Youth deserves greater unity from this unit

Taken from a talk on social exclusion given by Bob Coles, a York University lecturer to the British Association Festival of Science
Click to follow
The Independent Online

Youth Is often conceptualised as a series of "youth transitions". These transitions concern the movement of young people from full-time education and into the labour market and from living with parents to living independently of them. Compared to 20 years ago, most young people nowadays experience "extended transitions," initially through the displacement of young people from work and into training schemes.

Youth Is often conceptualised as a series of "youth transitions". These transitions concern the movement of young people from full-time education and into the labour market and from living with parents to living independently of them. Compared to 20 years ago, most young people nowadays experience "extended transitions," initially through the displacement of young people from work and into training schemes.

Less well documented have been changes in domestic and housing transitions. Yet these, too, have been far-reaching and dramatic. This has also led to longer periods of family dependency, including financial dependency during post-16 education and training.

Despite this, many young people do still cease education and training at 16, leave home in their mid- to late-teens and become householders and parents in their teens. This suggests a polarisation of the ways in which youth transitions are experienced by different groups. Furthermore, there has been a growing awareness throughout the 1990s that early youth "transitions" often result in adverse consequences, such as unemployment, homelessness, social isolation and teenage pregnancy outside of any stable relationship.

Some argued that, while a significant section of young people were being excluded from mainstream opportunities, this was better conceptualised as associated with processes of "social exclusion" rather than "underclass". This alternative term seems to accept that some of these processes of "social exclusion" were the result of public policy and social policy management

In part, the growing number of socially excluded young people arose because schools had an incentive to get rid of difficult pupils from their institutions, without thought to the long-term consequences to the welfare of those whom they excluded. Training and enterprise councils and trainers had little incentive to take on difficult trainees. Social services departments were hard pressed, and had little alternative other than to discharge young people from care at the age of 16. Social exclusion, therefore, was at least in part the result of policy and practice.

The 1997 election saw a change of government to one seemingly determined to arrest the expensive spiralling cost of youth policy failure and committed to addressing social exclusion and the better co-ordination of different government departments. One new way of achieving this has been through the creation of the Social Exclusion Unit [SEU].

The SEU is clearly part of a drive within government to base policy upon a systematic review of social-science evidence. This reliance upon evidence may be all well and good where its quality is widely accepted to be reliable. But on topic areas that are new or poorly researched, the SEU clearly had problems

Another defining feature has been the use of its authority at the heart of government to jostle and police departments into deadlines and targets that they might otherwise have been reluctant to accept. Yet one must raise questions about whether its main "hits" are based upon a prime-ministerial perception of departmental intransigence.

One of the main criticisms of the work of the SEU, therefore, relates not to what it has attempted to do but to what it has not done. For, while it has been promoting "joined up" government, other parts of government have also been attempting to do the same in a way sometimes strangely out of tune with the proposals emanating from the SEU.

If the SEU is indeed a "rough beast" that has been set loose on government departments to produce coherence in youth policy, then the Government is to be given at least two-and-a-half cheers. Yet, despite its strong beginnings, there is still need for the "rough beast" to chase and harry others into the fold lest two many "joined-up" solutions become "un-joined-up."

Comments