Janet Street-Porter: Young people need a home of their own

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The Independent Online

I do feel sorry for teenagers, as not a day passes without a politician seizing on yet another crisis facing Britain's yoof in order to prove they have their finger on the pulse of life in the real world. From David Cameron's fatuous remarks about hugging hoodies and "tough love", to Mr Blair's determination to end his time in office with an Asbo issued in every postcode in the land, young people must be wondering why they can't just get on with their lives without constantly being under a microscope.

Now Ruth Kelly has used the 40th anniversary of the landmark BBC film Cathy Come Home in order to float the idea that homeowners should consider renting out a spare room to a homeless young person. The Government plans to phase out placing young people in bed-and-breakfast accommodation by 2010, except in emergencies. At present they estimate that about 25,000 young people end up homeless because their parents have kicked them out. Homeless charities think a truer total of those with nowhere to live in Britain would probably be around 400,000, a huge proportion of whom will be teenagers sleeping on friend's floors or moving from place to place, outside the system. They are at risk from drug dealers, pimps, and petty criminals as they try to survive.

Miss Kelly talks of mediation to try and prevent families splitting up when relationships are going through a rocky patch, or when young people are causing everyone else in the home to have a tough time, in the naive belief that this will somehow stop kids leaving home. Get real! These days people live in small flats and cramped, poorly built houses. Walls are thin, there is no privacy and mum or dad might might have a succession of partners, which means your face might not fit in any longer. Why on earth should young people stay at home when they are regarded as a burden?

Although the Government plans to upgrade hostels and offer facilities for training, the truth is that teenagers need to have three things: education, training (so that they are employable) and a place of their own. Instead of offering to pay adults to play at B&B (imagine how awful that could be for young guests, with the potential disaster of rules and regulations and no overnight visitors), it's time that politicians realised young people need to be living with their own age-group (we called it flat-sharing, back in the distant days when you could rent a room for £30 a week in huge old houses), albeit with an adult running the premises and ensuring that noise and mess doesn't offend the neighbours.

This week John Reid announced extending plans to deal with anti-social behaviour: when there are complaints about noise, prostitution, crime and alcohol, families will be removed from their homes by the police for up to three months, and parents can be fined £100 if their children are out of control, or drop litter. But fining a poor family whose children are terrorising the neighbourhood is not likely to see any reduction in crime, but will take them further into debt.

Sometimes we have to accept that it is better to provide accommodation and support for these young people away from their parents, who may well be part of the problem. Many of these adults have no parenting skills and zero interest in their children's lives. Until we are prepared to convert old buildings into housing for them, to trust them to live unsupervised, and to think positively instead of negatively about this generation, we will never start to help them.

You have to admire his guts

You've got to admire Jamie Oliver - he puts his mouth where the money is. In New York to promote his latest book and the television series he made about cooking in Italy, he immediately launched into a tirade about obesity, calling his hosts "the most unhealthy country in the world". I like Jamie Oliver's determination. He speaks from the heart and what he lacks in courtesy is more than made up for by the validity of what he says. As burger chains revert to selling super-sized portions, branding them as "manly", it seems as if Morgan Spurlock's hit movie Super Size Me was just a dream. I can't wait for Jamie to hit Texas and the Midwest, where he may find he needs he needs heavyweight protection from angry locals...

* Talking of gluttony, one of the most wonderful sights on I'm a Celebrity has been David Gest's curiously puffy complexion and unnaturally black "hair". He was ranting on about a lack of sugar in the diet the other night, talking as if the producers were somehow inhumane for not supplying him with sugary snacks and beverages. Meanwhile, it's the men who are far more vain than the women, as usual. Can I just mention Jason Donovan's hair - he hasn't got an awful lot, but the few strands at the front are seen coated with some kind of styling product to ensure they look perky every time he takes his hat off. Mr "Misery" Gest and Jason "Jolly" Donovan are the two clear stars at present - with Lauren Booth a prime candidate for eviction on the grounds of total insincerity. Meanwhile harpies in the media, such as the Daily Mail's Amanda Platell, are boasting they were asked to be on the show and turned it down. I doubt they would even have made the short list. I'm a Celeb has gone from being the show the intelligentsia trashed to a hot ticket.

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