It’s easy to judge, especially in ignorance

04_january_2016A letter a day to number 10. No 1,306

Monday 04 January 2016.

Dear Mr Cameron,

As a community and youth worker I worked in some difficult and intimidating circumstances. On one occasion there was a fight between two gangs in the youth centre car park, the weapons of choice were rounders bats and baseball bats, fortunately no knives came out on that occasion.

I was alerted to it kicking off by a volunteer worker, new to youth work. We went outside to mayhem and I got my tobacco out and rolled a cigarette. The volunteer asked me what I was going to do, I told him I was going to finish my cigarette and then pick up the pieces. He was shocked and to this day I am not sure quite what he expected me to do as having a conversation with a baseball bat in the hands of a pumped up lad in the midst of a fight is pretty low on my list of things to do and running around like headless chicken shouting ‘Stop!’ would have been as much use as a chocolate teapot. The Police, with whom we had an excellent working relationship, arrived pretty quickly and the mop up began.

Thankfully there were no serious injuries on this occasion and no arrests were made. Arrests were not an effective course of action in an area of deprivation in lives brutalised by poverty. Working with those young people was intense and most of our work was in building relationships, self confidence and assertiveness (which is not the same thing as violence, just for the record) in lives blighted by poverty, low expectations and difficulty in expressing the problems they faced and how hard their lives were on a daily basis without a great deal of trust building first.

The report in the local paper was predictable, calling them thugs and hoods, the usual garbage with no insight or understanding of the people involved. I regularly took reporters to task for their poor reporting and dismissive name calling which only served to promote what Oliver Letwin called a ‘social underclass’ and social exclusion, or aliens ‘in one’s own society’, as he ignorantly put it. It’s easy to judge, especially in ignorance.

Had Letwin ever bothered to get to know any of the people he was so blithely talking about in total ignorance, he would have discovered a certain amount of bravado developed under hard circumstances, and, yes, a harshness of brutality in lives brutalised, but also warmth, generosity, culture (albeit very different from his own), care, concern, consideration and a desire for better in their terms, but they wouldn’t all be trooping off to university to produce theses in ‘Emotion and Emotions’ as Letwin did. I have not read Letwin’s thesis, but I suspect that any one of the young people I worked with could have given him a run for his money, under different life circumstances, possibly producing a work as rich and vital as Lisa McKenzie’s book, ‘Getting By. Estates, Class and Culture in Austerity Britain’. The view from the inside is very different to the view from the outside if you can be bothered to go and look and work to discover it.

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