The first Society Syndrome panel took place last night at BSix College, Upper Clapton, to discuss the recent riots and social policy, the audience included students from the college, local residents, members of the campaign against criminalising young people in Hackney and political activists.
Chelsea East,19, from Brockley, South London explained how her 16-year-old brother got caught up in the riots and was seen entering a shop on CCTV, although he did not take anything he was sentenced to four months at Feltham. Two other 15 year-old young women talked of problems they had experienced while at school, Crystal was convicted of burglary and Carla pushed a teacher at Stoke Newington school, both are now studying at a referral unit in Bromley, they said they had matured and would not repeat their behaviour.
Ken Warman, Principal of BSix, whose college has achieved remarkable results, complained about government cuts in educational maintenance allowance and explained that education was still the best way to achieve social advancement.
Daniella Michaels from House the Homeless explained that cuts in housing benefit are making it less attractive for landlords to provide accommodation to homeless families and restrictions coming in from January will restrict the ability of under-35's to obtain self-contained accommodation. The problem has become so acute, some young people are being forced to move outside London where more accommodation is available.
Cllr Rick Muir spoke of the inequality in society, which was not being helped by Government cuts, which seem partly driven by ideology, he felt that if jobs and opportunities were not available intevitably there would be tensions in society.
A lively debate ensued, numerous students from the college and some staff contributed from the floor, some felt police "stop and search" policies contributed towards tension, they seemed specifically aimed at black and ethnic minorities, a number of contributors also explained how difficult it was obtaining employment - even part time. Some felt, racial factors played a part, but a young black man from the college said he had approached retailers at Westfield, dressed smartly, attended for interview and succeeded in getting a job. A recruitment consultant in the audience, John Angel, explained he had worked for many years in the field and most employers' prime concern was the aptitude and ability of candidates - not their race or background. It was accepted, better educational qualifications helped employment prospects.
Concluding, Cllr Michael Desmond, who chaired the meeting, said: Young people need to feel they are able to achieve their goals through studying and obtaining employment, achieving the lifestyle they aspire to through productive effort. Students at the meeting showed the way forward and proved how wrong stereotypes in the media often were. It was important to be aspirational and highly motivated. Society Syndrome would be making policy proposals and starting a blog with a view to contributing to the debate and influencing policy.
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Pictures: The panel: (l to r) Cllr Rick Muir, Ken Warman, Cllr Michael Desmond, Daniella Michaels
The panel respond to ponts raised in the audience