Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Thou Dost Protest Too Much

My mate Billy is a Tory. I don't hold it against him; he's a good lad and no different from any other 21 year old I know. When I say, 'he's a Tory', I mean, he's a Conservative, he dislikes being called a Tory; but he is a prospective future MP for a party that I have despised since I drew my first political breath.

In the 1980s, when I felt for long periods that I was already on the waste heap, I often questioned why Thatcher's government had no desire to invest in the youth - the people who would ultimately inherit their jobs. Obviously, Thatcher and her crones didn't actually care about the youth of Britain unless their parents were dyed in the wool blue and then they didn't really care about them because they were all right. Their futures were already cast.

I asked Billy this question a couple of months ago. As someone who believes in the ethos of conservatism, I felt it would be interesting to hear from one of the youth involved in their party why they never seemed interested in investing in the future. The best answer he could give was the fact that cutting budgets for the young - the adolescent - was far easier and less impacting than cutting it from other front line services. People kick up a stink about NHS cuts, but close a youth club and people barely batter and eyelid.

He was also quick to point out that Labour governments have not fared much better with yoofs. Taking money away from our future has always been easy for whoever is in power. throw money at the young from different directions and it'll all work out in the end...

Zoe Williams in the Guardian today, said, "This is what happens when people don't have anything, when they have their noses constantly rubbed in stuff they can't afford." Which I think is essentially why we have developed a Chav or Underclass of society. The commercial world is geared up for people to spend more money than they have to own the things that advertisers tell you everyone else has.

You can't live without an iPhone, a flat screen TV, a top of the range PC, a Sky Sports subscription, a pimped up ride... Your life isn't complete if you haven't got what all the haves have got.

The young, especially the disenfranchised, don't know how else to be. Their parents, most of them casualties of the Thatcher era, couldn't give a shit what their kids are getting up to and they're not going to complain if little Johnny comes home with a 50 inch plasma TV. He might not even get a good hiding for being a cheeky little shit because of his ingenuity.

When I was at the YOT, the common misconception for car thieves is that everybody had fully comprehensive insurance and can easily replace the car they stole and then torched. The reality is somewhat different and sometimes reality was all the car thieves needed to stop stealing cars. that reality was, the only people's cars they could steal were people whose lives were worse than their own. "What does your mum/dad do for a living?"
"He drives a taxi."
"How would you feel if someone stole his taxi - his way of earning - and then torched it?"
"I'd fucking kill/maim/hurt them!"
"Wouldn't get your car back though would it?"

Every single car thief I worked with never stole another car, or if they did they'd be stealing cars from middle class areas of their towns and often being caught quicker because newer cars are considerably harder to steal than something some poor council estate dweller can afford with his cleaning job and five kids.

I occasionally met kids who would resist this approach by claiming they only ever stole cars such as BMWs, Mercedes and sporty cars. This was easily dealt with by reminding them they were now serving a court enforced order, because as good as they reckon they are at stealing cars; they're even better at being caught.

To say that 99% of the clients I worked with in the 6 years I was at the Youth Offending Service were from struggling families would not be a generalisation. The more money your parents earn the less chance you have of committing certain types of crime. In fact, of all the clients we had, the ones who came from good backgrounds were most likely prosecuted for violence towards another or car crimes involving Mummy's car (not one that had been hot wired). There were exceptions, but that's exactly what they were, exceptions to the rule.

In a lot of cases, young people's crimes tend to be survival crimes - stealing food or things to make their lives better than really crap. The first case I ever worked with was a lad who got done for stealing out of date food from a skip, which just happened to be inside Tesco's compound. He was homeless and he had no money. His parents were beasts who kicked him out of home at 16 because he didn't have a job. The poor lad also didn't have a high IQ or much chance of getting a job that would be able to support him. You don't hear about kids like this because it doesn't reflect very well on us as a nation. He gets lumped in with all the scum of the earth, when in reality people like this lad are scared shitless of each new dawn. They are also the kind of people who will get swept up in a passionate group of individuals intent on causing as much grief as they possibly can.

The people committing these acts are a mixture of crooks and ignorant young people who are fed up with having nothing and looking forward to having even more nothing.

I'm not condoning the riots at all, but the troubles were brewing for decades and they spill out when the have nots get fed up with it. Towns like Corby which have been decimated in the past by cuts implemented by whatever government is in charge just start to regain a little of its self esteem when someone else comes along and stops everything. The town's only youth centre is in danger of being closed because of cuts. It is a massive loss because it has taken the town years to clean the streets up and now the youth of Corby have nowhere to go again, except hang around the shops, getting bored and quietly belligerent about the people who are better off than them.

You could argue that all they have to do is get a job; get some independence and purpose in their lives. But if they take a minimum wage job, they can't afford their own place, because the rent alone would take 70% of their income. So they have to take supported housing, which costs them almost as much and they have to suffer the ignominy of being 'counselled' or 'supported'. Which feels like being at home again but with an enforced nagging session rather than sporadic ones.

The youth of today - the ones who haven't got parents who sacrifice everything for their children - have a God-awful task to just survive. They haven't got the decision making and reasoning faculties we have, so they make bad decisions or go down routes that ultimately screw them even further. Without sounding like a fascist, these are the people who eventually have a number of children by different partners, who bring their children up with the same disdain towards the world, authority and the law as they have.

In 1978, people of all ages were genuinely intimidated by policemen - not in an Orwellian way, but, perversely, in a 'they make me feel safe' kind of way. We respected them because they were our protectors; we were nervous about them because we either had something to hide or the massive amount of influence they had in the community made us passive in their presence. In 2011, kids as young as 6 openly taunt the police. Everyone is a cod lawyer who knows their rights and in general, unless you kill someone, the law isn't going to punish you too much.

Why did that happen?

Thatcher was why. Not just her, but every politician that has followed her into power. By eroding the poor and widening the gap between the haves and have nots, people grow up in micro-environments, where the black market is far more important than the actual ones.

We are fed the belief that wealth is happiness and having more than others is good; but humans are not perfect and like rats, when they feel cornered they fight back.

I lost my job working with young people who are the most likely to have been involved in this recent spate of riots. Four of us were axed in the name of cost cutting; the same has happened in numerous boroughs throughout the country. The police budgets have been slashed and the Home Secretary tells us that in no way will these cuts affect the safety of communities. The cuts haven't even begun and we're hovering around the edges of total anarchy.

Add to this fewer street lights; less places for kids to go and rising prices.

Do you feel safe?

1 comment: