Delroy Hibbert is a Project Manager with the charity Full Circle, based in St Pauls, Bristol.
In August 2011, I watched as young men and women threw missiles at the police in a cat and mouse chase around the St. Pauls area.
The riots put a spotlight on how the economic conditions were affecting the young, especially those now classed as NEETs (Not in Education, Employment or Training), and unemployed. At a time when British industry was suffering skill shortages, concerned voices in industry spoke about the unprepared, workshy British youth too feckless to graft and not giving a damn about anything and anyone.
What the headlines didn’t show was how much the government’s austerity agenda, often promoted by leading business figures, was affecting young people. Instead of support, at a time when youth unemployment was soaring, the Coalition cut the Educational Maintenance Award. The EMA had enabled students from the poorest families to stay in full-time education by giving them up to £30 a week towards their books, travel, and other associated costs.
Cutting it resulted in students dropping out of courses, with almost half of colleges having fewer students in the year following the scrapping of EMA than the previous year.
At the same time the Government began what appeared to be a promising push towards apprenticeships, but there was a flaw in the plan. Despite encouraging figures, not everyone who signs up to apprenticeships actually has an employer, as many are signed up by colleges and training providers and required to find their own work placements. Some are asked to leave after the first year, placing them at risk of becoming NEETs again. This time even more disillusioned than before.
Just days before the riots, Chavez Campbell, a young man in London quite prophetically stated: “There’ll be riots” when asked about the effect of cuts on youth services. Immediately after the riots David Cameron said the issues behind what he termed ‘broken society’ were “back at the top of his political agenda”.
With the majority of cuts yet to come into effect, and widespread hypocrisy in both the public and private sector, it seems that lessons haven’t yet been learnt; voices aren’t being heard. The short sightedness of the government continues, closing youth centres and projects aimed at young people, on top of the loss of 3,000 youth work jobs countrywide in 2011-12. These cuts and changes in funding mean many young people have lost the support networks that they had come to rely on.
I am seeing the results of this in my youth work in St Pauls, with the hallmarks of poverty and lack of opportunity, such as drug-dealing, street conflict, gang activity and violent crime on the increase. This situation is either ignored or snubbed by local and national politics and media. What will it take for them to notice? What will it take to invest in our future? Hopefully young people and their families will continue to make themselves heard.