This film should stop you in your tracks. Its power to move puts it almost on a par, as Channel Four’s Jon Snow said at its launch today, with the seminal Cathy Come Home.
The short film by the charity the Private Equity Foundation (PEF) features 11-year-old Luke, one of the 1.6m children living in poverty today. As Luke explains his hopes for the future (or rather, his lack of hope) the film also focuses on the issue of NEETs (young people not in education, employment or training).
The film is part of the Luke’s World campaign to draw attention to the lack of opportunity facing children and young people and explain how their lives can be improved by creating better links between education and employment. As PEF chief executive Shaks Ghosh writes over on the campaign blog, Luke lets us briefly into his world and “gives us a glimpse of a national scandal: what life is like for the 1.6 million children still growing up in poverty in the UK today.”
He may only be 11, but already he knows that his dream to become a vet might never be fulfilled. The poverty he suffers, as Ghosh stresses, isn’t simply “the damp and peeling paint, the depressing tower blocks, the absent father, the 16-year-old sister who has left school to look after her baby and the mother who hasn’t worked for four years”. No, what Luke lacks is life chances and consistent support which will help him stay on the path from school into work.
The PEF has launched ThinkForward, a scheme to plug the gap between school and work. The aim is to support young people hand from 14 to 19, allocate them a personal ‘coach’ to support them with an action plan that encourages them to access local projects and work opportunities.
The launch of the campaign featuring Luke coincides with a report published today by The Work Foundation and the PEF that has uncovered 10 blackspots for youth disengagement – cities where between one in five and one in four young people are not in education, employment or training. The recession exacerbated this problem, with the largest increases in neet rates in those cities which already had high levels. Read more about it here.
As Ghosh has argued on this blog before, early intervention is vital unless today’s Lukes become tomorrow’s neets.
It was a sight that would have warmed the cockles of David Cameron’s heart. As soul singer Heather Small and ex-England footballer Sol Campbell mingled with guests at London’s Saatchi Gallery last week, they were showing just the kind of commitment to local philanthropy that the Prime Minister is hoping to encourage.
Small and Campbell were among 400 guests at an event organised by the Kensington and Chelsea Foundation to bring wealthy donors together with the charities they support. Since it was launched three years ago, the foundation has raised £500,000 for local charities in the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, a borough with some of the widest contrasts between rich and poor in the UK. Life expectancy is nearly 11 years lower in the most deprived parts of the borough than the richest, for example (the borough motto is “Quam Bonum in Unum Habitare”, translating roughly as “how good it is to dwell in unity”).
The widely differing circumstances of the borough’s residents were very much on display at the fundraising night, thanks to an exhibition of inspiring photos by members of the Chelsea Estates Youth Project, set up to help marginalised young people. The We are Photo Girls exhibition showcased the work of young people who learned to run their own fashion shoots through the project.
The foundation’s role, explains director Jeremy Raphaely, is to match wealthy donors with charities which are really making a difference on their doorstep. “I have lived in this borough for 40 years and it struck me as odd that charities were getting funding from the local authority, the PCT, the lottery or grant-giving trusts but had no connection with local residents,” he says. “And local residents had very little idea that they were there, let alone any connection with them. But once you introduce them, you get a very positive response.We help donors to focus on areas that interest them, whether it’s youth, education or older people, environment or the arts. We can make a very direct connection between the charities and local donors and their involvement can really make a difference to people’s lives.”
The foundation’s approach is one that chimes with the government’s push to encourage the UK’s highest earners to give more. The potential is certainly there. The independent Philanthropy Review Board, set up by Cameron last year, says those earning more than £200,000 a year give on average £2 to charity for every £1,000 they earn – compared with £90 for every £1,000 among similar high earners in the US. A culture shift encouraging people to give more – and making it easier for them to do so – could bring in an extra £2 billion for charities by 2015, the review suggested. And it’s the local approach such as that in Kensington and Chelsea that may well have the most success.
