Drawing on his conversations with folk as he has travelled the country – often finishing the dialogue on a note of ‘cut the scroungers’ benefits’ – he remarks,
In Warrington, Liverpool, Hartlepool, Peterborough and many other places, I have heard much the same stuff, and two rules always apply. First, as against the idea that disaffection with the benefits system amounts to a petit bourgeois roar from the suburbs, a lot of the noise gets louder as you head into the most disadvantaged parts of society. Second, it is the under-30s who have the most severe perspective of all. Polling bears this latter point out: in the aforementioned ComRes poll, the share of those aged 18-34 who thought a half or more of people on benefits were “scroungers” outstripped that of all other age groups by nearly 10 percentage points.
This last point needs to be explored further by those of us defending young people and youth work. It exposes the limitations of overemphasising ‘age’ as an explanatory category, the pitfalls of ‘ageism’. It is not only young people, who have been demonised via the mass media. The struggle to defend young people and youth work cannot be understood outside of the wider political struggle to resist the assault on the gains, however imperfect, of the post-war settlement between Capital and Labour. All of which poses the question of whether such resistance must go far beyond the achievements of ‘the spirit of ’45’ in terms of power and democracy.
In the coming months as well as revisiting the ethics of youth work through the Institute of Youth Work discussions, it’s time to renew a debate about the politics of youth work. The two are inextricably interrelated. What ethics in the service of what politics?