DEBATE: Should universities be forced to interview disadvantaged students with poorer grades?

Following on from Alan Milburn’s report on the inequalities evident in the access to higher education The Youth Agenda asks, ‘Is the government’s latest suggestion of forcing universities to offer poorer students automatic interviews and offers at lower grades the right path to follow?’

On the one hand the tactic could mean access to higher education for many young people from disadvantaged backgrounds who may not be able to go otherwise.  These young people may well be the first from their families to go to university.  They are also likely to have lower grades due to a lower level of support or opportunity rather than intellectual ability.

On the other hand the move could undermine the educational achievements of those young people who have worked hard to achieve the higher grades to get into university.

Ultimately, if such a policy were to be implemented, the test of it’s success or failure would be it’s acceptance by business.  If the value of a degree in the UK was undermined then either businesses would move abroad or foreign workers with the necessary abilities will be imported in.  If hoardes of hidden gems are unearthed by the move though, then entrepreneurialism and innovation in the country could take off.

In the mean time, have your say with The Youth Agenda’s latest poll:


Related articles: 

Social Mobility: Universities need to do more says Alan Milburn – BBC
The Open University welcomes Alan Milburn’s report on social mobility – The Open University
The Social Mobility Foundation welcomes Alan Milburn’s report on social mobility – The Social Mobility Foundation
David Willetts comments on Alan Milburn’s report on social mobility – BIS
Fair access to professional careers – Alan Milburn’s Full Report


DEBATE: The case for drug decriminilisation in The UK

The Motion:  The War on Drugs isn’t working: we should decriminalise all drugs in the UK and monitor usage and users more closely?

In favour of the motion:  By Robin Pollard (Operations Coordinator at Youth RISE)

1. Our current system is failing

Since the creation of the Misuse of Drugs Act (1971) the use of illicit drugs in the UK has grown rapidly and is now among the highest in Europe.  The present system of applying criminal law to the personal use and possession of drugs has failed.  Drugs are still widely available and accessible and people are not deterred from using drugs.

The economic, social and public health harms caused by pursuing this approach to drug use has been significant.  We need to embrace ‘drug decriminalisation’ and apply non-criminal sanctions to drug possession offences.  This can result in either no criminal action being taken against those who are caught in possession of drugs or they can be given a civil response (like a parking ticket).  Currently, there are estimated to be 25-30 different countries experimenting with various decriminalisation models.

2. Evidence shows that decriminalisation does not lead to an increase in drug use

The most recent evidence examining the effects of decriminalisation have shown that removing criminal sanctions for possessing drugs does not lead to an increase in drug use.  The Dutch, with very liberal cannabis laws are among the lowest users of cannabis in Europe. Portugal which has been pioneering a decriminalisation model since 2001 has also seen reductions in the number of young people taking drugs.

Here in the UK, British Crime Survey statistics from 2007 also indicate that the proportion of 16 to 24 year-olds using cannabis decreased from 28%, 10 years before to 21%, this was at the time of the reclassification of cannabis from Class B to Class C.  These are only a few examples; the latest report by the charity Release explores this issue in much greater detail.

The idea that less punitive approaches would encourage more drug use is a reasonable proposition to make, however the evidence available shows that this isn’t the case.  Balanced analysis from Portugal’s experience with decriminalising drug use shows that they had slight increases in some drug use followed by some slighter falls, which compares favourably with the trends in the neighbouring countries and the rest of the EU over the same period.

Most importantly, young people growing up under this system used fewer drugs, and harms and deaths from heroin went down as a result of a treatment-centred attitude replacing a punishment-centred approach.  Switzerland, where heroin is available on prescription is another example where liberal approaches have yielded positive results, where the numbers of heroin users have been steadily falling.

Countries with decriminalisation systems have some of the lowest prevalence rates, while countries with some of the harshest criminalisation systems such as the United States have some of the highest prevalence of drug use in the world.  An editorial in The Economist clearly summarises the reality:

“There is no correlation between the harshness of drug laws and the incidence of drug-taking: citizens living under tough regimes (notably America but also Britain) take more drugs, not fewer.  Embarrassed drug warriors blame this on alleged cultural differences, but even in fairly similar countries tough rules make little difference to the number of addicts: harsh Sweden and more liberal Norway have precisely the same addiction rates.”

