Young people need a future beyond capitalism
Britain is failing young people on every front and you have to wonder if the state has any concern for their future at all. From massive unemployment to deaths in prison, to the impact of the cuts – young people are victims of a massive onslaught.
One in five young people are unemployed and youth unemployment is rising faster here than in other European Union member states; only Greece and Spain have higher rates of joblessness among the new generation. For many, it’s a choice between workfare – modern-day slavery – or face losing meagre benefits.
Local councils in England and Wales on the look-out for ways to implement the cuts slashed spending on youth services by a quarter in the year to 2012, and in some places total destruction is on the cards. Southampton and Newcastle plan to cut 100% of council spending on youth services.
Derby Council is eliminating 83% of the grant that helps young people who have been in care or homeless to cope on their own. This support is being slashed across the country, though not everywhere so brutally as in Derby.
The number of homeless young people is rising. Figures collected in mid-2012 by the charity Broadway, showed the number of rough sleepers aged under 25 in London increased 158% in 12 months. There were 638 young people verified as rough sleeping in 2011/12, compared with 247 in 2010/11.
Many young homeless people suffer from a treatable mental illness. A recent Cardiff University report found that 93% of young homeless on the streets showed signs of mental illness. Over 40% were suffering from clinical depression and 35.5% from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
The UK locks up more young people than any EU country apart from Spain, and a recent report from the Howard League for Penal Reform reveals a shocking increase in deaths and self-harm in the criminal justice system.
Twenty-three children died last year, three of them in prison and 20 while being supervised by youth offending teams in the community. Two were murdered, the others either took their own lives or died in accidents.
Incidents of self-harm in youth prisons increased by 21% to 1,700, that's almost 33 reports a week. Almost half of all children in custody have mental health problems and these are not being properly treated or taken into account, says the charity Young Minds.
It's a grim picture, but young people are clearly ready to fight back. There have been youth protests against cuts in Birmingham and Southampton. In Redbridge and Newcastle, the Youth Councils are organising opposition to cuts. Youth Councils are not exactly centres of radical action but they offer a voice and young people are using it.
The riots that shook cities across England in 2011 were another kind of resistance, caused by a deep sense of injustice at unfair treatment by police and growing anger at inequality and lack of opportunity.
You might think there's a million miles between the rioters and the well-spoken Youth Council members but young people share a great sense of solidarity with each other. The student fees protests of 2011 brought together young people of all classes and all social and racial backgrounds.
We should campaign for and support the creation of local youth Assemblies that organise against cuts and unemployment but also set out to draw up a positive programme. Young people most of all need to see a future beyond capitalism, a future without repressive prisons, and with jobs, housing and opportunities for all young people. Assemblies are the place to develop just such an horizon.
7 February 2013