Focus: My battle with liberal Britain

Shaun Bailey was born on the west London estates that have been linked to investigations into the murder of WPC Sharon Beshenivsky. Here he describes how pop culture and liberal politics have created a feral generation hooked on drugs, crime and violence

I come from a black working-class environment, born and brought up by my single mother on the North Kensington estates in London. Where I live the peer pressure to offend surrounds you. Crime is everywhere. The teenage pregnancy rate is well above the national average. There is a drugs epidemic. There are significant mental health and disability issues. Most people remain trapped.
Yet just a few yards away, on the other side of Ladbroke Grove, you can find houses worth millions of pounds where bankers, celebrities and media stars discuss being attacked and the threat of burglary rather than the problems of today’s youth.
I am one of the lucky ones. Thanks in part to a determined mother, I just scraped into university. But I returned to the North Kensington estates seven years ago as a volunteer youth worker and I came to see from street level how the cycle of deprivation and crime works in the inner cities of Britain.
The level of crime on the estates was already astonishing, but over the past four years the levels of violence with drugs, guns and knives among the younger kids has got much worse.
Eight years ago it would have been fantasy stuff to carjack. Four years ago maybe you would have found one person who’d entertain it and everybody would have thought he was a lunatic. Now I could show you at least 15 people who would consider it, 10 or 15 who would do it and five who have done it.

Kids are carrying guns now because guns are linked to bigger crime. They are selling crack because crack has a shorter turnaround and a higher profit than the likes of weed and heroin. People who smoke crack are so desperate they’d do anything for the money. And the dealers get high on the power.
I know one guy who’s only 17 years old and is a very successful crack dealer. “It’s not so much the money, Shaun,” he told me, “it’s the fact that I’ve got people who work for me.”
For rock he was able to get people to wash his car, clean his house, beat people up, steal stuff for him, send them on missions just because it made him feel powerful.
Crime starts younger, spreads wider and goes further. The number of kids growing out of crime is getting smaller. It’s why we get this horrible stuff with guns and knives: the serious nature of their offences is growing as the percentage of kids staying in crime rises.
The real scary thing is the young age at which it happens. Serious criminals used to be in their late twenties. If you came into my area and interviewed my boys, they have been involved in quite horrible stuff and they are not yet 16 or 17.
THE estates themselves are part of the problem. The blocks were badly designed. We are all too close to each other. On top of each other. One of the estates was built for 1,100 people but now houses 1,450.
There are a lot of Moroccans, a lot of blacks. Everybody there is poor. Overcrowding has an impact on how young people behave.
Most of the flats are built in such a way that nobody can sit around a table. Traditionally a table is where a family has discussions, where parents give attitudes to their children. If children come home and their parents are cooking them food, it establishes their dependency. It gives the parents authority. They can say: “You need to come in for dinner.” They can set rules and boundaries.
That doesn’t happen here. There is no room for a table. We all eat dinner off our laps. Families start to not eat together because there is no point. We don’t have any space at any time. That’s why some parents can’t love their children. They are too busy surviving.
If you talk to those families where children are behaving the worst, you find that the kids have no rules and no boundaries. The reason is that the parents have never had any point at which to put them in place.
Many of the young people I deal with have never spent any meaningful time with their mothers or their fathers. Their parents didn’t do anything with them and they have no set of family rules that govern them.
If you are the younger end of an overcrowded family you share a bedroom with your older brother. Maybe there are three of you in one small bedroom. You have no privacy so you come out of your flat for privacy. You stay on the block because you are comfortable there. It becomes your extended bedroom.
As time has gone on, the people who hang around the block have aged from cute little five-year-olds to 15, 16, 17, 18-year-olds. In some cases 21-year-olds are still hanging around.
On one of the estates here there are 1,600 young people and kids under the age of 19. The sight of a big group of young people just terrorises most people. This is where it starts. The kids are perceived as a threat. They are dealt with in that manner. Then they take on the role they were handed. Put that with difficult parenting and you’ve got a problem.
This was an area where poor white people were sent who couldn’t afford to live anywhere else. The estates have also become home to London’s largest Moroccan enclave and to Jamaican, Portuguese and Spanish communities. But, although we have been housed in our racial groups, racial tension is not a feature of life here. When they found the alleged July 21 bombers on our estates, no form of war took place.
Instead a child is known by the estate he comes from. Kids will fight with other kids just because they are on their road. You defend your “ends” — your locale — because you don’t want to be seen to come from where the pussies live. You club together loosely to make sure you stand up for each other. It is an easy step from here to the creation of gangs.
Some gangs have names. There is the Cold Hearted Crew, the Heartless Crew. The names are always about being mean and tough: Cutlass, Beg for Mercy. Imagine you are a nine-year-old boy living here. You see these groups of older boys. They seem to be tough. They seem to be having a good time. Nobody interferes with them. You want to be a man and these appear to be men to you.
In some of the gangs, some of the slightly older ones have already been in prison. To the kids on the street, prison has become a badge of honour. It’s almost getting to the point that you have to go to prison.
All their talk is about f****** people up. There is no notion of conflict resolution other than battering people. Violence is deeply ingrained in their culture of “respect”. They have to take people on just because what is said might be disrespectful to them. They have to batter them. They have to be in charge. To be in charge they have to be physically violent.
Not having parental love is one reason the kids argue about respect so much. Their view is you have to be a “bad boy” or people don’t leave you alone. With white boys, it’s about being a nutter. You’ve got to be a nutter. You don’t want anyone f****** with you, you’ve got to f*** them up, you’ve got to show people you’re a nutter. The black boy will say things like “bad boy, gunman, man don’t take no shit”. They talk about blowing people’s heads off and about stabbing people.
The kids here also feel they have to have money. When you are poor, you see people on telly with phones, cars, iPods. To you the gang is the best way of getting this stuff because they steal, they rob.
The great majority of them who are “going out there” — that means going out to rob, to make money — are just 14 or 15. They use terms such as “running up in your house” (aggravated burglary). They talk about needing £100-£400 a week. If you have that kind of money, you have respect and you can buy all the cool stuff and you can show them you’ve got it. If you stand around with these boys, it’s not long before someone pulls out a wedge of money. They won’t say anything; it is just to look cool.
Young people here watch a lot of television, particularly MTV. It shows them cars and cribs (houses) and girls. They want it all. They don’t learn about real economics, what’s involved in working for money. That’s why you see them performing some really ugly crimes now, because that is the only way they can finance this lifestyle.
It means they do 20 minutes of something dangerous, then bang, they’ve got all the money. They have the whole of next week, next month doing nothing, waiting for the funds to run out and being forced to do something else.
Lots of kids here, getting towards 25%, smoke weed and skunk. It’s a serious problem. Use is starting younger than it did. It affects their mental health. It undermines their schooling and their life prospects. At our local park, young schoolgirls come around and smoke, young schoolboys, too. They smoke on the way to the bus to go to school. It affects their ability to concentrate.
Weed affects their brain chemistry while their brains are still forming. These kids need all the motivation they can get. The drugs rob them of it. So they move into crime and become more addicted and need to smoke more. So they get excluded, sent to a referral unit or are truanting more or less permanently.
This is one thing that middle-class adult smokers who support liberalising drugs don’t understand. As adults it may not be affecting their brain chemistry doing it once a week. They also have jobs to go to. They may control it. But these young kids don’t.
When the liberal classes have the view that “oh, we can all smoke a bit”, they do not realise how it generates crime for young people here who need to finance their habit. By not making drugs seem like a big deal, by decriminalising the drug, they are criminalising the kids.
This sanctioning of drugs pushes poor kids into bullying at school, then into low-level crime to get the money for drugs. This introduces them to criminality. Most children don’t begin with the desire or the confidence to rob someone. But once they bully for items at school they gradually build up and their targets become more frequent and bigger until they rob adults.
Drinking, smoking and hanging around with undesirables also leads some girls to adopt a different sexual code. They let themselves be shared by the boys. I have been told that if a girl fancies your friend, you’ll make her sleep with you first to get to your friend. Young girls are starting to accept this. They mistake sex for affection.
The next step up from this is when you get girls starting to have a baby just to get real love. Many of the teenagers are the children of the first generation of single mothers to be housed here. The assumption became that it was all right for mothers to have babies on their own. So it is doubly like that for their daughters.
But what you see now is the mother and daughter fighting for attention from the men. I watch a lot of the single mothers round here. I see they are struggling with the loneliness, the depression, the mental health problems. It is getting worse with every generation.
One of the most corrosive aspects of life here is the low expectations placed on parents. Nothing happens to you if you don’t look after your child. Too much of our policy around young people is nothing to do with their parents. Yet all parents need to be involved, need to have responsibility, need to feel the pain if their teenagers are offending.
In turn they need to have higher expectations of their children. Compare what the well-off expect from their children with what the poor think they can achieve: it is so vastly different it is unbelievable.
The parents I speak to do not find parenting easy. They lack information and practical support. None of this is helped by the lack of married families. Marriage does not exist among the black community. It is why we have so many problems with the men.
If you talk to young people, they all support marriage. But people with our lives, in our circles, understand you are better off if you are a single parent. It has reached the point where a lot of people who are not single parents present themselves as such because it makes financial sense.
If anybody thinks that people like us don’t sit around and have these discussions, they are deluding themselves. We soon figure out which way it will make us the most money. And that’s an example of how we are trapped by government policy, which discourages us from raising our children in nuclear families.
SCHOOL was where young people could have gained some moral fibre, but governments have got rid of schools that gave strong moral messages. Young people want boundaries, but school has been emasculated so it can’t give them.
Removing religion and what it is to be British from school has been a disaster. Where else are young people going to learn ethics? Citizenship is not enough. That’s how we’ve had bombers here. They’ve come here and not been exposed to the good things about being British.
Put this with the failure of school to give children real skills. Some are not going to be academically sharp, yet school is finding nothing for them to do. We live in a world of trade and real skills, vocational skills. Yet school is GCSEs or nothing. This creates a separation between mainstream society and the rest of us. This is stopping our children from succeeding, because they go for a job and people start speaking and they literally cannot understand them.
The failure of the schools to impart the most basic of social skills is astonishing. The teenagers here cannot speak to people they don’t know as they only know how to speak their own slang. This estate is not conducive to our kids being socially educated.
You are talking about boys of 22, 23 and 24 who have never been anywhere near a job. They don’t have the academic skills and they definitely don’t have the social skills to attack a job.
They are not able to talk to people without just saying, “wha’d’you want, wha’d’you want?” Not getting offended, not getting scared when somebody asks them a question, not seeing it as a challenge to their respect when they are told or asked to do something — this is all beyond them.
Yet all they talk about is money, money, money. How to raise it. Ways to spend it.
The music our children listen to says you are not worth anything unless you have lots of money. Your worth is directly related to the money you have in your pocket. All this reinforces the need, especially for these children, to get stuff, to expect stuff and to have stuff. It shows them the end product; it doesn’t show them the work involved.
They see the Wayne Rooneys, the Beckhams and their huge financial success. They have false aspirations and then they don’t concentrate on what’s real, on what’s possible for us. So the kids feel they have to have money and this leads to crime.
The education that goes on in school around drugs and sex is also ridiculous, because it is just about the technicalities. It has not dealt with the pressures and realities for kids here. When I spoke in a girls’ school and used the word abstinence, only three out of 90 of them knew what it meant.
There are a lot of really good things about Britain as a place and British people as a body. These are things that children should be taught straight up; they should learn about the community that is Britain and what it is to be British. But by removing the religion that British people generally take to, by removing the ethics that generally go with it, we’ve allowed people to come to Britain and bring their culture, their country and any problems they might have with them.
I can see the argument for taking religion out of the state, out of politics. But as a moral guideline, they need to be maintained. Losing them has meant that people have come here and had very little respect for us.
That lack of integration and lack of saying to people: if you are going to come to England, this is what we expect. That is why the Muslim religion is so powerful among the Muslim people (here).
Sex education in school is just science. Science is not what happens on the street; it is not what happens in bedrooms up and down the country. The fact that young people feel they should be having sex should be addressed. When you say to them here’s condoms, you confirm that young people should have sex. What we should be saying is “No!”
Parents should be told that contraception is being handed out and absolutely they must be told if an abortion is being arranged, because you are talking about the physical and mental health of their children.
