Selfless Struggle 24th Nov 2011

The graduate life, as innumerable whiny degree holders will tell you, is a thorny, uphill bed of scree that has no qualms with planting you face first into the dirt. The political and financial climate of the past decade – starting with New Labour’s introduction of tuition fees and peaking in the recent controversial price hike of up to £9000 – has lead to an underdog spirit among students which is manifesting in a variety of other related movements abroad. The grim reality despite the commendable spirit is that students are largely powerless; as the new silent sector of society students are being ushered through this malaise with a haze of pepper spray, governments largely unworried by student discontent.

One of The Big Society’s social vehicles for cohesion is a scheme whereby young people forced into jobseekers (due to the bankers’ mess) have, in some parts of the country, been forced to provide retail shops and other corporate Land Rovers with “work experience”. This work experience, as well as teaching next to nothing, is exempt from minimum wage laws for up to eight weeks meaning that the government has effectively teamed up on the vulnerable with the private sector to squeeze every penny possible even if it means treating jobseekers as subhuman. On top of this there is no guarantee that a person on JSA will get a job from said work experience and considering the sheer number of young, jobless graduates to choose from, from a costing perspective it would be easier to just buy a proverbial pair of cheap, new shoes.

The significance of the above was put into perspective during a day spent at my current semi-occupation as a part time volunteer in a charity that prepares a daily meal for the homeless. The charity, Rhythms of Life International (a mouthful, I know), is based in Dalston, a stones-throw away from the Hospital in which I was born and the home of my cousins, where I spent a great deal of my time growing up. Once I met the founder, a dishevelled eccentric who was once homeless himself, the gravity and proximity of the problems that still exist in our society became weightier. On a day to day basis we teach ourselves, particularly in London to manufacture a fence between ourselves and the country’s underclass. What I have realised in my tenure there so far is that our community (if we can call it that) largely lacks an overarching culture of compassion.

In England today there is still a significant enough problem with homelessness/rough sleeping to warrant our attention as a nation. The reasons for their current situations might be legitimate or completely of their own failings. Nevertheless, they are a reflection of our society’s own failings and treatment of them and other vulnerable classes*. As guilty as the government are and have been for punishing and making a scapegoat out of the poor and mute, we are guilty of nudging our society’s issues to our neighbours who happen to do the same. There is little sense in waiting for action from a government which is going to provide next to none, a government and party system that has coalesced into one beige canvas full of a house of children who bicker over moot points and “he said, she said” tall tales. Equally bad is being a hypocrite towards those whom we trample upon.

Clearly, in sending the jobless into retail battery farms for grunt work rather than to charities (many of which struggle to find committed volunteers), the government cares little about truly making use of the skills acquired through life experiences by young people. How many of you have had your Jobseekers adviser suggest real volunteer work as a viable means to gain experience and keep yourselves busy? This is a matter that young people must grasp themselves; we are alone in securing our futures. Yet, this is not pour ice water on whatever daily pep talk you use to approach the endless applications, this is a call to evaluate and plan realistically how we can get a leg up without trampling upon one another in our society. Whenever you can help a fellow man or woman along the way we should absolutely take that opportunity, particularly in light of the farce that is the global banking crisis. My volunteer experience is merely a placeholder for a worldwide crisis of compassion and a love for materialism that placed us in this mess.

*Only today a report revealed that the Elderly were subject to horrific treatment that often breached Human Rights Law by their home carers.