Why are the people in these deprived areas being helped to fulfil their potential in uniformed youth groups and not with the Educational Maintenance Allowance?
The Guardian headline revealing that the Tories plan to “enlist” disadvantaged children in uniformed groups such as Scouts, Guides and military cadet forces has an uneasy feel to it. You immediately think of the armed forces when the word "enlist" is used and certainly the idea of children enlisting in anything sounds sinister, even echoing the many dystopian novels, series and films doing the rounds. Most of these dystopias feature rigid class systems, a traumatic lack of freedom and hardship for much of the population, below the elite.
The article comes off the back of an announcement made last month by the Minister for Civil Society, Tracey Crouch, that the government would be providing £5 million in funds for uniformed youth groups, aiming to create an extra 5,500 places for children in deprived areas. The funds will be distributed to the Youth United Foundation, which is a member organisation for eleven uniformed youth groups, including the Guides, Scouts and Sea Cadets.
After some initial scepticism, and being acutely aware that this was an article about the Tories, The Guardian took the stance that it didn’t seem like such a bad thing. It seems obvious that creating more places for disadvantaged children can only be a positive, and as such, deserves praise. As mentioned by Crouch in the official press release, these programmes can play an essential part in a child’s development and help to develop life skills.
But as with so much of life, context is everything, if you’ll forgive the cliché. Crouch herself has a voting record in favour of welfare and housing benefit cuts, as well as voting to end financial support for 16 to 19-year-olds. She mirrors the Tory lack of commitment to youth which, according to the Independent, has cut youth services by nearly £1 billion (real terms) in the last six years. These cuts have led to the closure of 600 youth centres and a resulting loss of 140,000 places for young people, which makes 5,500 sound quite insignificant.
Given these statistics, uniformed youth groups seem a bizarre way to spend your money. As mentioned, these groups can be extremely positive and the director of the Youth United Foundation believes that it can help “ensure that young people of all backgrounds are able to succeed”. But why are the people in these deprived areas being helped to fulfil their potential in uniformed youth groups and not with the Educational Maintenance Allowance?
Half of the groups which will receive the funding have strong links or parallels to the armed forces, police and the fire service. I’m curious as to why the Tories deem it the best option to take away their original support in the form of youth centres and instead fund these groups. For a party, which struggles to shake off class issues, the move, at least from an optics point of view, is a peculiar choice.
Higher education is also currently under criticism, with many complaining standards are being relaxed. There is the argument that not everyone can or should go to university; there needs to be a variety of options both vocational and academic for young people. Yet it seems unlikely that it is those in deprived in areas who are unaware of more vocational jobs. Maybe universities are over-subscribed, but this over-subscription certainly doesn’t come from these same areas. Moreover, the financial element, although not so much an issue for Scottish students, still presents a large problem in England, no matter how many access programmes and funds there are.
There is no denying the existence of worrying social issues across the UK, which the government is duty-bound to address. However, if this fund was alongside a comprehensive and cohesive social plan for young people, it would make sense and should be praised. But in the context previously stated, it looks meek, odd and a little like the ruling elite pointing working-class children in the direction of working-class professions or army recruitment. Again, there is definitely a perverse aspect to the image of the upper-class putting working-class children in uniforms.
Perhaps that might be a stretch, and we are not in a dystopian novel with oppressive ruling classes, yet the world, the news and politics seem to have become increasingly ridiculous in the last few years. Are we moving more towards a dystopia, rather than away from one?