Friday, January 21, 2011

Rhasan Brunner from Hackney’s Youth Parliament (HYP) discusses an alternative to the Spending Review.

He is young, articulate and dedicated to social inclusion. His aspiration is to get all young people, all over the UK involved in helping their local communities - as he believes this will prevent many from falling into crime. He held office as the Vice Chair of Hackney Youth Parliament (HYP) in 2008, finally taking up the Chair’s position for the last twelve months. He’s the winner of the Hackney Youth Award and the Special Youth Award of 2008. His own articles have been published extensively in Contrast – a youth magazine that looks at the challenges and achievements of Hackney’s young people. All this and still only fifteen, Rhasan Brunner displays all the hall marks of a future leader.

by Teena Lashmore

We met on the brisk sunny Sunday morning of the 24 October last year, outside Hackney Town Hall and immediately headed off to the Corner Café, where we found comfort and space in the window seating. We perched ourselves proudly on the high wooden stools and observed the sunlight as it cast strong shadows over the wooden benches outside. Our hands wrapped around our large mugs and quickly began to warm, as I cradled my latte and he his hot chocolate.

He recapped over his ever changing lifestyle and community work. Most significant was his attendance at St Matthias Junior School, where he experienced his first public speaking event. He received peer recognition and respect, with the entire hall applauding his speech. He recalled being overwhelmed with emotions. Cardinal Pole School brought new challenges and along with family support, he actively changed his trajectory, engaging with youth activities and participating in youth clubs and theatre groups rather than the ‘which ends you at’ street life. His appetite for his community work has not wavered, and he continues to be an active member in HYP and also at the Hackney Volunteer Centre.

We discussed in detail some of the benefits and losses to the community as a consequence of the Government’s cuts and he suggested a clear idea of how to plug the gap,” All people need to help in society. It’s not the end of the world if a few rich people have to loose one of their many houses - as they can afford it.” His views are evolving and are informed by his youth, his education and by the many alternatives to the spending cuts which are currently being discussed in communities and voluntary organisations up and down the country. Of the many options available Mr Brunner found the 2% Wealth Tax for the richest 10% of the population, as being most attractive. Such a proposal is likely to raise as much as £78 billion in just one year, and in eighteen months it would address the Spending Review’s objective of needing to raise £81 billion over four years.

Currently, the ConDem coalition is promoting one way of addressing the country’s deficits, which will ultimately impact on those members of society in most need. The loss and changes to disability benefits will leave many vulnerable adults without support and for some - this will see the end of their independence. Many families will have to move to cheaper and most likely over crowded properties, because private landlords are free to charge rents that cannot be met by Housing Benefits; especially now these payments are being capped.

The full potential consequence of the Spending Review is too grim to explore over coffee and hot chocolate and we both recognised the need for a wider debate. Although young people’s views have largely been absent from these discussion, Mr Brunner promised to address this by taking the Spending Review to Hackney Youth Parliament’s Residential weekend.

We finish our drinks and headed back to the rendezvous. As we parted, he reminded me to send his support to Hackney Unites and pledged his commitment to get involved and to encourage other young parliamentarians to attend future meetings - to give their support and views.

Mr Brunner is a strong believer in social inclusion and his views are reflected by many other young people in Hackney. The Spending Review attacks not only our lives but the life chances of the next generation; especially with the increases in university tuition fees. The irony here is that our political leaders - who are imposing these cuts, benefited from free education yet here they are denying the same opportunities to the next generation. And within the same narrative, the banking industry which has been largely responsible for the global financial downturn and our country’s deficits remains unchanged, unchallenged and under taxed.

One of the many unintended consequences of this Spending Review is that these cuts may become the catalyst that join Hackney residents, young people and community leaders closer together, bringing the younger generation and their voice to the table, to negotiation a better community for all.

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