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The riots: my tuppenceworth

August 21, 2011 2 comments

I’m not sure I’ve ever known so many people get so passionate about politics, parenting, social issues, crime, race and policing, so in a way I’m glad the London/UK riots have stimulated a lot of passionate debate. There is nothing more worrying to me than people who either refuse or see no point in getting involved or having an opinion about politics; saying “It won’t change anything”.

Many of the contributory factors to the riots were political, and we’ve already seen that the discourse and proposed (many draconian) responses will be, so it’s important to understand the political context behind issues like this in order to go any way to solving them (as all parties have previously stated- David Cameron of course has conveniently forgotten his understanding/humanity of yesteryear, of course).

So, firstly I’m saddened.

Sad that shopkeepers in run down areas, with probably no stock insurance won’t be able to regain their livelihoods, adding to the shuttered up blight.

Sad that in the same world where millions in east Africa are at risk of dying of hunger (I blame corrupt govt and religious anti-condom rhetoric for much of that) we have people who have so little context on hardship that they loot their own neighbourhood and pretend that they’re getting what they deserve.

Sad that the media blaming frenzy includes bigotry of almost every shade, and in almost every instance fails to grasp that violence, frustration, bandwagon profiteering and cruelty are neither new nor confined to the poor, unmarried, young, black or any other sector of society.

I’m also heartened by the massive movement of people involved in the #riotcleanup. Hundreds of people with brooms, dustpans and brushes turning up in Clapham, Hackney and across the country, to make good the damage other people caused brings a smile to my face and a little leap to my heart.

For what it’s worth, I have a political theory. I think the riots can be traced back to the selling of council houses. The crucial accompanying theory is my belief that between the carrot and the stick; the carrot seems a much more effective way of maintaining social norms than the stick. The fear of official punishment is often a lot less than the quest for peer approval. So instead of vast police numbers, spending a fortune on jails and punishment, (or maybe an effective addition to) the answer could be in getting society to help to maintain those standards, right?

Here’s the thing: for hundreds of years there have been strong communities of relatively poor (some may say average, as judged by the standards of the past) who lived in subsidised council housing for their entire lives. They knew their neighbours, their parents, extended family, friends from school, staff from local shops all lived in the local area.

My paternal family came from exactly such stock. I remember my Nan in Leeds telling me (on many occasions) that when a new council estate was built, she and my Grandad were proud that their family were invited to be tenants, as they had looked after their previous council house so well, and been model tenants. They were very poor-bringing up 4 kids on one unskilled wage- my grandad went from being a barber to eventually working for decades at the Tetley brewery, but they were proud, clean, law abiding and have turned out, at last count 19 descendants of varying levels of education, but all of whom are working, law abiding and grateful for the chances they have been given. Amongst all of us, the fear of parental, family and social disapproval is a far greater disincentive to crime than the tiny chance of being caught.

So, what happened when council houses were sold off? One family, often from the exact same stock as mine, gain a goldmine-a foot on the ladder, a sense of ownership and a stake in their financial future. But as the houses were sold and not replaced, and the original buyers move on; sometimes making a healthy profit along the way the community changes. The estates where everyone knew each other now have various houses split into privately rented flats (better rental return that way) with transient tenants in. The inflating housing bubble-exascerbated by the lack of affordable long term rental property, makes the privately owned ex-council stock the only property reachable for first time buyers, who move in for a few years – never intending to make this their home or where they raise their family. After a few years of decreasing social connections/pride, a few of the houses get a bit run down, then the only landlords interested are the low level private landlords who rent out ex council property for more than the council would, in a worse state of repair.

Now we get into the much touted ‘broken windows’ theory. Once a neighbourhood goes this way, it’s incredibly hard to regain its social glue, and meanwhile all the people living within it have a constantly reducing sense of social collective responsibility, and the results are clear.

None of this is to say that parents, schools, stop-and-search and ASBOs, unemployment, despair and a materially driven media don’t bear some responsibility; but in Africa they say “It takes a whole village to bring up a child” and where one or more of the above are failing, having no social safety net is hardly the way to learn that society includes you.

“Bloody students”

December 6, 2010 Leave a comment

The Young Ones

We definitely showered more than this lot

I’m in a (probably hypocritical) quandary about the whole student fees issue.

I have to be honest and admit that I’m one of the lucky gits that not only didn’t have to pay any fees as I started in 1990, but also due to the not-so-lucky fact that my parents had just divorced and my dad was skint, got a full grant (£2,500 in my first year, topped up with about £400 of student loans as I recall). This was, again luckily for me, in a time when only 10% or so of school leavers went to Uni, so we were still for some reason seen as the cream of the crop, and therefore worth investing in.

As I tirelessly said at the time (to the people in the pub who overheard me; the locals in Lancaster, for whom the students definitely seemed to represent a bunch of posh utter wankers; and extended members of my family who called me a sponger) there are many benefits of further education for both society and with the student. Higher average wages mean more tax receipts, there’s also a lower propensity to crime, more likelihood of bringing up children who also do the same (after smoking a few joints and pretending to be a bit of a rebel along the way of course), all of which helps/helped to justify the public purse funding of further education beyond the age of 18. When loans came in of course there was a lot of hoo haa about people helping to pay their own living expenses, but I don’t remember there ever being a question of the actual education being anything other than worthwhile for the greater good.

