Tackling the dependency culture – how we can all benefit

I have been considering going into politics for over twenty years now, but two related events pushed me into action. 

 The first was listening to John Humphrey’s report on the lack of aspiration among young people today: he revisited his home town and interviewed a group of young men – all fit, healthy and without dependants – who were sitting outside a pub at 10.30 on  a Tuesday morning, waiting for it to open. When he asked them if they were concerned by the fact that they weren’t working, they said that, as long as they had enough money for beer, why bother.

That same evening, I went into my local hardware store to buy some paint. I became aware of an elderly man stacking shelves, and, when I spoke to him, he told me that his pension didn’t go very far, so he supplemented it by working in B&Q.

 “So this is Gordon Brown’s Britain” I thought, on the way home, “where the old work and pay tax, so that the young can drink beer and watch TV.” 

 Their lack of aspiration is the product of the dependency culture we now have, and which is acknowledged by all political parties, although no one in government seems to have come up with real solutions for tackling it.

The New Deal for young people has not delivered what it promised, to the extent that a new acronym had to be found for those ‘not in employment, education or training’: NEETS.

Having been a Team Leader with Prince’s Trust Volunteers, I actually have experience of working with young people with no hope and no aspiration.  Many of my volunteers came from very difficult backgrounds, and several of them were at special schools, but the opportunity to do something positive for youngsters worse off than themselves (one of my teams built a trim track for a special needs school) had an immdediate effect on them. I saw – at first hand – how motivated and engaged they became, and many of them left the programme to find jobs, or contine volunteering.

My ‘big idea’

 David Cameron’s proposals for community service are very similar to the PTV programme, but I would go further. My proposal is that we make income support for NEETS conditional on undertaking voluntary work.

Obviously, improving our national skills base is paramount in making Britain competitive, so further training is the most desirable option for young people not in work, but, for those who are neither in employment nor training, then having to do some form of voluntary work (which perhaps stretches the definition of ‘voluntary’ I accept) could be the answer. After all, if they have to get up and do something every day, in order to claim their benefit, then why not do something and be paid more for it?

Even more importantly, they would be contributing to their local community; they would matter; they would be making a difference. All of these things lead to a increased sense of self worth and self esteem, which is the first step towards leaving the dependency culture behind.

By working with a local charity, or youth organisation, or community theatre – whatever – they would also gain useful life skills which would make them more attractive to employers.

Most of all, they would have a better reason to get up in the morning than opening time – one that would benefit us all.

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