This is not a good time to be a young person in Britain. Education, welfare, and services are all being slashed by the Con-Dem government to pay for the deficit created by the greed and arrogance of the bankers and big business, yet we are expected to cover their mistakes by putting young people’s futures at risk.
By James Ellis and Jon Redford, Hastings Socialist Party
Those at most risk from the cuts are those worst equipped to deal with them; the young, the elderly, the sick, the disabled, and the vulnerable. Young people in this country are facing cuts on multiple fronts. Education, youth services, benefits, youth employment and university funding are in danger from the government attacks on public spending. This will make getting a decent start in life harder, if not impossible, for many young people throughout the country.
Hastings is the most deprived area in the south-east, yet it is facing cuts of 30% to its budget in the next two years. The governments grant to Hastings will be almost halved over the next three years losing some £6 million. However rather than defend their local communities and refuse to implement the cuts, as the Socialist party demands and Liverpool City Council (read more here) did in the 1980's, the local Labour council will pass on the cuts. The youth of Hastings are more in danger than most from the consequences of these cuts to public spending. With youth unemployment at 29% and rising, prospects for young people in Hastings look bleak. This governments attack on education and youth services will hit Hastings hard.
Sussex Coast College is facing a 25% cut in its funding, on top of £8.5 million in loan repayments. Scores of jobs are at risk and the quality and variety of courses offered is in danger of declining. This new college was not long ago seen as a sign of progress in Hastings, and it is a terrible irony that it is now in the front-line of the Tory and Liberal cuts. The principle of the college, Janak Patel, is quoted in the observer expressing his worries about the cuts to his budget, saying that this is the first time he has known there to be cuts to further education during a recession.
The college has also been suffering from the scrapping of EMA. The education maintenance allowance was a vital help to poorer students and allowed them to cover the costs of travel and other expenses. Even under Labour the £30-a-week EMA was not sufficient for many potential students to be able to continue with their studies, but Mr Cameron’s decision to get rid of EMA completely has left many children from poorer backgrounds unable to afford further education, regardless of their hard earned grades. Sussex coast college has seen a 10% drop in applications this year, and Mr Patel believes this is in a large part down to the scrapping of EMA. Help for poorer students will now rely on charitable donations.
In addition the college will spend £2million inviting private companies into the ground floor. Students will be encouraged to work in these outlets. The door is being opened for private companies to make profits from education.
It is not just education that is under threat in Hastings. Local youth services and youth centres are also facing cuts and closure. Xtrax, a local group that helps disadvantaged young people into work, is having it’s government grant taken away. “We lose staff, expertise and obviously the chance for young people to make a better life for themselves.” said Andy Batsford from Xtrax. The group does a lot of good work in the town helping young people to see their potential, yet this government has decided that those young people are not worth the money.
Connexions provided support and advice to teenagers about a number of issues, but was forced to close after facing crippling cuts to it’s budget. The group was a lifeline to many young people in Hastings and its closure has left many without anywhere to turn to for assistance. One teenager expressed her worries about the closure saying how “A lot of us fear we will no longer get the help we need, as there is nowhere else to go but Connexions.”
Hastings Council, after seeing the East Sussex county budget for children’s services reduced by £20 million, have decided to make the greatest cuts to open-access early years services, and youth centres. This decision will see many parents unable to get care for their children and reduce the support available to those with young families.
This savage government would rather reduce the quality of life for toddlers, than make the bankers pay even a little bit for the crisis they helped create. The cuts to youth centres will leave local teenagers with even fewer areas to socialise and gain a sense of community spirit. How can the Tories talk of “broken Britain”, when they are the ones gutting neighbourhoods of their communal areas?
The government’s decision to raise tuition fees to £9,000 per year has made many young people think again about going to university. How can a teenager who has probably only had, at best, a minimum wage part-time job, be expected to commit themselves to over £27,000 of debt? The members of the cabinet all had the benefit of free university education, but are now going to deny that right to a whole generation.
Even the previous £3,000 fees put many disadvantaged families off, but by tripling them the government is making every working-class teenager in the country have to think again about whether they can really afford to go to university. Education is a right, not a privilege, but these fees coupled with cuts to university budgets are making a degree something that is only easily accessible to privileged elites. So what options do young people have if they have been priced out of university?