Sadly the party that is supposed to stand for access for those who can’t afford it appears to have scored an own goal, as this recipe formula only really worked at a certain level of access. Anyone who thought that Labour’s much vaunted policy of expanding further education to as many people who wanted it wasn’t going to a) cost more or b) devalue the qualifications earned was clearly mad (or needed a bit of basic statistic training – bell curve anyone?).

Add to that a recession and coming out of the oven is a generation of teens who have been taught that anyone who’s anyone gets a degree, and besides, there are no jobs for those who leave school at 18 anyway – ta da daaa – a perfectly predictable well baked funding crisis.

So someone has to pay for it, right? and surely the people who benefit should pay…. but should they *all* – and in what proportion?

I don’t claim to have a perfect answer, but I can’t see that dumping the entire, increased fees on the students themselves is “fair” (yes, you coalition lot).

Firstly, yes of course students benefit, but society does too; and the true opportunity cost of what these people will do instead needs to be borne in mind.
– Is it cheaper to have people at university, busy doing something constructive for themselves and which makes them less of a burden on society for the rest of their lives, than claiming jobseeker’s allowance and housing benefit. If there *is* a short term gain, how does this bear out against the lifetime cost – given that the majority of the fees are paid back and the future tax returns/losses.

A agree that students with money/from families with money should contribute something (not all of these families will help, it must be said – a rich dad can still be stingy), but education is truly an investment that pays back everyone who is involved, and I’m horrified that it’s being restricted to such an extent.

I desperately hope that people who are nervous of paying the fees aren’t totally put off, and choose to plough through anyway.

..and maybe those of us who’ve already benefited from the good old days should put our hands in our pockets and help them out a bit.

… a few quid for your old Uni to help fund a bursary anyone?
… a graduate tax for all graduates from the last 30 years?
… corporate sponsorships from industries that have the greatest need for educated staff?

#justsaying

Letter to myself at 16

July 22, 2010 6 comments
Mel aged 16, astride a pantomime horse

Me aged 16, astride a pantomime horse on school non-uniform day

Having come across a few mentions of what you’d say to your younger self – from Ellyn Spraggins (only the Americans have names like this and don’t have to laugh when they say them) to a blog post by a friend of mine who’s now a Conservative politician (of all things!) James Cleverly, and it got me thinking about what I’d say to myself at 16 if I had the glorious chance of benefiting from hindsight.

It is a bit narcissistic and self indulgent of course, but quite therapeutic.

What would you write?

Dear Mel

Firstly, stop obsessing with that boy at school. Yes one day you’ll snog him, but it won’t lead to everlasting joy and you’ll waste far too much of your time thinking about him that just isn’t worth it (and miss spending time with a couple of really nice potential boyfriends as a result).

Secondly, you are NOT fat. You are curvy, yes, and your boobs are far too big which makes you feel self conscious (and believe it or not, other people jealous) but if you carry on sticking your fingers down your throat, yo-yo dieting and being needlessly worried about what you look like doing exercise, you’ll create such an unhealthy attitude to food and activity that it’ll become a self-fulfilling prophesy. Go back to dancing lessons, treat food as fuel and try not to think about it so much.

Despite this you are about to enter the time of your life when you are at your most popular with the opposite sex. Enjoy it, but don’t shag them all: crap sex really isn’t worth it.

I almost don’t want to tell you in advance, but I think it may help to be prepared for the fact that in two years mum will leave dad for someone she meets at Open University. It’ll be devastating at the time, and you’ll feel like the carpet’s been pulled out from under your feet, but I promise that it will get better over time. Once you have experienced a long term relationship yourself you’ll understand how rarely decisions are as black and white as they may seem at first. You will also eventually realise that 20 years of marriage is still a success, and be glad that your formative years were all spent within a lovely bubble of security.

While you’re at University (which you will *love*) you need to make a decision about where you want your future to go – is it music, or is it marketing. Whichever one you choose, you need to put everything into it, instead of “making do” at both, in case singing doesn’t work out and you have to have a profession to fall back on.

I now know that the people who do best financially at anything are the ones who love it, and would do it anyway for free. If you really want to sing for a living, then go for it – go to piano or guitar lessons so you can accompany yourself, learn how to read and write music, and give it a proper shot. Glorified karaoke is *not* particularly creatively satisfying, and you may wish you’d given it your all so at least you would have known what would have happened – even if you didn’t succeed.

For Pete’s sake, PLEASE do some revision before your finals.

You will never move back to Leeds, but you’ll be glad you’re a Yorkshire girl. You will end up living in London, finally married to a man who you knew immediately was the right one, and eventually with a daughter who you fall head over heels with. In the meantime don’t get down on yourself about not finding the right bloke – he is there, and you will one day gladly forget what it was like to be out there looking.

You will also still be very close to many of the friends that you have right now – with a few notable lovely additions. Treasure them, they will see you through a lot.

You will reach a place where you’re happy to not be rich and famous; your family and friends will give you a massive amount of joy and love, and the only things you’ll regret are the things you didn’t do.

So do them.