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Offending & employment - tough challenges facing BAME offenders

Apr 09, 2014 - Comments: 0

The MOJ recently launched an updated report on its longitudinal study on offenders and employment entitled `The pre-custody employment, education and training status of newly sentenced prisoners’.

The report highlights that nearly a third of the cohort of prisoners (32%) reported having paid employment up to four weeks prior to their imprisonment; 13% stated that they had never worked.

Disappointingly, the cohort had a small BAME component in comparison with the figures for BAME representation across the prison system. However, the findings do replicate well established labour market inequities for BAME groups, such as higher levels of qualifications and lower than average levels of pay compared with the white group.

For me, a question that comes out of a piece of research like this is: should employment status be a factor taken into consideration by magistrates and judges when they make sentencing decisions?

Certainly, there may well be offences that are too serious regardless of a person’s employment status. However, in the case of minor and non-violent offences, surely this could be a situation to look at alternatives to custody. Banging up somebody who is in gainful employment seems to me something we should avoid unless the nature of the offence demands a custodial sentence.

As for BAME offenders, the wider labour market landscape for BAME communities whether having a criminal record or not is extremely difficult and undoubtedly compounds a difficult position.

For certain ethnic groups (e.g. young black men and Pakistani women) the picture is far bleaker than for their white counterparts. This recent article in the Guardian gives a succinct overview.

Educational attainment is an interesting aspect of this. For example, black African and Caribbean boys saw a major improvement in their GCSE scores during the past decade. However, this educational boost has done nothing to improve their labour market outcomes.

In BTEG’s view this context of BAME labour market outcomes must have a bearing on how policy is formulated in relation to resettlement services. This is particularly pertinent in the context of Transforming Rehabilitation.

What we need is two-fold:

  • greater understanding of the specific challenges facing BAME offenders in getting back into the job market

  • providers that can develop targeted responses

That involves not only unravelling the challenge of the barriers faced by an ex-offender but understanding and addressing the specific challenges faced by BAME communities and the job market. 

Self-employment and small business start-ups must be part of the agenda. BTEG has just launched a new project Opening Doors with this focus in mind.

Footballers, rappers and drug dealers – the need for positive role models

Apr 09, 2014 - Comments: 0

Guest blog by Lee Pinkerton (R2S role model)

The recent Channel 4 series Top Boy came in for much criticism from some quarters.

There are those that argued that this gritty urban drama set in east London, which depicted a young black drug gang, was yet another negative depiction of black males on our TV screens. No wonder, they argued that black men are disproportionately targeted by the police and face harsher sentencing by the courts, when we are so often depicted in the media as sociopathic criminals. Not only this, but how can young black boys aspire to become positive members of society when they are forever seeing themselves portrayed in this negative light?

Similar criticism was directed at the E4 series Youngers. This programme also had two black males from an inner-city council estate as the lead characters, but in this case the two main protagonists were not aspiring drug dealers, but instead were wanna-be Grime artists.

Criminals, rappers or athletes?  How can our black boys aspire to be anything greater, some argue, when these are the only role models they see? To make matters worse all the music that young people listen to seems to be promoting a ‘bling and bitches’ lifestyle and espousing the ‘get rich or die trying’ philosophy made famous by 50 Cent.

I see things differently.

I sat and watched both of these series with my teenaged sons, and took the time to discuss with them the issues raised. I wanted them to see - from the comfort of their living room sofa - that this is how too many of the less well-off tenants of the nation’s council estates live. I wanted them to understand that, right here displayed in glorious HD, was the reason that I and their mother chose to move out of Hackney when they were still in infant and primary school. Back then we could see that if we stayed there, their life chances would be greatly diminished.

Sadly many other parents realise this fact too late to save their sons.

In one scene from Top Boy the solicitor of the main character Dushane (played by Ashley Walters) describes the estate on which Dushane lives - and proudly claims to be the boss of - in less than flattering terms. “Somerhouse is a shit-hole”, she spits dismissively. “Well done, you’re the king of shit-hole.”

Dushane displays the same poverty of aspiration as so many of our young men. For him, the fact that he was the ‘top boy’ of his housing estate means that he is a success; that he has reached the top of the totem pole. He struggles to see any life for himself outside of the confines of this small deprived patch of east London.

This all too widespread lack of aspiration cannot be blamed on Channel 4’s script writers, or any other television channel. If you, as a parent, are expecting the television to imbue your child with ambition, then you both need help.

There is an argument that black children are underachieving in schools because they don’t have enough role models there either. Not enough black male teachers and not enough black people on the curriculum. Black educational underachievement, they argue, is partly because black children feel that the curriculum doesn’t relate to them.

However, I would ask, ‘How come Indian and Chinese children do not have the same problems, when they are equally ignored by the curriculum?’ Chinese children in fact have the best educational outcomes from the UK school system, despite there being very few Chinese teachers, or Chinese historical figures on the curriculum.

Could it be that Chinese and Indian children are not relying on the UK school system for their sense of self?

We can see many examples of more recent immigrants to both the UK and US, who after only one or two generations leave the indigenous blacks far behind, strangely unencumbered by the racism and discrimination that indigenous blacks complain prevent them from progressing.

The real reason why we, as a community, are doing less well than our Asian brethren is because they are not relying on the host community to define them or to give them a job/success.

Yes, we all need role models, but it’s much better if they are closer to home. Real people that we can observe in real life, speak to and ask for advice. If the only older males that you can look up to in your hood are the local drug dealer, the best rapper on the block, or the guy that got a contract with the local football team, then that’s all we can aspire to be – rappers, footballers and drug dealers.

That’s part of the reason that Chinese kids and Indian kids are out-performing African-Caribbean children in school. Because they have real life role models in their own community, who they can actually observe and learn from.

The first role model for a boy should be his father; but what if you are growing up without a father, as too many black boys are? Then you have to find someone else to fulfil that role. It is this vacuum that leads so many of our young to turn to gangs – looking for a father figure – a phenomenon called ‘father hunger’.

Part of the reason that so much of our youth is so disengaged from the educational process, is not just down to the ‘stale and pale’ curriculum, but because they don’t see the benefit of an education. They are doubtful if there will be any jobs available at the end of the process, and even if there are, if they actually want them. They’ve seen how hard their parents have worked, and how little they have to show for it. No wonder the promise of the fast money to be earned ‘on road’, or the fame and fortune of a career in music or football seem so much more appealing.

The school system is set up to allow you to obtain qualifications that you can display on your CV when applying for jobs to work for someone else. What they don’t teach you in school is how to be self-reliant: how to set up your own business and create your own job.

If no-one in your family is running a business, how then can you know how to set one up and be a successful entrepreneur? If no-one you know has a good job, how do you find out how you go about getting one? That is where role models and mentors come in, and there are numerous organisations in Britain that exist to fill that gap.

So, if you are really concerned about the values that our kids are aspiring to, don’t waste your time and energy writing angry letters to Channel 4 or campaigning against the likes of Rick Ross and 50 Cent. Get involved in your community.

As Ghandi put it, ‘be the change that you want to see’.

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ESF Funding – a patchwork quilt?

Mar 24, 2014 - Comments: 0

At a meeting today, one of my colleagues used the term ‘patchwork quilt’ when describing European Social Fund (ESF) funds.

Reflecting on this I agreed that over the last 10 years, that is exactly what ESF funding has been like:

  • overlapping programmes
  • sudden announcements of new programmes
  • extremely short deadlines at times
  • delayed decisions.

This is on top of the enormous pressure of completing the paperwork.

It is extremely hard for small community based organisations to tap into such money unless they approach it via lead organisations.

Saying that, I have to stress that the ESF was set up to improve employment opportunities in the European Union and so help raise standards of living. It aims to help people fulfil their potential by giving them better skills and better job prospects.