As a report by Coutts bank this week points out, almost four in five philanthropists support local charities. Marcelle Speller, one of the stars of TV’s Secret Millionaires, sums up the appeal from the donor’s perspective, writing in the report: “Local philanthropy gives me a sense of community, of belonging, and it recharges me. You can see that you are giving effectively, and have the most joyous, enriching experiences.”
So will a reinvigorated philanthropic community be able take the strain as public funding is cut? Certainly Jeremy Raphaely believes that it’s the tough economic environment that’s helping to encourage some donors to reach for their chequebook, rather than necessarily a real sense of heeding David Cameron’s Big Soceity rallying call. “I don’t know how much people are moved by a slogan like the Big Society – people are even sceptical,” he says. “But they realise charities in general are having a rough time. Funding is being cut back but the causes are as big and as critical as they ever were.”
The Big Society may now be a discredited brand, notable by its absence from the debate at this week’s Conservative conference. But for people like Raphaely, who says “we like to think we had the idea before David Cameron did”, the driving impulse behind it remains. “We do all have a community responsibility. It’s not just the homeless or the disabled – it’s our homeless and our disabled. We are trying to nurture that personal feeling of involvement and commitment.”
The contrast with the grainy images of missile-hurling, pickpocketing young “hoodies” from the summer riots could not be greater. These stunningly shot and beautifully-lit portraits showcase East London’s young creative talent and form part of a new exhibition opening on Thursday.
The project focuses on young people from diverse backgrounds, each involved in some sort of creative enterprise, to highlight local talent.
As Kayla, who has blogged on this site before, explains in the story that accompanies her image (the first one featured in this post): “People feel like, because you live in Hackney you’re destined for doom, but I love the people, it’s just so diverse. I do think there is stuff to be proud of..This next year for me is about really getting stuck in media – giving young people a chance to experience media how I have, and giving them the opportunity to express themselves within media. I want to help as many young people as possible, and create a pathway for the next generation. I’m having a baby this year so my child’s gonna be in the next generation in Hackney, and I want to make it a better Hackney for when my child grows up.”
You can read more each young person’s story here by clicking on their name.
Youth-led charity Art Against Knives (AAK), which began in reaction to the unprovoked stabbing of art student Oliver Hemsley, is curating and promoting the exhibition. AAK aims to reduce the causes of knife crime through youth-led arts initiatives providing an alternative to violent gang culture. The hope with the FYI show is to connect creative industry and Hackney’s young talent, giving the young people’s work a platform in the East End’s thriving art scene.
A week-long exhibition will be at The Rebel Dining Society’s 30 Vyner Street HQ, E2 9DQ from 6 – 13 October. Site-specific displays based on the FYI exhibition open for a month on the 6 October. Admission is free.
* For more photography from Agenda, see the website http://www.agendaphotography.co.uk
Above, young carers talk about their role in a Carers Week film.
Next time you feel fed up with doing the household chores, think about Ryan. At 13, he cooks, cleans, does the laundry and helps both his disabled parents get around the house. His father has Crohn’s disease and his mother is disabled.
Aside from the physical requirements of his role as a young carer, Ryan shoulders a huge amount of emotional stress; life is unpredictable because his parents’ health varies from day to day. Getting ready for school in the morning, for example, is hard because he worries about leaving his parents alone and fears his dad will be in hospital when he gets home. The teenager gets frequent headaches, stomach aches and suffers from irritable bowel syndrome, all of which his GP says is stress-related. It is easy to see how being a young carer can adversely affect education, health and wellbeing and lead to isolation and anxiety.
Ryan, who is lucky enough to be supported by a young carers project run by the charity Action for Children, is one of an estimated 700,000 children and young people who have caring responsibilities. Young carers represent over 10% of the UK’s 6m carers, the group of people highlighted in Carers Week this week.
Action for Children is using Carers Week to demand that the government and councils do not ignore the plight of young carers. The charity has released new figures today which show that, in a survey of 23 Action for Children young carers projects, services supporting 1,192 young carers have had their budgets cut by up to 30%. A further 192 young carers are supported by services that have suffered budget cuts of 40% or more.
