Further to a number of recent posts re benefit sanctions, including Voluntary Groups, ‘Workfare’ and Benefits Sanctions: The Perils of Participation, Alan Mackie in a powerful piece begins:

I’ll admit to being angry. We’re in the situation where, coming up to the General Election, both major parties are planning to further restrict young people’s entitlement to the most basic of social security. As an academic who writes about young people’s issues I tend to write about these issues in an almost detached and diffident manner. It gets increasingly difficult to do so.

It’s time we all got angry. There’s something very wrong about a country and a government that is willing to make young people do menial and humiliating work for the most pitiful of welfare. Workfare, as we call it now, is little more than a form of modern slavery. What message does this send to young people that we expect them to engage in it? Does it tell them that we value them as they embark on their adult lives? How are we making them feel toward a society that we want them to embrace? That we cannot give them the same pitiful entitlement ‘enjoyed’ by every other citizen of this country sends a message of symbolic violence to our nation’s youth.

He concludes:

Henry Giroux calls such measures a form of moral depravity – particularly when they are targeted at young people. It is at such a time, when young people are becoming young adults, that they are still forming their identity, their views and part of this is how they interact with the world around them – and how the world acts back on them. How do we expect young people to view us, to view the society that they are just stepping into – when such depravity is turned upon them? At the root of all this is the fact that we’re taking punitive action against young people for a structural issue. We’re blaming them for their unemployment when the world of work is becoming increasingly hostile to the presence of young people. We’re turning what is a public issue into a private trouble and then making a public spectacle of it by forcing them to labour for ‘benefits’.

We want our young people to act with a sense of civic responsibility whilst at the same time we can’t give them it in return. How reprehensible we must all look in their eyes. It isn’t the young people cleaning graffiti that should be humiliated and ashamed. It’s all of us standing idly by and watching them. If I see a young person engaged in such an activity I won’t be able to look them in the eye. I’ll feel disgusted with myself for allowing it to be. And I’ll still be angry.



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