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Young people smashing things up for kicks is nothing new. Nor is looting. I would suggest that the problems we’re seeing now on England’s streets aren’t just down to simple thuggery, though.

Without condoning any of the vandalism and violence which we’ve seen – the worst in my lifetime – it’s a symptom of big, big problems which have been allowed to fester in Britain for a long time.

Young people have been let down by those in power – and I would spread some of the blame onto the previous Labour government, for sidling along with the Tory ideology of allowing education to become more of a US-style, private-funded affair.

When I went to university, I was in the last four-year raft of students to get a grant for every year of my education. Now, nothing’s for nothing – I wouldn’t be against the idea of a graduate tax rate, to pay it back. But the idea of young people being saddled with £30,000 in debt before they’ve even kicked a ball professionally, no matter how cosy the loan repayment terms, is despicable.

That’s manageable if you become a doctor, dentist, or lawyer, but if you want to be anything else you’re looking at bother – an irritation at best, a drain on your unspectacular wages at worst, right at the start of the game.

“Education, education, education”, my jacksie. That should never have been allowed to happen under a Labour government – many of whom will have enjoyed a generous grant from the state to pursue their own educations in the 1970s.

That’s one problem. The other is lack of jobs. My father could expect to earn enough money in the 1960s and 70s to raise a family of five, with no-one going short; the idea of that happening these days seems ridiculous, even if the main breadwinner was on 50-60k.

Something has gone badly wrong with the standard of living. As a fellow writer said recently, we find that we have crap transport, crap housing estates, crap public services and politicians who do not care… and we are shocked when riots break out?

Not that people on sink estates have much of a hope of getting to university and bettering themselves; not all of us had the advantage of parents who encourage learning and education, like I did. I grew up in a deprived area and it’s the easiest thing in the world for people to get stuck in a rut. Joining a gang to do something, anything, with your life, can seem a logical step for some. It can be a bit simplistic to say, “stick in at school and work hard, and don’t join a gang”.

Now, of course, we have youth clubs set to close down by the score thanks to Government cuts – I don’t see how that’s going to help improve inner city areas and stop bored teenagers from getting into trouble, do you?

Anyone attempting a holier-than-thou attitude regarding people who come from estates should try living on one for a few weeks, and see where that gets them. Again, I don’t support anyone hurting people, smashing up city centres and burning houses, but we have to address the underlying causes.

For years, now, there have been limited opportunities for people to have a career if they’ve not gone to college or university. The idea that a school leaver can find it difficult to gain a career and earn a decent wage is absolutely dreadful. Soon, people will be made to feel like they’ve failed if they don’t go to university.

Sitting in classes listening to lectures and theory for four years out of life is not for everyone – some want to earn, to get on in life, to make a home for themselves and to build for the future. People should have an option to get out and earn, and earn well. I do not see this in place for school leavers, unless their employer is prepared to pay to put them into training and education.

Not that graduates have the life of larry these days, either. In a lot of cases, higher education is an absolute racket. The only guaranteed winners are the people collecting the fees. The idea should be that you’ll be able to get a better job than the one you could’ve got had you not bothered; the amount of people who don’t reach this basic level of expectation is blood-chilling.

So now the Tories come in (aided by the Lib Dems, let’s not forget), and at every single turn of the cards, they have made things WORSE. They have cut services and simply left people with less money and fewer opportunities to rot.

There is no mobility in the Tories’ strategy. What was the first deficit-busting move? Raise VAT – a tax rise that hits everyone, regardless of how rich or poor you are. That makes sense. How are you going to stimulate the economy with that?

There seems to be an assumption that people who live in inner city areas don’t read the papers or watch the news. The people burning shops and stealing mobile phone handsets have had to watch a banks bailout, where people who failed miserably have continued to cream off outrageous bonuses despite taking taxpayers’ money for their businesses to stay afloat.

They’ve seen MPs claiming tens, and sometimes hundreds of thousands of pounds in parliamentary expenses for things like duck houses and scuddie movies – on top of six-figure salaries and all the benefits that go with them – and somehow stay out of jail.

They’ve seen politicians at the highest level climb into bed with some very unsavoury, unscrupulous characters in the media, and they’ve also seen how justice can actually be bought in Britain; that’s involving the heads of the same police force which seems intent on shooting people for no reason.

And now a double-dip recession is on its way, so things are actually going to get worse. You might start to think someone had it in for you. You might just decide to help yourself to an iPad.

Britain’s broken all right, Mr Cameron – but it starts at the top.

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One Comment

  1. Pat – I think it’s so horribly complicated that it’s impossible to highlight just one area of inequality, or education, or access to social mobility – but what is essential is that we find a way to condemn the behaviour and then settle down to the painful task of looking at how, as a society, we have evolved so that young people find it acceptable to behave in this way. Just as they must take responsibility for the harm they have done, so must we.

    And that includes nagging our politicians – and local counsellors – to think more flexibly about the consequences of legislation (for instance, the loss of the Education Maintenance Grant for young people over 16). We cannot let them get away with soundbites in parliament and wandering around a few streets speaking to victims. We voted them in; it is their job to do a lot of this thinking, and if they don’t then we can hold them to account.


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