As Ryan says, he would be lost without support from his young carers project. “I really rely on that time with my support worker to express my worries. It’s amazing to share my experiences with other young carers who understand what it is like to be me. I love my parents but sometimes I get cross with them because we don’t have a normal life and I can’t do the same things as my friends. I used to feel guilty and bad about those feelings but after talking to other young carers I know that we all have feelings like that sometimes and its okay. The young carers project arranges all sorts of activities for us to help us relax and enjoy our time off from looking after our parents. It’s like having a little holiday away from all the worry.”
Budget cuts to support services for young carers save money now but run the risk of undermining young carers’ futures. As Hugh Thornbery, director of children’s services at Action for Children, says, there is already a huge danger that those who need care start relying on children and young people to support them even more as statutory service provision is decimated. This situation, as the charity stresses, effectively means young carers – many of whom spend up to 50 hours a week looking after a relative – bear the brunt of the country’s deficit and might end up paying for it with their futures.
* To find out more the impact of caring resonsibilities on the young, try also checking out the very good Victoria Cares site, a week-long campaign by children’s charity Spurgeons revealing a week in the life of young carer Victoria.
For those who’ve not already seen it, this powerful film presents an alternative to the government’s devastating cuts agenda. It features community groups and anti-cuts campaigners along with Bill Nighy, Radiohead’s Ed O’Brien and Zac Goldsmith MP. Worth watching ahead of this weekend’s demo in London against the cuts.
With age, so it’s said, comes wisdom. While I’m not sure this is always true, I do know that with age also comes a creeping inability to know what it’s really like to be a young person today. This is particularly maddening, most under-24s will tell you, when they hear themselves and their issues being aired in the public arena by politicians, policymakers and commentators twice their age.
Working on a special youth edition of Society Guardian, the overriding feeling shared by the young writers involved was one of frustration at the stereotypical view of young people (and if this sounds like a plaintive teenage whine of “no one understands us”, it wasn’t; their complaints about misrepresentation were more valid than that).
So it’s not surprising that in three years of campaigning and going to conferences, seminars and workshops on youth crime, activist Eliza Reberio, 17, says she feels “the research findings and the observations made did not always convey the reality… nothing that was being done or said was making the changes that were required”.
Which is why Reberio and her young peers at the London-based anti-violence campaign Lives Not Knives are planning a youth-led conference, aptly titled Putting the Record Straight, which they want to hold at the end of March.
Reberio explains: “We think it is time that the young people of London had their chance to speak and in fact put the record straight to significant policy makers and make sure not only that their voices are heard, but the right changes are made.” LNK sends peer mentors into schools to share experiences of gang culture and reduce its appeal.
Eliza Reberio explains the aims behind her Lives Not Knives campaign
The government recently announced £18m for tackling knife crime and gun and gang culture following a report into the issue by former EastEnders actor Brooke Kinsella. Kinsella, whose 16-year-old brother, Ben, was stabbed to death in 2008, was appointed as a government adviser on knife crime last year.
Compared to the high-profile Kinsella launch – welcome as it is – Reberio’s has a more grassroots feel to it. She launched LNK in 2007 at the age of 14 because, as she explains, “the toll of teenagers being stabbed due to youth crime and gang culture made an impact on me and others around me.” Expelled from her school for disruptive behaviour, Reberio realised that she was accepting knife crime as nothing out of the ordinary: “I heard about friends being stabbed and I thought it was normal..I would get texts saying someone had been stabbed the night before and I wasn’t shocked. Then I looked at my friends’ little brothers and sisters waking up to those texts and I wanted to change things.”
Printing and selling t-shirts emblazoned with the words “lives not knives” to family and friends, Reberio used the proceeds of the sale to hold a DJ night in her hometown of Croydon, south London, “for youth to have fun without violence” attended by 150 young people.
The campaign mushroomed and corporate donations lead to a booklet written and drawn by young people, depicting their experiences of knife violence and gang culture – thousands of copies were distributed to Croydon schools. LNK now has a 20-strong team of mentors including those who have either lost a friend, been a victim or perpetrator of violent crime or are ex-gang members. Reberio has just won a Diana Award for her work and the project is part-funded by Croydon council, which has made her a local ambassador.
