EMA

This Demonic Youth


Maybe A-Level results getting better year on year is a sign of young people working harder, rather than of academic decline? (Graph from BBC News website, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-11012369)

Young people today really are little shits, aren’t they?

I mean, if they aren’t lingering on street corners and mugging old ladies, then they are rioting and looting across the country. And then they all take easy exams and get qualifications which aren’t worth the paper they’re written on, because A-Levels have gotten much easier, and swan off to university to do “non-degrees”.

Surely these little bastards are the sole reason why the country is going downhill, right?

Today is, of course, A-Level results day, which means that all across the country 17-19 year olds have been tearing open brown enveloped and gazing upon the results breakdowns therewithin with either glee or devastation, and crashing the UCAS site with judicious mashing of their F5 keys. And the pundits have probably already begun rolling out the tired, annual accusations that A-Levels are a walk in the park nowadays, not like twenty/thirty/forty/etc years ago when you had to wrestle bears just to come out with a pass, or whatever.

It’s the same story every year, and it gets horrendously tiresome.

And on top of that, it’s not a fun time to be a young person at the moment. If you’re not being blamed for rampant civil unrest and the breakdown of society (when it’s actually more likely that you were involved in the clean-up than the destruction), then you’re a feckless waste of space whose achievements are denigrated, and whose very existence is considered a burden.

The fact is, the government makes a palpable show of not caring about the youth- but to be fair, whilst the Lib Dems courted young people at the General Election and then deserted them, the Tories never really seemed to promise them anything at all (leaving aside Cameron’s ridiculous “hug-a-hoodie” PR moment. Tuition fees have been trebled, education budgets have been cut, youth services are being shut down across the country, and even the EMA which would allow less priviliged children continue their education is being heavily curtailed.

But take a look at our society today. This isn’t the Britain of the fifties, where the majority of kids went to work (mostly in industry) at 16, and only the very gifted few went to university. Today we are a post-industrial, largely service economy, and increasingly an undergraduate degree is essential to get anything more than a menial, minimum-wage job. And this is the message that is sent to young people, that if they don’t go to university then they have failed.

With that in mind, is it any surprise that A-Level results would improve year on year? Young people are put under tremendous pressure, because A-Levels are their gateway to higher education. They are forced by their circumstances to work incredibly hard, and the results (I feel) show that.

So here’s to all those who got their results today. Ignore the media, the pundits, and (occasionally, and embarrassingly) the government, saying that you’re some sort of demonic horde, to whom qualifications have come too easy. You’ve worked damn hard, and done damn well, whether or not you met your university offers (or indeed, whether or not you’re going to go to university). The day will come when we’ll be running the country, and I’m not despairing quite yet.

Youth in Revolt


This is the fate which I, and thousands of other young people across the country, fear will be their long-term future.

(This piece was written for the website of Maidenhead Labour Party, where you can see it at its original home)

These are not terribly enjoyable times to be a young person. Of course, they aren’t exactly fun for everyone else, unless you happen to be an old Etonian politician, or the CEO of a bank. But young people seem to be taking a real hit at the moment.

The recent rise in tuition fees has been a definite headline-grabber, with thousands of students taking to the streets in an apparently futile bid to force the Liberal Democrats to honour the vote-winning promises they made before the election. But beyond that, there are so many other regressive policies which are already devastating the life chances of the young.

The rise in tuition fees is a poorly constructed cover for a massive cut to the budget of higher education institutions. This means that universities will be forced to cut back the facilities and services they offer to students starting from September 2012. So yes, students will be paying a good deal more for a good deal less. Which doesn’t sound like a very good deal to me.

And this, of course, is if they get to university in the first place. The withdrawal of the Education Maintenance Allowance, will hit thousands of sixth form students and prospective students. Introduced in 2004 by the Labour government, it was aimed at encouraging young people to remain in education, by giving them the funds necessary for them to do so. It was a lifeline for the poorest young people in our society, giving them hope of getting a better education, and a better job at the end of it. That lifeline has now been cruelly cut by Michael Gove and his Department of Education.