Hiding it from the parents deprives them of their responsibility and the opportunity to exercise it. It emasculates the caring parents and it gives dependency to the uncaring ones. If you take that away from them they expect everything else to be done for them.
THEN there is multiculturalism. What it does is rob Britain of its community. Among the working class, unless you are already one of those “Queen and country” sort of British people, you are lost. You don’t know what to do. You bring your children to school and they learn far more about Diwali than Christmas.
I speak to people from Brent in northwest London and they’ve been having Muslim and Hindi days off. What it does is rob Britain of its community. Without our community we slip into a crime-riddled cesspool.
There are a lot of really good things about Britain as a place and British people as a body. These are things that children should be taught straight up; they should learn about the community that is Britain and what it is to be British. But by removing the religion that British people generally take to, by removing the ethics that generally go with it, we’ve allowed people to come to Britain and bring their culture, their country and any problems they might have with them.
I can see the argument for taking religion out of the state, out of politics. But as a moral guideline, they need to be maintained. Losing them has meant that people have come here and had very little respect for us.
That lack of integration and lack of saying to people: if you are going to come to England, this is what we expect. That is why the Muslim religion is so powerful among the Muslim people (here).
It’s like we are ashamed of where we come from.
Lots of people come to Britain and think they’ll be rich. But then they find it’s not so easy and are resentful. They are alienated because they haven’t been exposed to the good things in Britain — our ethics. That’s why we’ve now got a nation of people who wouldn’t do anything for the country. They wouldn’t fight for their country. Why would they? The nation has done nothing for them as far as they are concerned.
The more liberal we’ve been, the more the poor have suffered.
Poor people don’t need all this liberalism. They need direction. Everybody talks about “my rights” — but there is some point when your behaviour needs to be balanced by your duty to your community.
The working class look to rules. The rules are important to them. Take away the rules and they are left in limbo. So they form their own: the kind that are driven by pop economics and lead to crime.
The liberal intelligentsia relax the rules for themselves, not for us.
Bailey’s law: Six ways to stop youngsters growing into criminals
Establish boundaries early
Once children acquire a criminal mentality, they find it hard to lose, says Bailey. So it is important for parents and schools to lay down a clear moral framework from the outset.
This may seem obvious, but for people on deprived estates it’s not easy. They are bombarded by conspicuous consumption elsewhere but have to be taught that money and goods must be earned, not taken. Parents and schools must not shirk from making clear what is right and wrong.
Bailey believes that in other countries, including Jamaica, where his mother came from, parents and schools impose stricter discipline and better behaviour.
Keep them busy
The best way of preventing temptation turning into criminality is to keep youngsters occupied with other things. “You can’t stop people using drugs unless they are busy, unless they have some type of tie to society,” says Bailey. This requires jobs, education, sports or hobbies.
On one estate Bailey helped youngsters get licences to drive mopeds so they could deliver pizzas. “It was about giving them a link to wider society,” he says. “I found it transformed the young people involved.”
He also ran a project to help youngsters repair their mopeds, which led to some training as mechanics.
Be straight, be firm
In Bailey’s eyes, “young people want boundaries”. They want guidance on what is acceptable and what is not. But too many people and institutions are afraid of setting clear boundaries for fear of causing offence. They are, he says, too politically correct. “We make a point of telling youngsters the truth and we find that they grow from it,” he says.
Shield young people from commercial exploitation and celebrity culture
He believes the media, including some music magazines and television channels that promote the “coolness” of money and drugs, are corrosive. He suggests the promotion of violence and pornography, especially by some parts of the music industry, should be challenged.
Don’t wait for the problem to come to you: go and tackle it before it is too late
Instead of setting up a youth or drug centre in a particular building and waiting for people to drop in, go out on the streets. Bailey seeks out and befriends youngsters on the streets of North Kensington and gains their trust.
Keep it local
National initiatives may struggle to work because youngsters are territorial. It’s important to understand an area’s history, culture and needs.
This article is taken from Shaun Bailey’s pamphlet. No Man’s Land: how Britain’s Inner City Youth are Being Failed, to be published tomorrow by the Centre for Policy Studies.
Source: From The Sunday Times November 27, 2005

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