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14 April 2008

Capitalising on youth

Despite forming one of the biggest potential constituencies in the Capital, young people rank low in

By John Bateman

A quick survey of the mayoral candidates shows a real lack of engagement with young people’s concerns. Yes, there is a worrying problem with the growth of a ‘knife and gun crime’ culture. Yes, young people fear becoming victims of crime. However, beyond those concerns are a wider range of issues that impact young lives and are sadly not being addressed.

So what do the candidates really offer young people?

From Ken we see a couple of positive initiatives – the investment of £78 million in youth facilities across the capital is welcomed. Keeping free bus travel for under-18s and extending student travel discounts to the Oyster card is also a positive move to support young people. The Mayor’s Young London website is an attempt to include and inform young people – engaging them. But Ken too plays to the dominant media agenda and citizens’ fears by placing heavy emphasis on tackling gang violence and knife and gun crime.

From Boris we hear about restorative justice – young people mucking about on buses will have their travel passes confiscated and they’ll have to earn them back through community service. ‘Payback London’ is specifically targeted at under-18s.

Boris has also promised to tackle gang culture and make our streets safer. He claims his focus is on ‘changing the lives of kids who would otherwise be sucked into a nightmarish culture of violence and criminality’ – a pretty bleak snapshot of the future for young people in London. Boris has also called for more youth centres but has stopped short in saying how much he would actually invest.

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Brian Paddick, the Lib Dem contender, too reminds us that he’s ‘serious about London’. Alas, apart from a jaunty picture of Brian visiting a local youth centre, his website tells us nothing about his views on young people.

The Left List candidate, Lindsey German also puts the emphasis on increased funding for local youth centres while Green candidate, Sian Berry, says she’d give Safer Neighbourhood Teams more officers and shifts rather than spend money on metal detectors and ultrasonic “youth deterrents”. She too focuses on increasing youth services citing ‘the chronic lack of things for young people to do’ saying she’d ‘increase funding for youth services to make up for some of the cuts local councils have put in’.

What is so sad about all the candidates’ well-meaning youth policies is that they perceive young people as a problem to be resolved and controlled. Young people are defined in relation to crime and anti-social behaviour, or as needing to be housed in ‘safe spaces’ – i.e. out of sight and not cluttering up the capital’s streets. There is real fear behind our society’s rhetoric on youth. Why are we so scared of our young people? UK Youth welcomes the support for youth centres but would also encourage brighter thinking about young people and their potential to contribute to the Capital.

We were all young once. Is this really the best we can offer our capital’s youth?

John Bateman is the Chief Executive of UK Youth.

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