3. Criminalisation impacts on young people’s education and employment opportunities

Around 80,000 Britons last year had their futures ruined by receiving criminal records for minor drug offenses.  Nearly 30% of all these cautions and prosecutions for drug possession were given to young people under the age of 21, many of whom may only be experimenting with drugs or using for very brief periods and will suffer for the rest of their lives.

With increasing numbers of employers demanding enhanced criminal records check (CRB) for job applications, the ability for a young person to gain meaningful long-term employment after a drug related conviction is seriously hindered.  A criminal record is never cleared and as such, criminal records essentially act as a life sentence, stigmatising tens of thousands of young people.

4. Drug laws are disproportionate and racist

In 2010, there were 250,000 stop and searches in London alone for drugs possession offences, of which 8% resulted in arrests. Research by Professor Alex Stevens shows black people in London are 6 times more likely to be arrested for drugs offences than white people, 9 times more likely to be stopped and searched and 11 times more likely to go to prison for a drugs offences.

These statistics ignore the reality that drug use is less prevalent in the black community than the white community.  The enforcement of the UK drug laws are disproportionately and systematically racist predominantly targeting ethnic minorities, contributing to the breakdown in trust with the police, polarising communities and damaging the social fabric and unity of town and cities across the UK.

5. Save police time and resources: invest in treatment

Huge sums of money are spent by the police, courts and the prison system enforcing these policies.  We should be diverting resources and people away from incarceration, easing the strain on our over-burdened criminal justice system.  Billions are wasted on police time that could be reinvested into improving our chronically underfunded treatment and harm reduction programs.

Drug use and addiction is a very complex issue, an issue that shouldn’t be addressed by the criminal justice system.  To understand and help those who are problematic drug users, we should be using the vast sums spent on involving drug users in the criminal justice system and investing in a variety of drug services that are needed to fully address this complex issue.  The European Monitoring Centre on Drugs and Drug Addiction summarises the Portuguese model concisely calling it “a public health policy founded on values such as humanism, pragmatism, and participation.”  This is what the UK should be aiming to achieve.

6. The appetite for drug policy reform is growing

Addressing drug policy reform in the UK has for decades been seen as political suicide for the political class.  Thankfully, changes in public opinion are shifting the environment for politicians and allowing them to debate these issues.  Independent polls now show the public actually supports exploring alternatives to the current approach of criminalisation.  Politicians need to follow.

A recent poll conducted by YouGov for The Sun newspaper shows that 56% of people surveyed said they would like to see the idea of complete legalisation reviewed – along with other policy options.  This poll, from just a few days ago highlights the continuing shift in public opinion towards exploring alternatives for policy reform when it is managed in a sensible and evidence-based manner.

Support for exploring decriminalisation models are now supported by leading professional authorities, including, the editor of the British Medical Journal Dr Fiona Godlee, Sir Ian Gilmore former president of the Royal College of Physicians and Nicholas Green, chairman of the Bar Council.


Approaches which explicitly reject an evidence-based public health approaches, but instead focus on incarceration and criminalisation of addicts, continue to utterly fail, at enormous financial and human cost and this is now recognised internationally.

Support for decriminalisation is rapidly increasing.  Only last week, the heads of UNAIDS and the UNDP made a call for reform of laws that make drug possession (rather than dealing) a crime.  They were supported by former presidents of Botswana and Brazil, senators, Supreme Court justices, and leading human rights and health experts from six continents.

This comes only weeks after the second Global Commission on Drug Policy’s which includes Richard Branson, Kofi Annan and a number of former presidents and leading international figures highlighting how bad drug policies are accelerating the effects of HIV in many parts of the world and outlining how drug decriminalisation is an essential response to stop the spread of this pandemic.

We need to create a more humanistic, pragmatic and evidence-based drug policy to minimise harms and protect the future opportunities of our young people.


