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From The Socialist newspaper, 11 June 2008

Underfunding youth facilities: It makes no sense!

Fifteen teenagers have been murdered in London in 2008, twelve of them stabbed to death. The question of violence dominates the mainstream media, and all of the main political parties have been clambering to prove they're 'the toughest on crime'.
Working-class communities want a solution to these problems but can the main parties provide one? The government have backed Essex police's initiative to follow, harass and photograph youths who they consider to be a 'nuisance' or behaving 'anti-socially'. New Labour has also earmarked 20 million over three years for information-sharing on those "at risk of committing serious violence".
James Kerr spoke to Ray Barker, a former youth worker in Hackney, London, for The Socialist.

"For every young person who came into the youth club we would have to do an 'onset' form. This would include information about their education, whether they were substance abusers, their family situation... They might have just come in to do a music workshop.

"There was a whole load of personal information that you didn't really need but it'd be submitted to a database and then any professional in the area could access that information, even a doctor.

"Doing the assessment meant that if a kid admitted to you that now and again he smoked cannabis, even if it was just Friday night with his mates, you were told to put that down and they'd be referred to the Drug Action Team. The kids and their parents never knew you were doing these forms."

Coupled with this was a target-driven approach to youth work:

"We could only run projects if we could prove that they were having a crime-reducing effect. It meant if you wanted to do a motorbike workshop with a group of kids sometimes you could only take young offenders.

"Some kids would admit to things they had never done just so they could go on a trip away."

Some of the projects that Ray was involved in coordinating show the effect that projects can have on groups of teenagers:

"We used to work with white working-class youth in Bermondsey. You'd be talking to them and they'd describe themselves as 'Bermondsey bod'. We'd ask them what does that mean? So they'd say "you wear Armani jeans, Reeboks classics, a Burberry cap and you're racist". We asked why 'racist'. That was how they had been labelled.

"We took these young people away with a group of Somali kids their age. They were playing football alongside each other and hanging around together. I was involved in the Bede Anti-Racist Detached Youth Work Project. After that racist attacks fell by 48% in that area and that was mainly working with ten young people.

"The problem is there's not enough provision. There are no reduced rates for young people at leisure centres or football pitches so how can they afford to do these activities? The question is would young people rather be sat in the stairwell of a block of flats in the middle of November or playing five-a-side in a leisure centre with their mates?

"Even on our projects we struggled to find funding. There was no central funding so you'd have to do individual funding applications to private companies. Obviously they had their own agenda on what the project was going to achieve. None of the youth work was just about providing a place for kids to hang out.

"In Camberwell we used to have a Labour Party Young Socialists fun day where you'd meet young people and then they might come along to an anti-fascist march and become involved in politics that way. One of the other things now is that there is no major party that can provide this. Could you imagine Labour going onto the estates to recruit young people now? That's why the question of a new workers' party is so important."

The government's rhetoric of 'tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime' is shown to be completely hollow when you speak to those having to implement New Labour policy. In fact the opposite is the case.

Cuts in services and youth workers constrained by targets mean that many young people simply have no access to services where they can develop themselves and just enjoy their youth.

Ray provides a glimpse of the potential of the work that can be done by young people if the provision is there. Without it, frustration and anger at the lack of prospects will inevitably grow. Without a mass political organisation, that can channel that anger into fighting cuts and for a society that will provide for the basic needs of those young people, then tragically the prospect of continuation of youth violence is posed.

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In The Socialist 11 June 2008:

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