"The Road Not Taken"
Our Promise to Young People?
The shock of last week's riots across London and other major cities was 24 hour news and a source of debate and story swapping around many a dinner table. From liberal excusniks to those joining in the facebook campaign to bring out the army, people of all classes, races and ages have genuinely been completely floored by the apparent mindlessness of some young people starting fires, looting and putting lives in danger.
The ensuing debate has partly been occasioned by an inability to put a finger on the problem in contrast say with previous anti-capitalist riots, poll tax riots and the racial riots of the 1980's. On the face of it last week's anarchy was prompted by anger and resentment, a lust for shiny objects and a sense of entitlement. As one girl on benefits said: "why shouldn't I…it's my taxes!" … interesting argument …. I would suggest that young people be guided to consider which road they want to take as per the Robert Frost poem of the title.
A friend working at a London College teaches 14-16's and comments on how malleable their minds are; adults who aren't quite fully formed. He has dealt with thuggery and theft of equipment, students talking back at him, not bothering to produce work or show up at all thereby losing their places, teenage pregnancies where there was promising talent and angry parents who won't sanction discipline. He was however confident that none of his own students would have terrorized Croydon in the way we witnessed on the television because he maintains they are the exception and the ones he can go that extra mile with who do really well. That says something about their personal choices.
All the aftermath discussions took me back to an English class at school where we had to discuss if John Major's laudable aim of a classless society was a runner.
I think the riots and subsequent reactions illustrate that we are still deeply segregated into our classes in our mindset and our educations regardless of the actual potential to pull one up. Understandably horrified, I suspect middleclass liberal ideology has been tested to its limits and that actually they themselves might be a component of the problem. The more they climb the more they squeeze out the poor. Competition for school places, artificially increasing property prices and selling off playing fields and amenities to build overpriced flats and offices have added to the problem. We all look out for our own.
We have little manufacturing to speak of and an insane emphasis is put on degrees in whatever subject at an off putting cost instead of applauding and encouraging practical people to make things and ensure that the UK has an industry. The German example of making young people choose an intellectual or vocational route is a good one and their third way of sending the unmotivated out to do community work makes good sense. We also have an educational deficit in that many school leavers don't have all the basic reading and writing skills which is an issue for every government and local authority and until that is resolved our young people will struggle to get hired.
The middle classes are increasingly feeling disenfranchised. After University fees and paying off that debt is the battle to get on the housing ladder. As for pensions or any semblance of a retirement forget it. The UK should follow the lead of countries like Italy and Australia and abolish inheritance tax to enable hard working parents to help their offspring because we are setting ourselves up with an impossible future burden on society.
East Sussex is affluent yet according to an article in the Argus on 16th February 2010 one fifth of children live in poverty and the figures are increasing. Complainants accuse the previous government for diverting funding away from the South East to the North. The cost of living in Brighton is commensurate with London. There were no riots in this region. That I hope says something positive but much still needs to be done.
The latest edition of the local "Business Edge" magazine had an article where Chris Grayling reflects on the 6000 young jobseekers in Sussex and a £200 Million Government package to support young people and get them into work through a Work Experience initiative. By enabling 18 to 24 year olds to do a two month placement without losing their Jobseeker's Allowance they can get real employment experience and enhance their CVs; a practical initiative that tackles joblessness and the lack of motivation issue.
Initiatives like this require businesses to step forward and offer placements. I have met some business owners locally with imaginative and successful businesses so the opportunity is there along with organisations like the Prince's Trust. Let's curb our appetite for shows that propel people to stardom and give recognition to those who make a go of their lives and are hard working and satisfied with their own sense of achievement.
You choose your path. Human beings are progressive creatures and whether you make or are given opportunities hopefully one day you can say that those choices you made made all the difference.