The Declaration of Philadelphia, adopted by the International Labour Organisation in 1944, states that "all human beings, irrespective of race, creed or sex, have the right to pursue both their material well-being and their spiritual development in conditions of freedom and dignity, of economic security and equal opportunity" (Social Policy, 1996)
This is considered imperative to "the central aim of national and international policy". The steady pursuit of holistic growth and national welfare, harmony and development consistently encourages nations to frame policies that attempt to embrace the requirements and desires of not only the majority but also of several minor social groups (Social Policy, 1996). The understanding of youth as an important social construct is therefore important to the implementation of national social policy (Giroux, 1994, p 1). The contribution of young people to the reconstruction and development of their communities is important (Safarstein & Others, 2005). The initiatives taken to practice national progress and usher in the new by way of significantly improved systems of belief, thought and execution, whilst pursuing "personal development and the fulfilment of their dreams" allows for a critical, thoughtful and unorthodox society persistently renewing itself (Safarstein & Others, 2005).
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Dr. Henry. A. Giroux (1994) however believes that "In our society, youth is present only when its presence is a problem, or is regarded as a problem". (Giroux, 1994, p 1) More precisely, the category "youth" gets mobilised in official documentary discourse, in concerned or outraged editorials and features, or in the supposedly disinterested tracts emanating from the social sciences at those times when young people make their presence felt by going "out of bounds, by resisting through rituals, dressing strangely, striking bizarre attitudes, breaking rules, breaking bottles, windows, heads, issuing rhetorical challenges to the law." (Giroux, 1994, p 1)
This study aims to assess the multi dimensional relationships between youth and nation and comment on the importance and influence of youth in the formulation and execution of social policy in England. Special emphasis has been given to two of the most pressing of issues concerning contemporary youth in the UK, namely homelessness and crime.
The social policy of a nation refers to the policies associated with social issues of that particular nation (Social Problems, 1996). A list of social issues associated with the youth of England at the beginning of the twenty first century would include poverty, disaffected young people, child abuse, homelessness, vandalism, divorce, lone parenting, road rage, the treatment of vulnerable people in institutional care, and much more (Social Problems, 1996). This list was compiled from television news and radio and newspaper records (What is 'socialâ€¦, 2010). As one reads this, some of these may still be issues whilst some may have disappeared, been resolved, and replaced with new problems (Social Problems, 1996). Public attention and anxiety help in creation of the most important and effective forums for such discussion as they highlight "problems that have gained a hold on the attention of a particular society at a particular time" (Social Problems, 1996).
In such circumstances strongly articulated social problems concerning the youth of a nation, irrespective of the relationships of such problems with inept youth justice or social order, typically suggest that 'something must be done' (Social Problems, 1996). Such problems characterise environments that should be discontinued or altered because of their adverse effects upon society, and call upon governments to respond and find appropriate solutions (Social Problems, 1996).
Whilst the present information on youth homelessness in the U.K is elaborate, it has significant limitations (Quilgars & Others, 2008). It is estimated from current records that at least 75,000 young people in the UK were homeless in 2006-07 (Quilgars & Others, 2008).
"This included 43,075 young people (aged 16-24) who were accepted as statutorily homeless in the UK and at least 31,000 (aged 16-24) accepted as non-statutorily homeless. Homelessness is highest in Scotland (15.1 young people per 1,000 young people in population), followed by Wales (8.2), England (4.9) and Northern Ireland (4.8)." (Quilgars & Others, 2008, p 1)
It is important to note that such figures are calculated and recorded on the basis of information provided by agencies with who the homeless youth are in contact with (Quilgars & Others, 2008). It is thus not possible to count the total number of homeless youth in England at any point in time (Quilgars & Others, 2008).
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Many young people, who have (a) experienced suffering or trauma during childhood, (b) come from poor socio-economic environments, (c) have abusive parents and (d) have escaped from nations in turmoil are at greater risk of homelessness than others (Quilgars & Others, 2008). The primary "triggers" for youth homelessness in many nations, and especially so in England, are disturbed and failing relationships with parents and step-parents (Quilgars & Others, 2008). Such relationships often lead to extended conflicts at home and more often than not involve violence (Quilgars & Others, 2008).