This argument was supplied by Robin Pollard of Youth RISE



In favour of the motion – 87%

Against the motion          – 13%

DEBATE: The case against drug decriminilisation in The UK

The Motion:  The War on Drugs isn’t working: we should decriminalise all drugs in the UK and monitor usage and users more closely?

Argument against the motion:  By Kathy Gyngell  (Research Fellow, the Centre for Policy Studies)

1. Drugs mess with your future

Drugs mess with your mind.  The collateral damage of drug use is huge and out of proportion to the number of people using them. It is easy to think that the risks are exaggerated until it is too late.  It is adolescents, whose brains are not yet fully developed and therefore least sensitive to risk for whom the risks are the highest.  Just one example of such risk is revealed in the growing body of evidence associating cannabis use with the risk of schizophrenia. Other short and long term risks associated with drug use and dependency abound.

For example the chief executive of the British Lung Foundation, Dame Helena Shovelton, recently pointed out that most young people are entirely unaware that:

 “..each cannabis cigarette they smoke increases their chances of developing lung cancer by as much as an entire packet of 20 tobacco cigarettes.”

2. Increased risk of later drug dependency

Another risk is the impaired cognitive functioning, school and university drop out, that cannabis use has been shown to be associated with. Teenagers  may not be aware either than teenage cannabis use significantly increases the risk of later drug dependency.

That is why drug possession should never formally be decriminalised, as advocated by Youth Rise and why this is a recipe for irresponsibility. None of the arguments underlying this approach wash:  ‘It is my body so what I do to it is my business alone’; ‘drug use is inevitable therefore we should just focus on reducing its harms’; ‘drug use is not per se harmful’ or only drug ‘misuse’ is harmful.  None of these are true. Drug use always impacts on someone else –often several people. Drug use is not inevitable. It is still the minority not the majority that even experiment.  There can never be a guarentee of safe drug use.

Formally decriminalising drugs would be to raise the white flag to increased drug supply. Normalising drugs like this would pile more pressure on people to use them. It would put more pressure on vulnerable young people – those in care and from broken homes – those already the heaviest users with the least resistance.  It would increas opportunities for sanction free low level dealing.

3. Difficult to police and monitor

The idea implicit in the motion, that use or harm can be moderated by a monitoring system is frankly unrealistic.  Who would be the drugs police in charge of this?  How would they decide between acceptable and unacceptable use? Would it mean making young people sign up to a register of cannabis users?  Would schools be forced to accept such a register of cannabis users in their midst – and how would that sit with a zero tolerance policy to protect other children in school?

If the idea of monitoring level’s drug use is fundamentally flawed to say nothing of an unrealistic burden on drugs workers, teachers or parents. There is no safe level  of drug use.

4. Creating a downward spiral

The truth is that use can lead to habit which leads to dependency and in turn dependency leads to addiction. Addicts always want more – that includes alcohol and cannabis or any other drug.  It is impossible to know who would be vulnerable and who would be safe. Illicit drug use is invariably associated with risk.  The only safe drug use is no drug use.  Yet decriminalisation actively condones drug use.  Of course this is the situation we are already in.

The most bemusing aspect of the proposition made by Youth Rise is that drug use is currently penalised in the UK. It is not. And it is certainly not prohibited in anything other than word.  De facto drug decriminalisation has been a fact of life in the UK for years.  Even drug use by the very young is tolerated.

Toleration, not prohibition, is the reason for the drug problem we face – for the collateral health, mental health and the social damage caused by drugs – from criminality to blood borne viruses, from addiction to child neglect.

Toleration not drug prohibition killed the heiress Eva Rausing. Toleration not prohibition led to the death on April 22 2011, of 15-year-old Isobel Reilly-Jones at an unsupervised party in her friend’s home.  The drugs which killed her were found in an unlocked cupboard in her friend’s father’s bedroom – a man whose drug use since his self-confessed hippy days had clearly been tolerated and condoned.

Not even the keenest proponents of decriminalisation (or legalisation) could argue that the formal introduction of either would have saved Isobel’s life.  Mr Dodgeon, the father in question, had bought, stored and used drugs for years without sanction.

At his arrest after the death of Isobel, he admitted four charges of possessing drugs including ecstasy, LSD and ketamine. His remorse led him to attempt his life. Tragic though this was afterwards he only received an extraordinarily lenient eight-month sentence, suspended for two years. The real tragedy was that there was no ealier check or sanction on his behaviour.

5. Leaving the dealers in charge

Former Met head, Sir Iain Blair has described decriminalisation as the worst of all worlds; leaving the criminals/suppliers in charge of the streets and kids at their mercy. Isobel’s death was a direct result of the de facto decriminalisation we already have.

It is true that an on-going ‘war’ against the drug trade is being waged in countries like Honduras and Mexico. But there is no such war here.  We do not even try to take on, let alone punish our Class A drug users. The penalties involved in Dodgeon’s case are typical.

Though supposedly the most serious of drugs, and used by up to a million people, only 12,175 of whom were sentenced for Class A possession offences in 2010.  Only 779 of these were sent to prison (most likely those with a long record and in possession of a large quantity).

Class A supply is supposedly so serious that the maximum sentence is ‘life’ in prison.  The reality was different.  In fact 774 out of 2,530 convicted Class A dealers did not go to prison at all, let alone for life.  Yet the main justification for cannabis law enforcement relaxation was exactly to ‘free up’ police and courts for pursuing the ‘evil dealers’.

Though a Class B drug and associated with serious health and mental health risks, cannabis possession and dealing offences are dealt with only by warnings and by cautions.  They are, in effect, sanction free. Only one in eight offences even gets to court. Few children are criminalised as the pro drugs lobby would have us believe.

This has not made one jot of difference to convictions for supply of Class ‘A’ drugs – the numbers have remained more or less unchanged for the past four years.

Our contribution to the war on drugs is the fact that we feed its flames.  Our unchecked selfish demand for drugs that the cartels then exploit and profit from is what keeps this iniquitous trade alive. As President Santos of Columbia said last year, “As long as people in the UK sniff coke here, or in New York or Paris, we will suffer here (in Latin America).”

6. Undermining international efforts

Our one contribution to this war has been to undermine the huge effort made by the United States to reduce demand there – an effort which has led cocaine consumption there to drop from 660 tons in 1988 to 165 tons in 2008 – by some 75%.

Far from there being a war on drugs, here drug use  is a matter of cultural indifference. It should not be.

There are brave individuals who stand up to this. The Conservative MP Louise Mensch for example candidly admitted on BBC’s Question Time to her use of Class A drugs when she was younger.  She refused to say which ones, in order not to ‘glorify’ them. But she said these had ‘messed up her head’ and left her with long-term mental health problems. She went on to say she opposed the legalisation of drugs, since making them more easily available was ‘exactly the wrong way to go’. So too would formal decriminalisation.

The problems is that drug use is already tolerated by society, the police and the courts.

7. Public acceptance leads to increased costs

Formalizing ‘decriminalisation’ in the law could only make matters worse. It would shift public indifference to public acceptance. The costs of the current relatively low level of drug use would increase. For drugs are not ordinary commodity. They affect the brain.

Their menace is not confined to the effect they have on people while they are using them. Nor is it simply that they are addictive. They also often have other long- term and possibly permanent ill-effects.

8. Drug use alters your body

When Ms. Mensch says they mess up your brain, that is exactly what they do. They interfere with its functioning and alter it, sometimes forever.

In the U.S., the National Institutes of Health and Drug Abuse say that illegal drugs change the composition of the brain and can kill off areas of its activity.

After taking cocaine, it is not just that the brain is affected for a long time —the risk of heart attack is significantly increased. Other long-term effects of cocaine use — apart from addiction — range from irritability and mood disturbances to paranoia, psychosis, depression and auditory hallucinations. Withdrawal symptoms include depression and anxiety, fatigue, difficulty concentrating and an inability to feel pleasure.

Yet for all that cocaine may not be as bad as another drug commonly trivialized as a nightclub stimulant. According to Professor Andy Parrott, Britain’s most distinguished expert on Ecstasy, the effects of this drug — quite apart from the fact it has killed people — may be more serious even than those of cocaine.

