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EDITORIAL - A time bomb among the youth

Published:Tuesday | August 16, 2011 | 12:00 AM

Jamaicans, like others around the world, watched with amazement the television images of young people in Britain's cities trashing buildings, looting shops and engaging in what, from a distance, appeared to be sheer anarchy.

We have been fascinated, too, by the attempts of politicians, intellectuals, community leaders and others to explain what, beyond the police killing of Mark Duggan in Tottenham, lay behind this uprising. What is it that could have so alienated the British youth to cause them to turn on their own communities?

The attempt by a handful to paint the violence black, notwithstanding, last week's riots - unlike others in recent British history - were not overly characterised by race and ethnicity.

The underlying issues may not have been definitively identified or articulated by the rioters, but there is clearly deep disaffection among Britain's youth - a fifth of whom, between the ages of 16 and 25, are unemployed. General unemployment is 7.7 per cent.

Brits' bad behaviour

The high jobless rate among British youth is partially explained by the global recession, from which the United Kingdom economy has not yet fully recovered. But that is not all that ails the young, whose sense of alienation preceded the crisis.

For example, a study in the middle of the decade by the UK Institute of Public Policy Research ranked British youth as the third-worst behaved in Europe. They spent less time at home with parents and were more likely to engage in drinking and fighting than most of their continental counterparts.

Additionally, the UK featured among the worst incidences of child poverty - one in four - in the industrialised world. A report by UNICEF in 2007 that used a wide range of measures to determine well-being among children placed Britain second from the bottom among the 21 developed countries surveyed. The UK also faced a widening gap between its rich and poor people.

Economic good times papered over some of these problems, which have been laid bare by the recession and the spending cuts being instituted by David Cameron's government to deal with Britain's debt.

Parallels between britain, jamaica

British youth are not assuaged, as a recent survey for the Mirror newspaper highlighted: 81 per cent believe that it is now harder to find a job than two decades ago. Two-thirds feel the government is not doing enough to help the youth.

There are parallels between Britain and Jamaica - except Jamaica is in a deeper crisis.

As we have noted in the past, nearly 60 per cent of Jamaicans 15-29 are either unemployed or out of the workforce altogether. That is nearly 400,000 young people. Perhaps 100,000 youth of school age are 'unattached' - they are not in school, not engaged in other forms of training, nor have jobs.

It is largely from this group of jobless and largely unemployable youth that come the perpetrators of so much antisocial behaviour and who commit, or are victims of, 80 per cent of the country's murders.

If you hear a ticking, it may just be a time bomb among these drifting, disenchanted youth. The urgent task for policymakers is to find a way to defuse it.

The opinions on this page, except for the above, do not necessarily reflect the views of The Gleaner. To respond to a Gleaner editorial, email us: editor@gleanerjm.com or fax: 922-6223. Responses should be no longer than 400 words. Not all responses will be published.