The homeless youth are constantly exposed to increased risks of poor health and are majorly affected by depression, low levels of confidence and other mental health problems (Quilgars & Others, 2008). "Poor diet, stress, cold, damp along with inadequate sanitation and food storage or preparation facilities all increase the risk of physical health problems" (Quilgars & Others, 2008, p 1). Additionally, single homeless people and children are also subject to greater suffering than others due to increased risks of violence and accidents (Quilgars & Others, 2008).
Surveys and statistics additionally reveal that a considerable proportion of homeless youth has multiple needs, and that homelessness significantly exacerbates the difficulties faced by these young people (Quilgars & Others, 2008). This is evident by the increased incidence of mental health problems in such people, as well as greater incidence of disruptive behaviour through misuse of alcohol, drugs and other disturbing elements, lack of confidence and problems related to inception of substance misuse (Quilgars & Others, 2008). It is also observed that homelessness hinders the contribution of young people in employment, instruction or schooling (Quilgars & Others, 2008).
The Rough Sleeper's Initiative is a governmental multiple agency endeavour to provide temporary and permanent relief to those sleeping rough in central London (Rough Sleepers â€¦, 2009). It is important to note that social policies concerning homelessness in the U.K draw an important distinction between the statutorily and the non - statutorily homeless (Rough Sleepers â€¦, 2009). Permanent accommodation is provided to the statutorily homeless, who, in essence are vulnerable and cannot fend for themselves (Rough Sleepers â€¦, 2009). Those that qualify for assistance include young persons with dependent children, single pregnant women and others (Rough Sleepers â€¦, 2009). Temporary accommodation is provided to those who are not deemed vulnerable under the legislation and therefore do not qualify for permanent accommodation. They are usually single homeless people (Rough Sleepers â€¦, 2009).
The purpose of the Government's Rough Sleeper's Initiative (RSI) is to eliminate the necessity for anyone to sleep rough in London (Rough Sleepers â€¦, 2009). The Government has provided for many through measure involving "temporary direct access hostel provision, annual winter shelter programmes, (greater numbers of) additional outreach and resettlement workers and, most importantly, capital funding to develop suitable move-on accommodation". (Rough Sleepers â€¦, 2009, p 1) Several young people have begun a new life away from the streets through such initiative (Rough Sleepers â€¦, 2009). In addition to providing for accommodation, the RSI also involves those concerned with training, healthcare and employment of youth (Rough Sleepers â€¦, 2009).
The Government is also constantly pursuing the organised solution to the problem of sleeping rough in London (Quilgars & Others, 2008). Having established an Inter-Departmental Ministerial Group under the chairmanship of the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Urban Regeneration, the government intends to include Housing, Social Security, Health, Employment and Home Office policies the Homeless (Quilgars & Others, 2008).
Additionally, there has also been a fundamental cultural shift in the manner in which local authorities, families and social workers in the U.K are responding to youth homelessness (Quilgars & Others, 2008).
The proviso of preventive policies, whereby a certain category of youth homelessness can be prevented has significantly expanded in the last decade (Quilgars & Others, 2008). Youth homelessness is often a result of strained familial relations (Quilgars & Others, 2008). The widespread practice of family mediation, encouraged by agencies and social workers has considerably reduced the incidence of youth homelessness (Quilgars & Others, 2008). Whilst the 'definite' role of the service has resulted in strained relationships between statutory agencies and mediation practitioners, it has nevertheless resulted in improving the conditions of the potentially homeless across the country (Quilgars & Others, 2008).
Even though the RSI and the Homeless Mentally III are pivotal measures adapted by the government to lower youth homelessness, young people have continued to find the process of the homelessness assessment unapproachable, and often report feeling "confused, misunderstood, and/or powerless when navigating the homelessness 'system". (Quilgars & Others, 2008) Similarly whilst a variety of models of accommodation are in place, it is unclear as to which ones should be kept temporary and move young people as soon as possible, or be made transitional and assist them with opportunities to gain life skills (Quilgars & Others, 2008).