9. Drugs can lead to mental illness

Nor can cannabis harms be underestimated. A report in 2004 set out the growing evidence that early and regular marijuana use was associated with increases in depression, suicidal behaviour and psychotic illness, as well as possibly bringing forward the onset of schizophrenia.

In 2007, the Lancet published an analysis of 35 medical studies, which warned that using cannabis could increase the risk of developing a psychotic illness later in life by more than 40 per cent.

Then just last year a systematic review by the University of Queensland, Australia, of more than 5,000 medical studies found that cannabis has been implicated in many major long-term psychiatric conditions including depression, anxiety, psychosis, bi-polar disorder and an absence of motivation.


Given all this evidence, it is almost beyond belief that anyone can argue drugs should be decriminalised, or that this is the rational way to proceed to protect adolescents from risk.

Youth Rise’s proposition itself contributes to this culture of relative indifference to illegal drugs;  it contributes to their further normalisation, which has already sucked more and more young people at an ever earlier age into using them – a problem that is almost uniquely British.  For where there is less toleration of drug use, as in both Sweden and he vast majority of municipalities in Holland, the rate of drug use is significantly lower and the age of initiation higher.

Louise Mensch is by no means the only politician to admit to having taken drugs. Recently, the Labour MP, Chuka Umunna’s casual dismissal of the dangers of drugs illustrates precisely why Britain has drifted into such a spiral of drug harm that already is reported to cost us some £16 billion a year

It was under the Labour government that drug law enforcement was increasingly abandoned. It was under Labour that the practice of trying, instead, to manage the ill-effects of drug use became so widespread.

It was called ‘harm reduction’ — a Trojan horse for decriminalisation and legalisation. It has not worked. Addiction has become, with the state’s sponsoship, more entrenched.

We cannot afford any more such ‘normalisation’ or the possibility of increased peer pressure and the bullying that goes with it. We cannot afford to have more people addicted to mind-altering substances that damage their brains and bodies as well as those around them. Addicts have children. Typically they neglect them. their children end in up in care to begin their own downward spiral of drug use and addiction.

As a species we are, today, confronted with problems of unprecedented proportions, from economic to environmental and to human. The last thing we need to deal with them is addled brains.  As the American Professor, Bertha Madras has put it – the defence of our brains is the most pressing public health issue of the time.  The adolescent brain is most at risk. But it is the next generation who need their brains most to overcome hurdles of global proportions.

This motion should be opposed. Not to oppose it is to leave the human brain unprotected.


This argument was supplied by Kathy Gyngell, Research Fellow at the Centre for Policy Studies



In favour of the motion – 87%

Against the motion          – 13%

How can career advice for young people be improved?

With youth unemployment at an all time high, The Youth Agenda asks whether more careers advice should be offered in schools, what age it should start at and who should be responsible for delivering it. 

The Youth Agenda interviews with Simon Hughes MP (Deputy Leader of The Liberal Democrats), Sarah Wallbank of YES! Futures and Chris Wilford, REC Policy Advisor.

Existing services and recommendations

Between the ages of 13 and 16, young people think about decisions which will impact on their future finances, whether choosing higher education, leaving school at 16 and going to work, or going into apprenticeship or training.

They are expected to make these decisions at the same time as taking into account future earnings, money management during their courses and, in the case of higher education, knowledge about the system for paying for their degree.

The amount spent on job advice services for teenagers in England has been cut by more than £100m a year since 2008. Investment has also been taken away from Connexions, the Council funded service giving job, training and financial advice to teenagers. However, the Hughes Report, commissioned by the government earlier this year, recommends the opposite of what is happening.

In it, Simon Hughes MP, Deputy Leader of the Liberal Democrats, says: “The government should act urgently to guarantee face to face careers advice for all young people in schools.” 

The report recommends that schools have careers events as early as Primary School, at ages 10-11, and work experience available from the age of 14. It also suggests that the majority of national scholarships should be allocated to non-fee-paying English schools and colleges. 

The report goes on to say that ‘students between the ages of 14 and 16 should be trained in basic financial management’ in order to prepare them for adult life generally and also for education, training and work in particular.

