a roof over their heads.

If Cameron’s dream of becoming Tony Blair’s successor falls flat on its face perhaps he can get a job as a policy officer in the Supported Housing sector. Just like Dave’s National Service initiative, many of this sector's policies bear no relation to the realities of the young people they work with and are just as ineffective at combating some of the more serious problems associated with our young. Another similarity is that just like politicians when faced with the evidence of the failure of their policies, they will do their utmost to convince people that it’s all working wonderfully well, despite all evidence to the contrary.


Lady Virginia Droit de Seigneur said...

Good article Winston although in my view the main purpose of this election is to get Gordon Brown as far out of office as possible.

Ambulance Amateur said...

Winston, you are so right. This silly "National Service" idea goes beyond daft.

At first I thought it was going to be compulsory. I thought this a bit hard on some kids with more gumption. For instance, what about those kids who go out and get holiday jobs? I know it's not as easy as when I was their age, but some can still manage to find something.

Then I realised it was voluntary. Well, that's fine for those who have a job. However, as you said, the ones who need the course most are exactly the ones who won't go.

Anyway, how are kids going to do a two-month course in the summer? Most only get six weeks off school. I know that public schools get longer (perhaps that's what Dave's thinking of) but having these courses only for public schools seems rather strange.

Drewe said...

"while being “careful not to impose one’s own value system” as one manager put it to me recently"

And there it is, in a nutshell. Most of these people desperately need some, any value system,and if you have a well developed one then why not try to impose it? At least try to offer it as a viable option. Being "careful not to impose one's own value system" sounds like a recipe for not actually achieving *anything* ultimately, doesn't it? I suspect that manager probably thinks he's being terribly "right on" doesn't he? Nice point, well missed!

John said...

Question from uncultured Colonial:
What's unjust about the rents? (I've noticed several references in your posts along these lines, and I'm not sure... are they simply unaffordable privately? Is there a problem with housing supply or is this a regulatory thing, or what?)
Just curious.

WinstonSmith33 said...

Rents in many areas are extremely expensive and Housing cost in general are way out of synch with the average salary. Now consider, that most 16-25 year olds in Supported Housing are being supported, well ostensibly at least, to enter the world of work and even private rental if they cant get social housing long term, which many cant. Basically, in a nutshell exorbitant housing costs create a disincentive for people to work in low paid jobs as they would be better off on benefits. I believe that everyone who works hard in whatever job should be entitled to at the very least be able to rent somewhere liveable. Even bedsits in some parts of the country are unaffordable for low wage earners.

Anonymous said...

"Even bedsits in some parts of the country are unaffordable for low wage earners."

This is why you deserve that Orwell award - you're one of the only people writing about the problems of socially excluded young people who talks about norms and values but at the same time has some understanding and acceptance the material background to this as well...

Unlike some of the other posters on here, who just want to ignore structural factors while playing the dual 'Reds under beds' and 'Lets ignore neo-liberal economics' cards.

Another very good post.

halojones-fan said...

Like the man said, "they'll turn us all into beggars 'cause they're easier to please..."

Anonymous said...

You're right to have doubts and critcise Tory policies (and every other party), but you have to consider that it was 13 years of Labour policies that have got us to the present situation (and possibly was instrumental in you creating this blog).

Do you really eant 5 more years of the same?

Do you really believe that Labour wil change thier carefully crafted policies?

Fantastic blog by the way - just wish you'd post every day :)

Yakoub said...

The problem is not just a youth one, but needs to engage the whole population - it's called civic duty. The UK is bottom of the league in things like first aid knowledge, with the result that the UK experiences thousands of avoidable deaths.

I'm glad I heard abt yr blog, btw. My son is severely autistic with challenging behaviours. I trained as an SEN (Autism) teacher after he was diagnosed, just to learn how to manage my "tornado" (as one SLT aptly called him)! Dealing with my local Social Services, who seem more stupid than yr average Joe walking down the street, is bloody infuriating!

Anonymous said...

I don't know if "13 years of labour policies" are solely to blame for the current situation as described, although they are certainly a factor contributing toward some of the ineffective methods currently employed to rectify these problems. The social problems that WS faces on a daily basis are more a result of 55 years of postwar social progression, a migration toward "self" from "family" and "society" - a migration that has take place on both red and blue watches. To pretend that this is a result of a one or another government drastically reduces the liklihood of solving these problems.

David said...

I have just read your blog after seeing it in the Guardian. At last another S&D worker that thinks like I do!
I work as a S&D worker for a well known charity for 'young people' and everything you say is just as I see it.
So I am not mad after all!

Moose Lumps and Marmalade Marmite said...

In the early 'eighties I worked for a large national agency placing young people as voluteers. Youth unemployment, in particular was increasing and riots in inner cities were not uncommon. Many in the organisation suspected the agency's head was attempting to interest Thatcher in broadening volunteering with the approval of the government.

A similar 'volunteer' programme was used during the 1930's - though was never popular.

On a wider note there are a myriad existing opportunities for individuals of any age to volunteer: from young people through their local volunteer councils to retired executives and professional - REACH. It would make more sense for Cameron to promise extra funding and resources to these agencies rather than promising something that is highly dubious and probably won't work as intended.

Anonymous said...

Just read your blog after the article in the Mail,one question,why do you bother with such obnoxious creatures when the system seems to actively encourage such behavious?

John said...

Thanks for your response to my question about rents in the UK.
Someone mentioned the low level of civic duty (first aid knowledge, etc...) My kneejerk response is that this has to do with the decay in civil society (happening in the US as well, but much more slowly.) By that I mean the decline of organizations like the Elks, Odd Fellows, heck, even Boy Scouts... church is an obvious one. It seems to me that voluntary association with these types of group from a young age fosters in children the idea that they both contribute to and rely on others and that those others are real people (as opposed to faceless taxpayers.) Interestingly, I think that this is true regardless (mostly) of the moral or ideological character of the groups. I think that most of the benefit comes from the structural, psychological nature of civil society.
A society which tries to socialize its children through quangos and forced volunteerism can't reproduce these benefits.
I guess an easy way to put it is this: a nation without a strong tradition of civil society has, by definition, one which is uncivil.
Oh, look, I'm rambling.

Anonymous said...

There is already a current central and local government 'mantra' of 'greater community involvement' and 'more decision making at grassroots level'. All very laudable until you try to actually put this into practice and come up against the 'brick wall' of local bureaucracy.
Councils have their own political and, in many cases, personal agendas. If any concept doesn't fit in with their unbending mindset it will not happen because they will make sure that it doesn't. It is unfortunate that some of the most deprived areas are denied support because they are not viewed as important enough to be included as part of wider and positive initiative. It's the Council's way, or no way.

Anonymous said...

Hi Winston - A great Blog.
Below is a link to my own Blog that MAY be of interest to YOU.
This link is not necessarily for inclusion in your 'Comments', but details some of the trials/ tribulations/realities that I have experienced whilst trying to improve my own community. The attitudes and actions of some of those detailed hardly sets a good example. The 'rot' goes considerably deeper/wider than the 60+ posts on the Blog but I hesitate to 'rattle the/other cages' TOO much as the consequences could make life even more difficult for me than they already area.
Kindest Regards

Anonymous said...

Typical - Forgot the Link:-)

Anonymous said...

Would it be possible to have some kind of grades of supported housing where you qualify for higher grades with better facilities by how you conduct yourself and your environment? I know this is not a quick fix job, but it may allow the more socialised to achieve a reasonable environment and perhaps motivate some. Just a thought.