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A recent survey of more that fourteen thousand students in English, Welsh and Scottish secondary schools have identified various aspects in the lives of contemporary youth with increased risk of problems at school, substance abuse and criminal behaviour. The study made some startling revelations, some of which are provided below: (Beniart & Others, 2002)
1. Fifty percent of the young people (ages eleven to seventeen) confessed to committing at least one criminal act. Serious offense and substance abuse were infrequent (Beniart & Others, 2002).
2. Whilst most young people were well taken care of and supported by parents, and the schools they went to often set and implemented clear rules, at least four out of ten students in Year 11 admitted malingering in the previous year (Beniart & Others, 2002).
3. Although the young people liked their neighbourhoods, almost one fifth, mostly girls, felt that it was unsafe to move out at night (Beniart & Others, 2002).
4. The highest proportions of offences committed were by those in Year 10. One third of these teenagers said that they had damaged property in the past. More than a quarter of the students had also stolen from shops (Beniart & Others, 2002).
5. More boys reported criminal acts than the girls among the youngest surveyed. However, by Year 10, the gender gap became much smaller for shoplifting and vandalism (Beniart & Others, 2002). Violent behaviour and more property crimes however remained the forte of the former, where boys outnumbered girls in all age groups (Beniart & Others, 2002).
6. One out of ten boys in Year 7 and almost one fourth of boys in Year 11 admitted to having a weapon in the past year. Additionally twenty percent of the boys confessed to attacking someone with the intention of hurting them (Beniart & Others, 2002).
7.'Under-age drinking' was widespread. Forty percent of the students acknowledged 'binges' during which they had consumed more than four alcoholic drinks in one session (Beniart & Others, 2002).
8. More than thirty percent of the students confessed to having tried cannabis at least once. Whilst the use of illegal drugs was lower, at least 8.5 per cent of boys and 10 per cent of girls in Years 9 and 10 acknowledged solvent abuse (Beniart & Others, 2002).
Youth vandalism, often cited as criminal damage, is a recurring problem in the U.K. The persistent desire to combat and eliminate it has taken up the time, energy and effort of several people (Tackling youth â€¦, 2009). Whilst it is difficult to calculate the total worth of property damaged, the Home Office Working Group assessing the Costs of Crime, estimated 2, 931,000 episodes of vandalism against private property in the year recorded, during which the net worth of damage done was recorded at approximately 500 million GBP (Tackling youth â€¦, 2009).
It is observed that such acts are committed by youth either out of boredom or simply "for the buzz" (Tackling youth â€¦, 2009). Acts that commence as juvenile delinquency in adolescents often lead to serious crime by the time such people reach their early twenties (Heather, 2009). The issue of juvenile crime has been increasingly discussed in the political and media orbit of the UK in recent years (Heather, 2009). Juvenile delinquency is often cited to be the result of a combination of factors like decline in ethics, fashion, music, the street and the audacious and all pervasive effect of the American culture (Heather, 2009). The murder of toddler James Bulger by two young boys in Liverpool in 1993, the adolescent burglar, nicknamed Ratboy, who lived and operated from the heating ducts of various flats in Liverpool and more recently, repeated episodes of adolescents opening fire on their friends at university in the United States is evident of how modern youth periodically resort to criminal activities, be it a consequence of a traumatic childhood or simply for the purpose of entertainment (Heather, 2009). Juvenile delinquency and youth crime has been a consistent problem faced by the English since time immemorial, clearly evident by records of William Fleetwood where he discusses the workings of a notorious school of crime in 1595 (Heather, 2009).
The study on social policy research in 2001 states specific factors like (a) low income and poor housing, (b) living in deteriorated inner city areas, (c) high degrees of impulsiveness and hyperactivity, (d) low intelligence and low school attainment, (e) poor parental supervision and harsh and erratic discipline, and (f) parental conflict and broken families lead to increased risks of juvenile delinquency and youth crime (Walker, 1997).