Last year, the young campaigner was picked to feature in the Channel 4 project, Battlefront, which follows a group of 14-21-year-olds as they turn their issues into campaigns.
Now, Reberio’s plan with the youth conference is to work with other community youth led organisations and show organisations such as the police, youth justice staff, politicians, policy makers, adults, parents and teachers “how life really is for young people on the streets of London, how youth violence is affecting our lives and the real changes that need to be made to make London a safer place for young people”.
The young campaigers are now looking for a central London venue and help with everything from organising the event to identifying contacts – young people as well as youth-related organisations – who might benefit from the event.
Anyone who can help or advise should email Reberio firstname.lastname@example.org or leave a message on this page.
Kicking off a regular interview slot, 18-year-old Moktar Alatas explains how he’s launching a local peer mentoring project, aspire2inspire (a2i) to encourage disaffected teens into work and training. He is driven by the experience of his brother, who is currently serving a prison sentence for a minor offence. Moktar lives in Ladbroke Grove, in the west London borough of Kensington and Chelsea which boasts some of the capital’s most affluent streets as well as pockets of deprivation. He was involved in a youth-led documentary in his area run by the Octavia Foundation, a charity set up by social landlord Octavia Housing.
My name is Moktar Alatas.
I’m a first year law student at Brunel University.
I’m trying to set up a project to inspire hope and instill confidence into disengaged young people from disadvantaged backgrounds, mainly by drawing these young people back into the world of work and education.
I started doing this a month ago, even though the idea has been around for much longer.
I want to do this because I feel that the area that I live in needs something that can realistically go about challenging the barriers that many of us deal with. As a young person myself I know how hard getting employment can be, I would say however that my brother’s experience in going to prison, has truly been the inspiration behind the project.
My aim is to transform the lives of many of the young people in my area who feel that there isn’t any hope for them. I believe that if I can give these young people financial independence, then many of the social ills that are poverty driven, such as drugs, crime, will be eliminated. The idea is to conduct ‘social surgeries’. Young a2i members go out into the community, targeting ‘hard to reach’ areas, and talking to their fellow young people with the aim of bringing them into our offices with the incentive of getting a employment/training. Next, a series of steps, including one-to-one meeting to identify and overcome any barriers that that young person may have. Finally, we work with that young person to find suitable placement.
So far in just a month we’ve managed to get over 50 people on our books, conducted numerous CV workshops, helped three people into paid internships, and helped another young homeless person into housing.
I hope to raise funding for it through the work that we do. By this I mean that rather than a charity, I want a2i to function like an actual employment agency. This, I believe will better fit into the premise of big society.
The hardest thing so far has been trying to provide the service with an imaginary budget.
The most rewarding thing will be to prevent people from going to prison, and instead into employment and training.
I’d love to hear from you if you could help me with any ideas that you have on how to go about organising, fund raising and delivering the service.
“Gob-smacking” is how Labour MP Frank Field, chair of the government’s Review on Poverty and Life Chances, referred last week to findings that, from their first day at school, children from families on the lowest incomes were already lagging behind their richer peers. Ahead of presenting evidence to the Prime Minister, Field said he would be concentrating attention on what happens during a child’s first five years that so impacts on their life-time opportunities.
But such statistics should come as no surprise, certainly not to those attending our annual conference today, Intervening Before its Too Late. Earlier this year, Ex Curricula, a report by Demos, funded by the Private Equity Foundation (PEF), found that over one in 10 five-year-olds are at severe risk of disengaging from education when they begin school. These so called ‘nursery NEETs’ (not in education, employment or training) don’t have the behavioural skills they need to learn.
Demos advocated that the focus of resource and policy for dealing with the NEET issue should be turned on its head. It looked at “identifying the earliest possible point of intervention to prevent disengagement”.
This isn’t about branding babies but about dealing with risk factors as soon as they arise.
