Kevan Pooler

The Meaning of Life and the Sex that started it.

Youth of Today – how the Iron Lady spoilt it for them

In the early 90s, one of Maggie’s henchmen voiced the realisation dawning on the cabinet that the “Enterprise Culture” may have a lethal flaw: it kills society.

Writing in the Times Education Supplement – in the dead month of August, when unfortunately few Teachers would see the free staff room copy – the cabinet member in the ‘Party of Law and Order’, suggested “Special Police” – volunteers – were in such short supply, that maybe a payment would be required.

Throughout the previous decade I had successfully recruited people to run local Youth Clubs. In one area, 12 completely voluntary clubs were run by sixty volunteers. Volunteers served an average of five years – the same as paid part-time workers. They did it for a different reason – to serve their local community, where paid staff wanted to serve young people generally, but also saw it as a job, with potential for a career.

As Thatcher’s ‘Enterprise Culture’ bit, the volunteers finished their ‘term’, but they were not replaced. Using the same recruitment techniques which brought in the sixty, I got no offers at all – not one. The ‘Enterprise Culture’ was actually saying to society “What are you Volunteering for, aren’t you good enough to get paid?”

According to the BBC, Thatcher “managed to destroy the power of the trade unions for almost a generation”.

She herself said: “… irresponsibility will for a large number of people become the norm. More important still, the attitudes may be passed on to their children.” She also “had great regard for the Victorians – not least their civic spirit to which the increase in voluntary societies pay tribute (M. Thatcher, The Downing Street Years, 1995)

She is famous for saying, “There is no such thing as society.” I believe she destroyed it. In talking up the “Big Society”, Cameron’s Conservatives should be aware that that their predecessor’s Thatcherite Enterprise Culture destroyed the power of the Big Society for a generation.

If they were ten years old in 1979 or 2000, or any of 30 years in between, they were influenced by that culture.

I remember asking some young people to help me carry their disco equipment into their club for them to be able to run their own Disco Night. They asked how much I would pay them. “Five Pounds” I said.

At the end of the evening they asked for their five pounds. I told them they had had it, even in the value of the equipment, but more so in the cost of the hall hire, their paid youth workers and my time and effort. Unfortunately the lesson I taught, could not unlearn the effect the “Iron Lady” had had on them or most of British society for another twenty years.

Their Youth Club, along with 25 others in the area that served 800 teenagers a week, no longer exists. My lifetime career – Youth Service – is no longer valued. Thanks to my Maggie Moriarty.

Will Cameron’s Big Society step forward, please?

[Category: The Youth of Today – Fifty years of them]

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