A better deal?

Young people who live
on society’s margins are unlikely to be brought in from the fringe by
initiatives such as the New Deal. But their employability could be boosted by
investment in locally managed projects, writes Bob Holman.

many deprived areas, Easterhouse in Glasgow has experienced a recent
improvement in youth employment thanks to the government’s New Deal.

However, young people
complain that some of the jobs are temporary, boring and badly paid. Moreover,
a worrying number of youngsters, who have not gone through with the New Deal,
have had their benefits cut and are worryingly disengaged from society.

Family Action in
Rogerfield & Easterhouse (Fare) is a locally-run community project which is
well aware of local employment difficulties. In 1997, the Carnegie UK Trust
gave it a grant to employ a young youth worker for three years. Local youngster
19-year-old Brian Lennox, was appointed. As a boy, he missed much schooling and
says: “There was nothing to do in Easterhouse apart from walk the streets and
cause havoc. Once Fare started up, it gave us something to focus our time on.
If Fare had not come along, then it is quite possible that I would have gone on
to experiment with drugs or turned out to be a complete troublemaker.”

On leaving school
Brian went through intermittent employment before joining Fare. Initially, he
helped in the youth clubs and café. Teething problems occurred when older
participants, not his manager, told him what to do but he received skilful
supervision from the project leader. Gradually, he took on more responsibilities
and started a youth forum with members elected by young people. A condition of
the job was that Brian had to attend college part-time. He opted for a sports
coaching and development course in which he excelled. In his final year, Brian
grew in confidence and initiated activities. He negotiated with teachers in
order to start an after-school club which attracted large numbers. On leaving
Fare, Brian immediately obtained sessions working as a sports coach with the
local authority where he was soon promoted to senior coach. The community
sports development officer says of Brian: “He is very popular with the kids and
has a good rapport. He is a local boy and that shines through. He seems to know
how to interact with them and get the best out of them. There is one place
where I just could not get on with the kids, it was a nightmare. Brian could
handle it.”

Brian’s present
senior, the community action officer in Glasgow’s community and leisure
department, says that, as well as working in community centres, Brian also
arranges sessions for a course which deals with youngsters excluded from
mainstream schools and for unemployed teenagers. He says: “There are youngsters
who spend a lot of time on the streets, some of whom have been charged with
serious offences. Brian and another coach helped them form a football team.
During one match, there was an argument and one player drew a knife. Brian
defused it – because they had respect for him. He is an influence for good.”
The young youth worker scheme has certainly enabled Brian to increase his
income. Before he joined Fare, he was getting £70 a week for a part-time job.
Now he earns £200-260. Further, he has a career not just a job. Not least, he
is helping to build a better community. This local scheme is a small attempt to
facilitate better employment. Has it anything to teach the government’s New
Deal which was established in 1998 to help 18-24 year olds who had been out of
work for six months? New Deal participants have to choose from four options:
work for an employer for six months at £60 a week, full-time education, work
with a voluntary body, or work with the environmental task force. The
expectation is that, after completing the option, they are equipped for the job
market. The New Deal has been associated with thousands of young people
obtaining jobs, although critics say that this is down to the buoyant economy.
Even the government admits that 25 per cent of the jobs that have been found
are temporary and do not last beyond 13 weeks. And many young people do not
complete the six months because the options were unsuitable, or they had
troubles at home, or because of drug or alcohol misuse. These contribute to an
estimated 500,000 disengaged young people who are not on unemployment
registers, and are not in training or education. They need something more than
the New Deal can offer.

My proposal is that
the youth worker scheme be extended to many community projects. It has these
advantages. First, in contrast to the New Deal, it provides a job for three
years not six months. It has a decent wage not a pittance. It can be a gateway
to a career. Second, it is local. Some teenagers who have spent their lives
within isolated areas find it daunting to be put in large companies. The young
youth worker scheme places them in their communities with people they know.

Third, it can reach
disengaged young people. The young workers themselves may have been disengaged
youngsters. Whether they were or not, they will be well equipped to reach them.
Brian was able to cope with aggressive teenagers because his background made
him acceptable to them. The government should finance young youth workers in
500 community projects to work as club leaders, sports staff, art workers, café
managers, credit union and food co-op assistants and so on. If the costs are
akin to those of Fare then I calculate that over three years it would be £17.5m
– a fraction of that thrown at the Millennium Dome. The gains would be decent
jobs for young people from deprived zones, more contact with disengaged youngsters,
and more youth workers.

• A report on the
young youth worker scheme can be obtained from Fare, 8 Dalswinton St, Glasgow,
G34 OAD. Phone 0141 771 9151. Cost is £5 payable to “the Fare Share Trust”.

Bob Holman is the
author of Champions for Children, Policy Press, 2001.

Liz Kendall warns the government not to indulge its “tough love” leanings when
it comes to benefits and social policy.

and responsibilities are a key government theme, but few policy makers or
practitioners realise it is being applied not just to the benefits system but
across the public services, including the early years.

Few would disagree
that rights should be balanced with responsibilities and that where possible, policies
should help people to help themselves. But the government is considering a more
punitive approach. Removing child benefit from parents whose children truant
and fining patients who do not turn up at their hospital appointment are just
two recent examples.

New Labour looks
across the Atlantic, rather than the channel, for its policy inspiration. Many
of its advisers admire the “tough love” approach to welfare reform adopted in
the US. It is not difficult to imagine what a US-style rights and responsibilities
agenda for the early years could look like. Mothers would have to get a job,
agree to breastfeed their babies and have them vaccinated if they wanted their
children to get a nursery place, join a welfare food scheme or access primary
care services. Sounds far-fetched? Don’t bet on it: the appetite for sticks
over carrots in some parts of the government shouldn’t be underestimated.

We all want to give
children the best start in life and this can’t be achieved by government alone:
parents’ roles are critical. New Labour wants to be seen to be acting to change
parents’ behaviour. But where’s the evidence that such strict conditions would
achieve this goal? The underlying causes of problems are complex. Some mothers
do not breastfeed because they need to work and breastfeeding isn’t accepted in
many workplaces, others because they are unsure of the practicalities. Some
parents are reluctant to have their children vaccinated because they don’t
think the jabs are safe and don’t trust government or scientific advice in the
post-BSE world. And many women are prevented from working by the lack of
quality, affordable child care.

addresses symptoms, not causes. And it is the root causes that public policy
should really be addressing. Mutual responsibility between citizens and the
state is the right way forward, but let’s make sure the government holds up its
end of the bargain.

Liz Kendall is senior researcher and associate director at the
Institute for Public Policy Research.

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