The 2007-2013 England ESF programme invested £5 billion over seven to provide new opportunities to people who face the greatest barriers to work and learning.

By the end of May 2013, there had been:

  • over 3.8 million participant starts on the programme
  • over 357,000 unemployed or inactive participants have been helped into jobs.
  • over 149,000 participants have gained basic skills
  • over 433,000 participants have gained qualifications at level 2 or above
  • over 403,000 disadvantaged young people have been helped to enter employment, education or training.

More BME organisation need to explore potential opportunities and tap in to this resource.

For a comprehensive list of Providers and subcontractors in your area have a look at the links below.

  Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) – London

  London Councils

  Greater London Authority

  London Development Agency

  Skills Funding Agency – London

  London – Technical Assistance

  National Offender Management Service

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The indomitable Steve McQueen - a role model for our times

Mar 20, 2014 - Comments: 0

The triumph of British film director Steve McQueen has been an inspiration on a variety of levels.

The movie 12 Years a Slave had a trio of victories at the Academy Awards:

  • best film for director McQueen, born in the UK of Caribbean parents
  • best screenplay to African American John Ridley
  • best supporting actress to Kenyan actor Lupita Nyong’o 

This reflected the triangular geography of the Atlantic slave trade itself with the victors representing the Black African diaspora of Europe, the Americas/Caribbean and Europe.

The film itself, as well as providing an empowering personal story, has given us the most authentic glimpse of the realities of the Atlantic slave trade ever seen on screen and reminded or given a new audience to the life of Solomon Northup.

The horrors of the slave trade have been airbrushed from history and certainly do not form any significant part of modern school history curriculums either here or in the USA. McQueen has given us not only a searing memorable piece of art that will stand up over time as a classic but he has made a huge cultural and political contribution to pulling off the shroud surrounding slavery.

Art has always been at its best when it is challenging, educational and political and McQueen is an artist who encompasses all of these in his work.

When I saw the film I was reading a book by Malcolm Gladwell, Outliers. In the book Gladwell develops a concept called cultural legacy. This is the notion that values, principles and culture can affect communities for many generations.

Gladwell himself states about cultural legacies that they

“persist, generation after generation, virtually intact...and they play such a role in directing attitudes and behavior that we cannot make sense of our world without them."

After seeing the movie I wondered what are the cultural legacies of slavery?

My personal affinity with McQueen grew after reading an interview with him in the Guardian by Decca Aitkenhead.

The dialogue was interesting because McQueen, like me, is the son of West Indian immigrants. Hearing him speak about his schooldays, which he described as a waste not just in terms of his own experience but also the waste of talent around him, really echoed with my school experience in multi-racial London comprehensive in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s.

In a BBC interview with Mark Kermode McQueen spoke about making his first film Hunger about the IRA hunger striker Bobby Sands. He talked about how the events of 1981 the inner city riots and the hunger strikes left an indelible impression on him as they did on me at the same time.

McQueen comes across as a very private man. He lives in Amsterdam with his Dutch partner and children, “Anywhere but New York, London or LA’ he told Kermode in his BBC interview. He is certainly not an attention seeker, so it was a revelation in his Guardian interview when he spoke for the first time of his own challenges and demons with dyslexia.

The term role-model or even black role-model, are possibly ones McQueen himself would spurn. However I would suggest McQueen is the perfect role model, the reluctant role model, the role model who lets his work do the talking.

In an age where celebrity and consumerism saturate our modern lives McQueen would certainly be the kind of role model I would want my two sons to look up to.

As the actor/producer Brad Pitt introduced him at the Academy Awards he is undoubtedly the indomitable Mr Steve McQueen.

Here are the links to the Guardian interview, the BBC Culture Show Special on Steve McQueenwith Mark Kermode  and Malcolm Gladwell’s website

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Time to expose black boys to black self-development programmes

Mar 19, 2014 - Comments: 0

Recently, Baroness Lola Young and I spent an interesting afternoon visiting a prison as part of the Baroness’s review into young black and/or Muslim males in the criminal justice system. 

Government statistics show that young black males are more likely to end up in the criminal justice system and more likely to reoffend on release. Baroness Young wants to help reduce the reoffending rates among these groups through influencing public sector commissioning specifications, especially in the National Offender Management Service.

This is not going to be easy and trying to understand why so many more young black and/or Muslim men end up in the criminal justice system and then go on to have higher reoffending rates is difficult. Is it down to racism, stereotyping, lack of opportunities, and the problematic status of black men in this country?

We spent a few hours in discussion with the Governor of the prison and, separately, with a group of black inmates that had completed a voluntary black self -development programme (BSDP). The men were from a varied age group and serving a variety of sentences. 

I have listened and talked to black men in several prisons. The conversation has usually been about enterprise and encouraging the men to think about self-employment as an option on release. Many of the men are enthusiastic about this route. But on this last occasion the conversation was about the difference that the black self-development programme had made to the men.

It was clear that the BSDP had made a difference, perhaps in many cases a profound difference, to the participants.  When asked about the impact of the BSDP, the men made the following comments:

 ‘I hadn’t released that this (racism) has been going on for so long’.

 ‘I have released the skills I have are interchangeable’.

‘There are a lot of pathways to rehabilitation. All the other courses are about offending behaviour’

‘They teach you certain values, before I thought that crime was the only way out and I didn’t have regard for other people’

 ‘My family situation (parents separated) made me feel left out and I craved attention and being bad at school was the symptom’

 ‘We need young people to see how long this goes back (the experience of black people in dealing with racism)’

‘There is no one outside to push their things (i.e. things that they are good at). I want to draw and make music’.

Spending time in prisons with groups of black men has made me think about why, as a society, we wait so long before helping black men to realise that they have potential, helping them identify their real interests, developing a sense of identity, self-worth and skills. Most of the black men we met thought that black boys should be encouraged to attend similar programmes whilst at school to prevent them entering the criminal justice system in the first place.

I wonder if what makes the difference with these kinds of programme is the space it provides for black men to reflect on their life journey, their situation with other black men and to learn and challenge each other intellectually, in a non-threatening environment, with the direction of an educated facilitator of African/Caribbean heritage. 

I wonder if this is precisely what is missing in many mainstream rehabilitative services for black male offenders! 

Too cool or just afraid of rejection?

Mar 17, 2014 - Comments: 0

Last week a group of young men attended a Routes2Success enterprise session where they met with R2S role models and other young entrepreneurs. The young men discussed their interests and were given advice on the first steps of business.

After hearing some of the young men talk about their interests and passions one entrepreneur’s feedback was that he believed the young men’s’ approach was ‘too cool’ and that this was a problem for a lot of young people.

I pondered on this for a while; as a young person myself was I too cool?

I thought back to the R2S steering group meeting we had the week before where it was suggested that another big issue young people were struggling with was rejection or the fear of it. I could relate to this more than that of being ‘too cool’.

Throughout my years studying I always appeared calm and collected when it came to exams and coursework. I didn’t go crazy with revision or spend weeks in the library BUT I was just as worried and nervous as the next person. However, I refused to let anybody know this; not my mum, friends or teachers.

This was not a good thing.

I feared failing which caused me to adopt a blasé attitude. No matter how badly I wanted something I couldn’t put my all in, just in case I failed.

To others I may have seemed ‘too cool’ or unenthusiastic but the reality was I lacked self-motivation; a common issue for a number of the young men that have engaged with the R2S programme.

Some of the young men we meet have amazing ideas and are passionate about what they want to do. When you are passionate about something you will invest your time, money, energy, effort and everything else you have left to give to see it succeed. Unfortunately fear of wasting that time, money, energy and effort accompanied by the fear of rejection and failure can see some of these young men never feeding their passion and bringing it to life.