It makes sense. Vast sums are spent on dealing with the consequences of disengagement (this generation of NEET 16-18 year olds will cost society an estimated £35 billion over their lifetime). And over the last decade, NEET numbers have remained shockingly steady at around 16-17% of 16-24 year olds.
However, although Field has said (with provisos) that “later interventions do look much less cost-effective”, I would argue that the right, evidence based charity interventions continue to stack up financially and that it’s imperative that we don’t stop at age six.
Take, for example, the social safety net that charities can provide in primary schools, charities like The Place2Be and School-Home Support which, by tackling serious emotional and family issues, remove disadvantaged children’s barriers to learning, leaving teachers to teach. They also bridge the critical journey to secondary school when, unsupported, the vulnerable can so often disappear into a black hole. As previously highlighted on The Social Issue, a review of SHS has found that for every pound spent on it, £21.14 is saved across the whole of society.
But what about engaging teenagers before they walk out of the school gate and become ever harder to reach? It’s at 14 that young people really show their propensity to become NEET and that targeted and yes, cost-effective help can turn around young lives.
Skill Force, a charity that works with 14-16 year olds is a case in point; 60% of its students who are entitled to free school meals go on to further education, compared to 6% nationally. Exclusions are reduced from a predicted 30% to less than 7%. The organisation, which has helped around 35,000 young people since it launched a decade ago, estimates that it saves the public purse some £40 million a year by reducing the number of young people likely to become NEET. That is why PEF supports its good work.
Skill Force staff, drawn mainly from the armed forces, provide outstanding role models and deliver an alternative in-school curriculum which draws together vocational qualifications, community volunteering and life skills both in the classroom and through outdoor activities. Amongst other things, students work towards the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award and the Young Lifesavers Award, studying their alternative curriculum for a day a week for up to two years.
A recent Skill Force rock climbing activity, encouraging team work and mutual support
Karl’s just one Skill Force beneficiary: “I never used to bother with going to school on Mondays – I used to take it as a day off. School really bored me. But then Skill Force was every Monday and I saw it as a good, positive start to the week. I started to enjoy what we were learning.” Fellow student Ryan adds: “What I have achieved has surprised everyone at college because they thought that I would have been kicked out by now”.
Would just one chance, pre-six, have been enough to help Karl and Ryan? It’s impossible to tell. So while I commend Field’s consideration of the welfare of the very young, I would welcome a wider shift of emphasis to prevention rather than just early intervention if we’re to avoid the children of today becoming the NEET statistics of tomorrow.
The school term has barely begun, but some things are for certain; new shoes are already scuffed, fresh friendships are being formed and, on average, up to eight children in every classroom are living in poverty.
George, for example, was persistently late for his primary school in the north east of England and was also collected late – usually by different people. After a fire at his council flat, he and his lone parent mother had been allocated a new home but could not afford to furnish it so had moved in with relatives. George had trouble concentrating in class and suffered from nightmares.
Things changed after support from an independent, school-based welfare worker who wrote to George’s mother about the school’s concerns. The worker, from charity School Home Support (SHS), applied for money from the organisation’s support welfare fund for a double bed, so that they could at least sleep in the new flat. George and his mother moved in, a bit of stability entered their lives and the worker is still supporting them to furnish their new home.
School-Home Support is one source of support. It offers school-based emotional and practical support through practitioners who help children and families in more than 240 primaries in 22 local authority areas across England. SHS staff are a non-timetabled resource, talking to parents at the school gates and visiting families at home with the aim of creating a link with school.
Scratch beneath the surface of an average classroom, according to SHS figures, and around seven children will have witnessed domestic violence, six will have been exposed to substance misuse and one child will be a carer for a family member. The idea is to nip problems in the bud before they appear and offer support beyond the classroom. SHS practitioners deal with issues such as parents who feel isolated because English is not their first language or families coping with substance misuse or mental health problems.
Last year the 26-year-old charity reached over 19,000 children and young people like George. It costs £5m to run a year, with funding from local authorities that have contracts with SHS, voluntary donations, support from venture philanthropy fund the Private Equity Foundation.