Getting your choices right

The Youth Agenda interviewed Simon Hughes, to get his views in person. He believes the starting age for careers advice should be ‘no later than Year 10’ and that work experience should be no later than 14. He says:

“When youngsters are 14 … you also need to start the careers advice – not to push people into making a final decision but so that you don’t make choices that in the end were the wrong choices about which subjects to keep.”

Simon also believes that secondary school pupils should have a combination of resources, including mentoring, independent careers advice, and employers and businesses regularly going into schools.

In the Hughes Report, he says:

“If we want the best futures for our children and adults and consider social mobility, widening participation and access to further and higher education a priority then everybody must play their role.”

The Youth Agenda interviews Simon Hughes MP, Deputy Leader of The Liberal Democrats

The Youth Agenda also interviewed Sarah Wallbank of YES! Futures, a social enterprise that provides workshops, long-term school programmes and one-on-one mentor guidance for 11-18-year-olds.

Relating career advice into every subject

Sarah believes that careers advice needs to start a lot earlier, in Year 7. She says it’s important to talk about how subjects relate to actual jobs, building careers advice into everyday lessons.

However, Sarah says that although young people generally say they think schools should be the institutions providing careers advice, it’s not fair to expect teachers, who already have an extremely demanding workload, to do so much extra in terms of careers advice.

On the other hand, she says teachers know their students best and are best placed to advise them on the right career path to take.

The Youth Agenda interviews Sarah Wallbank, Founder of YES! Futures

Chris Wilford, Policy and PR Advisor at The Recruitment and Employment Confederation (REC), thinks the removal of careers advice from schools is a bad idea. He also thinks the current system of careers advice in schools is inadequate. He says:

“There is a fundamental disconnect between the choices you make academically now and where you’re going to be 10-15 years later in the labour market.”
Local businesses in local schools

Chris strongly believes that businesses should be more involved with schools, saying ‘business has a real role to play’.

However, some might argue that careers advice from businesses will not be impartial. It’s also in the interests of businesses to tell young people what will be required of them as early as possible so they don’t have to spend so much money on training programs later on.

Gillian Econopouly, the REC’s Head of Policy, says:

“Whilst the Government’s proposals for an all-age careers service is a laudable long-term goal, simply leaving careers advice to individual schools without a proper framework risks re-inventing the youth employment problem for years to come.

“A structure is needed to embed careers advice within schools and make it easy for businesses to offer their support. Without proper attention, careers advice could fall by the wayside in the already-pressurised school environment, leaving young people unprepared for the world of work.”

The Youth Agenda interviews Chris Wilford, Policy Advisor to The REC


Related linksFor more information on the career advice available in schools and suggestions for improvements:

The Hughes Report – Recommendations for improving career prospects for young people (Pages 8-10 and 16-25)

YES! Futures – Free holiday programmes for 13 – 16 year olds

REC questions Employment Minister on careers advice in schools

Lib Dem’s policy on Combating Youth Unemployment: ‘Giving Young People a Future’ (Page 15)

BBC article about cuts to career advice for young people

DirectGov Career advisers for 13 – 19 year olds

Should schools encourage entrepreneurship?

Is the DWP’s Voluntary Work Experience scheme the right policy to follow?

What happens to young offenders once they have served their convictions?

Government statistics show that the number of young offenders fell in 2010/11, but what happens to those offenders after they have served their convictions?  What makes them reform or re-offend?

The Youth Agenda interviews Rt Hon David Miliband MP, Mark Johnson of User Voice and Tom Sackville of Catch22.

The figures on youth justice

 The Youth Justice Statistics 2010/11, published by the Ministry of Justice on 12 January 2012, show that the number of young people (aged 10-17) in the Youth Justice System continued to fall in 2010/11.  Since 2007/08 there have been 55% fewer young people coming into the system, 30% fewer young people in custody and 29% fewer re-offences by young people.

Overall, there were 176,511 proven offences by young people in 2010/11, down 11% from 2009/10.

In the last year there has been a notable reduction in certain offences by young people, in particular: motoring offences (down 24%), breach of a statutory order (down 19%) and theft offences (down 18%).  At the same time, some offence types saw an increase, such as robbery (up 11%) and burglary (up 2%). In 2010/11, there were 45,519 first time entrants to the youth justice system, 50% less than 2000/01.

