Edition number 67; dateline 8 October 2013

Young people: the curse of our age

The announcement of the prime minister’s brilliant idea to criminalise the unemployed, which  manifested itself as a proposal to remove all benefits from anyone under 25 and require them to report to a job centre daily, perhaps there to keep office hours, was made not to a group of young people or even a group of older people who had ever met or worked with a young person but to the seething mass of fractious and querulous insecurity that is still referred to as the Tory party faithful.

It caused concern among some observers outside the hall but no matter; like most government proposals in recent years it survived as a credible policy about as long as it took for the applause after the speech to die down and for a couple of the less credulous people in the vicinity to wonder how such a policy might be delivered. Given that there are thought to be in the region of one million under-25s unemployed, the question of where are they all going to sit was one of the first to be mooted and, given that this was offered as government policy to improve our nation and the lives of everyone (well, a few) in it, it was not an unreasonable question to start with.

By the time the prime minister and his wife had left the stage further questions were being posed. Have the job centres expected to deal with this phalanx arriving to do their daily stint of internment got enough toilets to cope? How are the young people without work and now without any form of social security support expected to travel to these places of correction, given that a great majority of them are likely to live a good few miles from their local job centre and none of them will be able to afford to get on the bus even if they live somewhere where a bus service survives. The option of taking the train is, of course, laughable for anyone employed on anything other than what an ordinary person (what used to be referred to, and still is by judges sitting in libel cases, as the man on the Clapham omnibus, back in the days when ordinary Londoners could afford to get on a bus) would consider a very handsome salary. A bicycle is, of course, an option but they too are expensive modes of transport if you don’t happen to have one to hand.

Many people will be of the opinion that the presentation of such a policy on a national political platform, an environment that differs from a country supper table in that it is attended by the holders of cameras, audio recorders and shorthand notebooks, represents a very sad indictment of the nation we have become and the politicians we have decided to elect. Others will wonder at the impoverished intellect that must have been sat around a table nodding at each other when this policy was proposed. That, however, is another debate for another time. What most alarms us here, in a forum for the exploration and debate of the sport, leisure and culture sector, is the poverty not just of intellect but of imagination.

Even if you have concluded that young people not in education, training or employment must be feckless wasters (and you would have to have gone out of your way to avoid meeting any young people to even entertain such an idea) you would have to be pretty dim to think that the best thing to compel them to do is to turn up at a job centre every day. That is hard enough to do if you are actually paid to work there, even before your workplace is full of people standing around wondering whether there is a toilet in the building. A moment’s thought would produce a wide variety of alternatives that would better serve the individuals, the community, the nation or the economy (select whichever aspect of this list you think should be the most pressing concern of government).

A moment’s thought from anyone with any kind of appreciation of the opportunities, passions and financial potential offered by the sport, leisure and culture sector – an area of economic activity continually lauded by government ministers when they want to associate themselves with successful sports people, artists or musicians, or just get tickets for major events – would produce a very long list of ideas and suggestions that one could place in front of someone wondering what they might be able to achieve while they were searching for their place in the world of work and wider society.

Of course, at The Leisure Review we know our place and while we would never presume to tell a government formed from our elected representatives what they should do, we might be so bold as to suggest that if the government of the day did not have the necessary cultural experience within the ministerial team or the huge number of PPE graduates, Oxbridge make-weights and children of friends that make up the enormous phalanx of special advisers they could always ask a few people outside their immediate circle who do know about such things. Someone in the sport, leisure and culture sector, for example. However, we know that time is at a premium in government and the 15 or 20 minutes this would take is perhaps an investment too far; if only there were some easily searchable resource of collected articles and information from around the world that was available on one’s desk to cut such unimaginably dull tasks down to size.

Anyone with any experience of young people will know, as BJ Mather pointed out straight off the bat at our recent Coaching Insight session (a report of which is now available within this issue of The Leisure Review), that young people can be annoying, idealistic, unfocused and carry with them an irritating sense of entitlement. However, the same young people are also likely to be positive, creative, ambitious and in need of challenges; any that are not will be in need of help rather than incarceration.

Far be it from us to suggest that the prime minister and the privileged few he gathers around him are out of touch but may we respectfully suggest that giving young people – all young people – access to the opportunities, inspiration and relationships offered via the sport, leisure and culture sector would be a much better investment of government funding and energy than thinking up novel but ultimately unworkable punishments for the crime of being young?

Jonathan Ives



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