And even for those who manage to get into university, life isn’t rosy. I have just finished studying for a Law degree at the University of Sussex. Three years of hard graft, and now I’m finding it incredibly difficult to find a job. The recession has meant that there are less jobs available, but even now that we’re moving out of recession (albeit into stagnation, thanks to George Osborne’s misguided economic policies), there are graduates from the previous few years still fighting for any new jobs.

Youth unemployment in the UK is currently at record levels- something in the region of one million young people are not in employment, education or training. My biggest fear as a young person at the moment is that I will spend the next few years queuing outside the Jobcentre, irreparably setting back my life chances. I know that this is a fear unique to myself.

So what is the way forward for young people, in today’s climate? Well, the best thing that anyone can do is keep trying. The moment you give up is the moment you lose- and they win. But more than that, and I am biased here, I would remind young people that in thirteen years of government, Labour massively expanded education and provision for helping them into jobs. For example, the Future Jobs Fund, which was one of the first casualties of coalition austerity policies.

I’d also remind them that the Labour party is still fighting their corner- and tell them that active, passionate and enthusiastic Labour party branches are to be found all across the country. And if you’re under 27, it costs only £1 to join.

An Open Letter to Students


My fellow students,

 

Those who attacked Millbank Tower were thugs and cowards, who took advantage of students' anger, and who have damaged the cause that they claim to believe in.

Yesterday I marched with you in London, protesting against the Coalition plans to cut the Higher Education budget by 40%, treble tuition fees, abolish EMA, and a host of other ill-advised and regressive policies. For the most part it was a pleasure to be a part of. We marched from LSE down towards Parliament, shouting slogans (and general verbal abuse of Lib Dems/Conservatives) and waving placards (some of which were a bit mental, but hey, it’s a protest- you’re allowed to be a little mental).

Then, after about 2pm, it all went wrong. The attack on Millbank Tower (regardless of whether it was or wasn’t Tory HQ) was a stupid move. It turned what was a respectful, peaceful demonstration, into a riot. And maybe some of you are looking at today’s headlines and realising what a mistake it really was.

The fact is, that most of the 50,000 students gathered behaved completely respectably, and didn’t engage in stupid acts of aggression and violence. The ones who attacked Millbank Tower and tried to occupy it were a minority, hailing from certain factions of the left and of the student community. I won’t specify who, but I’m sure that all of you who know anything about this are aware of who I mean. And I suspect that a good deal of that minority went to the demonstration spoiling for a fight.

I can understand the anger and frustration that led to it. Everyone there was passionately against the unfair moves being taken by the government, and in particular at the broken promises of the Liberal Democrats. I’m sure that if Lib Dem HQ wasn’t hidden down an anonymous sidestreet they would have seen much more aggression than they actually did. In the end, students were angry about policies that would disproportionately hit the poor, and that anger both boiled over and was taken advantage of by certain elements.

The end result is that the protest has been sullied. The focus is on the minority of violent individuals who acted unacceptably, not the overwhelming majority who behaved more reasonably. I think it’s exemplified by the fact that David Cameron was able to give a statement on the performance of the police and the unacceptability of rioting, and completely ignore the issues that we were protesting against.

And the worst part, for me, was that we had the moral high ground. For the most part, we weren’t protesting for ourselves. The impact of these cuts and policies on present students will be minimal. It’s the future generations who will be disadvantaged, and it was for them who we were marching for.

Please understand that my criticisms were aimed at those who perpetrated the attacks on Millbank Tower, and not to the rest of the students. In particular, those who broke windows, tried to occupy the building, and unbelievably dropped things off the top of the building. I am a student. I am a left winger. But I like to think I’m not an idiot. This hasn’t helped anyone, and has hurt our movement and our aims.

Those who gave in to violence, vandalism and thuggery make me ashamed to have been there. However, all of you who didn’t disgrace yourselves, who peacefully demonstrated to make our voices heard. All of you make me proud to be a student, and to have been on the march which will unfortunately be remembered for the idiocy of a few.

 

Sincerely

Matthew S. Dent

(3rd year LLB student, University of Sussex)