Last summer, while most people in the country were celebrating the London Olympics, 1 in 5 teenagers up and down the country were facing the struggles of life without work, and BBC Three’s new series, Growing up Poor, opens viewers’ eyes to what else was happening in Britain during the Games. This is the side of life that many of us hear about, yet aren’t all that familiar with.
While I was watching the fascinating show, I was checking people’s views on Twitter, and while most people were very sympathetic, some weren’t interested in finding out about the problems faced by unemployed young people, instantly branding them “dole dossers,” “scroungers” and “chavs”; they simply assumed these people were in their situations by choice.
It’s views like that which need to be eradicated. The young people featured on the show are among 300,000 teens around the country in similar situations, and it isn’t their fault. They’ve found themselves in terrible circumstances after not having the fortune of being brought up in the same ways most of us have enjoyed.
So it’s the fault of their parents? Absolutely not! The parents of these young individuals found themselves in very similar situations to their children when they were young, and that has to be down to failures of our Governments, not forwarding work opportunities to young people, not giving them enough money to get by on if work isn't available, and not even putting an effective support system in place.
You might say that we are all guaranteed the opportunity of education as youngsters, and you’d be right, and the majority of us make the most of it, setting us up well for opportunities down the road, but some aren’t able to do that, whether it be because of family breakdowns or just a complete lack of parental guidance.
That’s not to say these young people aren’t ambitious though, because they are, they have dreams just as the rest of us do. They don’t want to rely on government support, but they have to.
Shelby, one of the young women on the show, had taken up a six month work placement stacking shelves at a local shop. She was working 30 hours a week for just £55 – that’s the same amount she’d have received on benefits, but she chose to work in the hope it would lead to a full-time job. She told how she believed having a baby would entitle her to more money (and it does, as we saw with another of the girls), but, with her head screwed on, she recognised she wasn’t in a position to raise a child; “Can you imagine having a house and baby? There’s no way I could do that right now.”
Sadly, after working 30 hours per week for six months, Shelby wasn’t offered a full-time job. That’s disgraceful, and if the only work opportunity the Government can allow young people is a scheme that takes advantage of desperate youngsters, they need to rethink. Fast!
Actually, after not getting a job, Shelby now finds herself expecting a baby. She’s fallen in to a life which she admitted she wasn’t ready for, presumably because that’s the only way she can get enough money to get by on. It really is appalling that in a civilised society we can let people live like this, having such little money that buying socks is considered a luxury and having a baby is the only way to get enough money to live on.
As I said, the situations these young people have fallen in to aren’t completely down to them, they’re down to decades of governments which have allowed such a culture to develop; a culture with few meaningful opportunities and even fewer ways of escaping a life of struggles. The Government, and many other people around the country, really do need to stop thinking of out-of-work people as failures, as though they’re not working through choice, as though they don’t want a better life for themselves – they do, they just need a helping hand, but that isn’t what the Government is offering them.
Our welfare system is supposed to support people who are unable to support themselves and help them in securing a better future, but all our current system secures is poverty for future generations.
If one thing’s for certain, it’s that Britain really is broken.
To find out more about the series, just click here.