While these statistics on youth offending appear to be positive, there are still major concerns surrounding the treatment of young people leaving the Youth Justice System and the care and rehabilitation offered to ex-offenders.

In particular, there are concerns about the numbers of re-offenders, and what can be done to prevent this.

New lives but old labels

The Youth Agenda interviewed Mark Johnson, founder of User Voice, a charity which aims to reduce offending. Mark is an ex-offender with a history of serious crime, homelessness and drug abuse. He went through rehabilitation at the age of 29, and has since become a leading figure in the criminal justice reform movement.

Mark believes that rather than one factor contributing to re-offending, it’s a failure of the whole system. He thinks support from the government should be focused firstly on preventing crime but that once offenders are in the criminal justice system there needs to be ‘robust services’ for mental health, addiction, and violent and dysfunctional behaviour.

When asked about government incentives for employers to take on young ex-offenders, he said the government ‘should practice what they preach’ and employ ex-offenders themselves.

Mark says any sentence is a life-sentence because of the stigma surrounding criminal convictions, so it’s also important to share success stories:

“It’s so difficult to talk about the positives around people breaking the cycle of crime. Some people that I’ve met make really profound contributions to society but they’re still labelled from the past, and for me the only culprit, the real culprit, is the media.”

The Youth Agenda interviews the founder of User Voice, Mark Johnson

The Youth Agenda also interviewed Rt Hon David Miliband, Labour MP for South Shields, who said:

“One has a sense that the fear amongst the general public and amongst employers is almost extra high among young offenders than it is for offenders in general.”

What is a ‘troubled family’?

David believes the key to preventing re-offending is to ‘nip it in the bud’ with employment and housing, especially for those coming out of prison with nowhere to go.

Previous research has shown that young people coming into contact with the Youth Justice System often have a range of difficulties, such as substance misuse, and multiple needs. These factors are also associated with re-offending.

David says mental health and drug and alcohol abuse are ‘two absolutely key drivers’ in re-offenders. He says health and local authorities are coming together on Health and Wellbeing boards, and in some cases offering personal support for each ex-offender, which he believes is ‘the right way’.

When asked about the government’s Troubled Families programme, in which Prime Minister David Cameron pledged to turn around the lives of 120,000 troubled families in the next three years, David said he has ‘real concerns’.

He says the government itself has competing definitions of what constitutes a ‘troubled’ family and that some of the definitions don’t refer to criminal activity at all. David says the programme “definitely has the potential to do good, but has to be attaching the right kind of intervention to the appropriate groups”.

The Youth Agenda speaks with Rt Hon David Miliband MP

Tom Sackville, head of Catch22’s gangs unit, also has concerns about the Troubled Families programme. He wants to know who is going to be supported and what the government is proposing in terms of support systems.

Tom believes it’s important that the programme be about positive interventions and support and not about labelling those families, and also about recognising the range of issues that those families face.

When asked about incentives for employers to take on young ex-offenders, Tom said we need more ‘access to work programs’. He also said ‘it’s about training employers as much as about training those that are serving the sentences’, in order to break the cycles of unemployment in generations of families and in the community.

Tom thinks there should be a greater focus on care-leavers especially, as they are ‘significantly over-represented within custodial establishments and under-represented in employment’.

Statistics show that 25% of young offenders have had contact with mental health facilities before they commit a crime.  Both Mark and Tom believe that it’s important to continue to support ex-offenders with mental health problems after rehabilitation.

Tom says we need to make mental health facilities more accessible and approachable: “take mental health services to young people rather than the other way around.”

The Youth Agenda speaks with Tom Sackville of Catch22


Related linksFor more information on youth offending figures, government policies and what help is available for young offenders

Youth justice statistics – from the Youth Justice Board and the Ministry of Justice

Youth crime in context – from Civitas

About the ‘Troubled Families’ project

User Voice


Riots One Year On: Have we done enough to prevent them happening again?

Will a minimum alcohol price stop young people from misusing alcohol?

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