Youth Comment

One of the main ideas in the youth green paper is opportunity cards. These would be run on a “top-up” system with credits to spend on leisure, sports and other constructive activities. However, these privileges would be “suspended or withdrawn” from young people engaging in antisocial behaviour or other unacceptable conduct.

The principle of cheaper access to leisure activities is very good. But I disagree with linking the system to behavioural standards. There is a hidden message that lots of young people commit antisocial behaviour, when in fact it is only a tiny minority.

Widespread negative portrayal of youth in today’s media leads to this image problem. The excessive use of antisocial behaviour orders (Asbos) on young people has not helped. The Asbo system was not designed with young people in mind, but now the government employs it as a “quick-fix” method to deal with those of us in need of things to do.

Bored young people are enticed to behave badly. It is this root cause – lack of youth facility provision – which should be addressed, not how to discipline disorderly young people once they’ve encountered difficulties. How will cheaper access to something that doesn’t exist in the first place help anything?

We should be entitled to better leisure activities regardless of behaviour. Opportunity cards should be a blanket system, not one based on a top-up idea. The  Young Scot scheme is a fine example.

Withdrawing cards from those behaving badly is misguided: the withdrawal of constructive activities will invite more bad behaviour. The idea’s core notion of giving young people better access to constructive activities is well-founded, but the current proposal is riddled with contradictions.

Frederick Bernas is UK Youth Parliament Procedures Group Representative for London

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