With almost a million young people unemployed it is clear that simply getting a job is not an easy option for any teenager. In June the government unveiled its national back-to-work scheme - the 'Work Programme'. The scheme will see up to 30 hours a week of "work placements" provided for Jobseeker's Allowance (JSA) claimants.
This effectively amounts to the punishment of the unemployed; if you can't find a job then you are forced to work for free. Among the companies lining up for the lucrative contracts are privatisation giants Serco and G4S. The Work Programme is not providing opportunities for long term unemployed people or an incentive to work but it is providing the rich with a source of slave labour.
Is it any wonder that out of this toxic mix widespread anger has emerged? The government and large sections of the media are desperately trying to stamp on any suggestion that the riots of past weeks are connected to the government cuts agenda. Yet just weeks before the general election now Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg warned that Tory policies would lead to rioting in Britain.
If poverty and deprivation, but also a bleak future of unemployment or minimum wage jobs and a tightening of the little prospects left to young people, had nothing to do with the riots and it was simply 'criminality', why did they take place in the most deprived inner cities areas? Why now and not ten years ago?
Studies by the Institute for Public Policy Research recently have shown that "...in almost all of the worst-affected areas, youth unemployment and child poverty were significantly higher than the national average while education attainment was significantly lower." (Guardian August 18th 2011).
In Tottenham (borough of Haringey), where the riots started, over 10,000 people claim jobseeker's allowance. One ward, Northumberland Park, is among the most deprived areas of Europe. The local Labour council has voted through £41million of cuts, including the closing of 8 out of 13 youth clubs in the local area. These conditions, while severe, are not unique to Tottenham. Cuts in jobs and public services are ravaging communities across the country.
The hypocrisy is astounding. The politicians who ended the resistance of the organised working-class to 'capitalism unleashed', who paved the way for naked greed to rule the economy and placed everything on the altar of 'if its good for business it's good for everyone', get off with barely a whisper of condemnation.
The bankers, financiers, speculators and ratings agencies who blindly crashed the economy, whose only conclusion from this crisis of the free market is to further unleash the free market and continue to hurtle towards a second financial crash, continue to receive huge salaries and bonuses.
The capitalist class which - like the International, European and Greek capitalist class - sacrifices working-class living standards to boost the profits of the finance sector, remains at the wheel of the global economy. However the anger and moral outrage expressed at looting during the riots has reached amazing heights.
Socialists are clear; rioting is not a useful tactic for the working-class. Most of it harms local working-class areas and not capitalism or the state and creates divisions and an opening for right-wing 'solutions'.
In the absence of a clear political alternative to the cuts this blind rage will become an excuse for the ramping up of police and state forces, as we have seen with ridiculous sentences passed against looters in an attempt to make an example of them, and the suggestions for use of rubber bullets and water cannons.
Such steps could never, and are not intended to, address the underlying tensions and problems that have sparked these riots, but the riots will not address them either, nor will the government in any meaningful way.
It falls to the workers movement to fight against unemployment, against police victimisation of the black communities, against the crushing and disproportionate deprivation of all ethnic minorities especially in inner city areas, and most importantly to wage a challenge to the austerity agenda and the rule of big business, blind finance and capitalism over our lives.
Such a campaign must draw in wider sections than just the organised and employed working-class, but the backbone of any such movement must be mass strike action. The role of such action by the organised working-class can clearly be seen in the March 26th TUC demonstration, the June 30th strike and internationally in the general strike movements that gave the last powerful shove and toppled dictatorships in North Africa and the Middle East.
Fight for your Future! For Socialism!
Socialists recognise that this recession is not just the result of mistakes by the ruling class. The inherent contradictions within Capitalism mean crashes like this are inevitable. Capitalism needs profit to survive, and that profit has to be extracted from the labour of the working class. We must fight against every cut and to save every job. We must work within the wider labour movement to create a united front against the savage Tories and their pathetic Liberal Democrat partners.
But we must not lose sight of the fact that this is not a random crisis, but a consequence of the unavoidable flaws within Capitalism. They say they can no longer afford education and services for the youth of Britain? Then the question must be asked, can we still afford capitalism?