Speaking from experience, two of our role models - Bola Abisogun and Gifford Sutherland -advised the young men at the enterprise event to ‘fall in love with rejection’ and when it gets hard ‘passion will be the only thing that will get you through’.

Too cool or afraid of rejection?

Either way you are blocking the world from seeing and sharing your amazing passion! When you want and believe in something SHOW IT!

I overcame my fears, expressed my passion and got myself this great position working for BTEG on the R2S programme.

What doors will you allow your passion to open for you?

Janine Goodin Deer
Project Support Officer
Routes2Success (R2S)
 

 

Confidence, confidence, confidence...

Mar 16, 2014 - Comments: 0

Cat looking in the mirror at a lionTrying to secure jobs or move up the career ladder can be difficult in the current economic climate. It is even more difficult when coupled with barriers such as language, accent, pronunciation, education, religion race, age and disability.

However, I believe that one of the main barriers in trying to secure employment is lack of confidence.

Delivering a series of employability workshops made me realise that all of the people in the room actually lacked confidence - a key element that was inhibiting their success in securing work more than some of their other issues - age, lack of computer skills, dyslexia or pronunciation of some English words.

I was pleasantly surprised that giving them some short exercises to do at home* and giving them some constructive feedback was a vital trigger for many of them to: 

  • change their perceptions of themselves
  • challenge some of their negative thoughts
  • set clear short term goals to give them a sense of achievement and success.

These participants came back with smiles, the ability to stand and sit tall and an assessment of their strengths. Above all they seemed to have unlocked energy and aspirations that they had forgotten they had. This change is such a short space of time made me smile too.

The moral of this blog is that we all need a constructive friend to push us along and encourage us to have a ‘CAN DO’ approach.

* For example, one of the exercises is to read a page of a book – out loud. This helps the brain get used to hearing your voice and therefore reduce the shock when speaking at interviews

Black young people - shut out of the labour market?

Mar 16, 2014 - Comments: 0

Our action research project to produce an action plan for improving employment rates for young black men in London will be completed next month.

Figures from the Department for Work and Pensions show that in 2012 the unemployment rate for young black men in England was 50 per cent while the unemployment rate for young white men was 22 per cent. Our research is asking: why is the unemployment rate for young black men so high?

A lot of people think they know the answer to this.  During the research we have heard the same explanations over and again:

  • young black men are in gangs
  • they do badly at school
  • they have low aspirations
  • they get involved in crime.

But what do young black men themselves think are the reasons why unemployment is so high?

We asked young black men this question in an on-line survey and received over 80 replies. They mentioned all the usual things - gangs, crime, aspirations - but these weren’t the main reasons.

Ahead of all other explanations by a long way was racism. Around half of them said that young black men find it harder to find jobs because of racism, discrimination or the negative perceptions that employers have of them. Many gave examples from their own experience; of turning up for interviews and being told that the vacancy had already been filled, or sensing from the interviewers that they are just not going to appoint a black man.

It is impossible to prove racial discrimination in individual cases like these. But there are systematic differences in employment outcomes for black young people; for example, unemployment among black university graduates (12.7% for those graduating in 2011/12) is more than double the rate for white university graduates (6.0%). When all other explanations have been eliminated, to misquote Sherlock Holmes, then what is left must be the answer.

The answer here is what many young black men experience every day as they try to find a job; that racism, discrimination and negative stereotyping by employers are shutting them out of the labour market.

Mind how you go - enterprise in disadvantaged communities

Mar 16, 2014 - Comments: 0

Surveys show that the aspiration to set up one’s own business is consistently higher amongst ethnic minority groups compared to white people. Furthermore, new migrant communities, whilst facing some challenges, are also showing a promising tendency towards entrepreneurship according to a new report. Business and social enterprise support schemes are thus important to support enterprise and entrepreneurship.