Eliminating youth crime has been one of the primary objectives of the government (Walker, 1997). The UK government has been persistent in its efforts to tackle Anti-Social Behaviour (ASB) in its myriad facets. In an attempt to make its streets safer the U.K has introduced and proceeded to implement certain stringent social policies (Walker, 1997). In order to ensure that the young offenders be brought to justice, the government has significantly altered the Youth Justice System (YJS). The Youth Justice Board (YJB), with its Youth Offending Teams, works to prevent juvenile delinquency and youth crime (Walker, 1997). A major shift in approach to young offenders in 1997 resulted in significant changes being made to the Crime and Disorder Act, whereby the Government established the YJB to counsel the Secretary of State on the operation of the YJS, in addition to supervising its performance (Walker, 1997). The Act has furthermore, introduced Youth Offending Teams (YOTs) to deal with and prevent offending (Walker, 1997).
The Government has introduced the Tackling Violence Action Plan (TVAP) as a key policy measure to restrict the use of guns, gangs and knives. The TVAP prohibits carrying of knives and proclaims that "if you carry a knife you will be caught and punished" (Youth Crimeâ€¦, 2008). The Violent Crime Reduction Action Plan, in an effort to restrict the use of knives, has doubled the maximum sentence for the possession of a knife in public from two to four years (Youth Crimeâ€¦, 2008). Anyone carrying a knife in public and above the age of 16 can now expect to be severely punished. This has been in effect since the 5th of June, 2009 (Youth Crimeâ€¦, 2008).
The Government has also introduced the Policing Green Paper (PGP) policy to ensure that the Police implement optimal measures to deliver to the public (Youth Crimeâ€¦, 2008). The PGP will confer greater flexibility to the police, whilst emphasising the need for ambition to ensure open and tough performance management (Youth Crimeâ€¦, 2008). Among the many proposals, the Policing Pledge is one of the most important as it introduces new national and international policing standards, greater roles for those directly elected to represent police authorities and the establishment of a bureaucracy leader to supervise the application of recommendations in Sir Ronnie Flanagan's Review of Policing (Youth Crimeâ€¦, 2008).
Anti-Social Behaviour (ASB) is one of the root causes of youth crime (Youth Crimeâ€¦, 2008). In order to eliminate ASB the Government has established the Acceptable Behaviour Contracts (ABCs) and Anti- Social Behaviour Orders (ASBOs), which on strict application will lower youth crime (Youth Crimeâ€¦, 2008).
Additionally, a new action squad of ASB authorities will move across the country targeting areas that are not implementing the ASB policies (Youth Crimeâ€¦, 2008). The Home Office and the Department for Transport will work with the public, transport authorities and drivers to analyse and eliminate further incidents of ASB whilst commuting by public transport (Youth Crimeâ€¦, 2008).
The Government states that the implementation of these policies will lead to (a) fewer unsupervised young people on the streets inconveniencing others, (b) reduction in influence of peer pressure propelling youth to attempt criminal behaviour and substance abuse, (c) greater assistance to young people from the point of arrest to prevent them from repeating offences, and (d) reduction in percentage of street crime and crimes committed on the way and back from school (Youth Crimeâ€¦, 2008).
It is important to note that much of knowledge related to juvenile delinquency and youth crime is derived from old longitudinal data. It is therefore imperative to carry out newer investigations to trace, ascertain and develop the causes of antisocial behaviour from childhood to adulthood in order to take progressive action.
Meanwhile, whilst information on the homeless youth is useful, it is limited in several aspects.
In attempting to resolve these social problems, the U.K has established several policies, some of which have been successful.
Whilst conducting research on preventive measures, it is important that the Government make efforts to involve protective and risk factors, whereby those at an increased risk of juvenile delinquency, criminal behaviour, homelessness or other social problems can be recognised and adequately protected.
It goes without saying that the youth of a nation is its most important social construct, and protecting it with intelligent and responsible social measures, its primary concern.