A recent evaluation of the social and economic impact of its work found that for every pound spent on SHS, £21.14 is saved across society in terms of reducing the cost of dealing with unemployment, crime, exclusion and the increased income as a result of higher educational attainment. A June 2007 report by consultancy New Philanthropy Capital compared the cost of SHS interventions with the cost of school exclusions and found that if all those in danger of exclusion had access to its services, then society would save £90m a year.
In the current climate, this sort of work is more relevant than ever; the knock-on impact of job losses can have profound effects on educational attainment. SHS staff point out that an event like the 1,700 jobs lost thanks to the closure of the Corus steel works on Teeside, for example, could effect families, relationships, dynamics and ultimately children’s behaviour and ability to perform, concentrate or attend school.
SHS has links to the whole family, it is well-placed to work with local authorities and other public sector agencies, supporting the coordination of services. Interestingly, it also puts paid to the myth that some people are ‘hard to reach’. In fact, it’s often the support services that are hard to find, because parents think they’re unapproachable or simply don’t know about them, and if they do, the onus is on the individual to make contact.
Let’s leave the last word to Angela, a mother-of-five from Hackney: “SHS were the only ones who never judged me as a parent. Carla, our SHS practitioner in school, never said ‘you’re no good.’ I’m not perfect but I do my best for my kids and I love them.”
Here’s an unforgettable question that I was once asked, ridiculous and thought-provoking in equal measure: “So tell me, what made you want to be an Asian journalist?”
Tempted to claim that my options were limited by the fact that the corner shop didn’t have any vacancies, instead I told my newspaper executive interrogator that I became an Asian journalist because being a Swedish one would have been, well, a bit tricky.
He looked confused, then chastened and the subject wasn’t mentioned again. More than a decade on, the question still resonates.
Most obviously, it reveals the preconceptions, based on differences – be that difference in health, gender, colour, class, income or age – that one person can have about another.
Secondly – and this brings me to launching this blog – the question is a reminder about what journalism and writing can do; inform, provoke debate and offer something new to the reader. Not only will The Social Issue be a platform for stories, projects and ideas that inform and spark discussion, but it should challenge preconceptions. That might be because it features a project that’s solved a seemingly insurmountable problem, or because it features someone doing something extraordinary.
To return to that initial question, I thank my parents for the fact that I became an Asian journalist. They are Asian. Therefore I am Asian. Half my career goal was met by virtue of my being born. In my bid to be an Asian journalist, I only had a 50% chance of failure.
More seriously, my parents lived in an area with good state schools. I had access to higher education and post-graduate training before the crippling student fees system came in, and I began my job hunt at the tail end of the last recession in the 1990s.
Today’s young person is looking for training and qualifications when providers are oversubscribed and seeking work in an economically hostile environment. There are 562,000 young people unemployed, according to the Office for National Statistics. And the situation can be worse if you happen to be black or from an ethnic minority. Analysis from the IPPR earlier this year shows that 48% of black 16-24-year-olds are now unemployed along with 31% of young Asian people. The rate of unemployment among white young people stands at 20%.
To compound the problem, what will become of community-based projects to raise aspirations through positive role models for black and Asian young people when funding is so squeezed?
The Black Training and Enterprise Group recently launched a small grant programme to help local voluntary and community groups working with black boys and young men across England. The REACH Programme: Community Engagement Project is laudable but small scale, offering £500 grants to local groups that can host events which encourage and inspire young black males to succeed in education and work.
There are many innovative community-based training projects out there that inspire and encourage young people in their chosen careers – but how many of them are self-sustaining enough to survive in the funding desert?
One organisation that I’m a fan of and that I’m involved with as a trainer is Poached Creative. The east London social enterprise is a writing and design company, training the young and long-term unemployed in media and communication skills.
If you know of other successful projects along these lines – better still if you’re a young person who’s benefitted from them – drop me a line. Alternatively, if you want any tips on how to be an Asian journalist, I’m your woman.