Of course, as most race equality campaigners and development specialist know, the mere presence of schemes does not generate fair and equitable access. This has to be worked on - and there are wider challenges that go beyond access issues. Strategic challenges remain because many black and ethnic minority groups are concentrated in disadvantaged areas, which generate their own constraints. Although dispersal from inner city areas is growing many BME communities still live in relatively less prosperous areas. And such areas tend to consistently display lower levels of actual enterprise and entrepreneurship compared to prosperous areas.

Harnessing higher levels of entrepreneurship requires both direct and indirect barriers to be addressed. The former, for example, in terms of generating self-belief and know-how amongst local communities and the later in terms of providing access to finance and premises, boosting the reputation of areas and putting in place long-term regeneration plans. Yet, with the demise of mass area-based initiatives, many local communities are becoming much more dependent on enterprise to create opportunities for local people and stimulate community change.

But risks remain if small scale projects end up generating low-quality entrepreneurship. I can hear some arguing that even low-quality entrepreneurship may be better than the poor quality jobs, being locked out of certain job markets or prospects of unemployment.

Generating low-quality entrepreneurship need not be the default option for disadvantaged communities. We, for example, now know more about what factors explain differences in BME enterprise performance. According to Ram money, management and sectors go a considerable way to explaining these differences.

At the recent launch of BTEG’s Opening Doors Network Enterprise Programme, aimed at young adults aged 18 to 30, delegates also identified a number of other issues we need to be mindful of:

  • When it comes to sectors, we shouldn’t get seduced purely by technology. Young BME entrepreneurs are now creating new starts up in a wide range of industries.

  • And in a connected world, building social capital needs to be integral to any approach

  • There is a need to focus on up-stream enterprise education but the emphasis should be on inspiring entrepreneurship not simply providing employability skills

  • When trying to rejuvenate high streets, ‘pop-up’ premises can help create space for testing new ideas and provide start-up premises - but these only work if set within a wider regeneration plan for the area.

Armed with a broader and richer picture, we should be in a better position to encourage higher quality entrepreneurship in disadvantaged communities.

Your Life is Your Business

Feb 19, 2014 - Comments: 0

A guest blog by Tony Henry, a Routes2Success volunteer role model

Your Life is Your Business

We say that we want a life full of Love, Joy, Peace, Happiness, Laughter, Harmony, Kindness, Patience. However, far too often we end up pointing the blame finger at any and everything else other than ourselves as to why we don’t have what we say we so desire.

How many times have you pointed the finger at your teacher, your parents, your friend, your worst enemy? Remember when you point your finger at someone else there are three fingers pointing back at you.

Sure, there will be situations in life where you will have little or no control as to what happens in your life; however the key is to know and understand that you can control how you react to any given situation or circumstance and that the choice is yours to take.

Which leads me onto a very interesting poem:

That’s Not My Job:

This is a story about four people: Everybody, Somebody, Anybody and Nobody.

There was an important job to be done and Everybody was asked to do it.

Everybody was sure that Somebody would do it.

Anybody could have done it, but Nobody did.

Somebody got angry about that, because it was Everybody's job.

Everybody thought Anybody could do it, but Nobody realised that Somebody wouldn't do it.

It ended up that Everybody blamed Somebody when Nobody did what Anybody could have done.

Not taking RESPONSIBILITY means asking someone to do for you the things you must do for yourself and being angry when they don’t do it.

It cannot be said loud enough “Your Life is Your Business” Think of it this way, if you choose to relinquish RESPONSIBILITY for your life, how can you expect to be RESPONSIBLE for the good things you say you want to receive in your life. How can YOU ensure that you get the best out of your education? How can YOU make sure that you leave school/college/university with the best grades? How can YOU make sure you choose the right career path? If you take RESPONSIBILITY for your own life you can have very few regrets!

In closing Life will work for you, when you make the decision to work your Life. Make a decision today to review your life, identify the areas that you are not satisfied with, make a list of all the things you can do to create the needed changes and in the words of Nike “Just Do It

Live Life, Love Life, and Do life your miracle is waiting around the corner.

Your Lift Doctor, Tony Henry (R2S role model)

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