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27 JUL 2010

Penny Booth: Like new puppy dogs with so much energy

Like new puppy dogs with so much energy

Penny BoothA summer camp for every teenager at 16 years of age... I read the reports in the newspapers and online that the pilot programme is going ahead with thousands of 16-year-olds to be sent on summer camps at a cost to the taxpayer of up to £1,400 a head. This is an ambitious plan for a national citizen service launched by David Cameron. It sounds great. Thank you.

This appears a very worthy and energy-absorbing activity (teenagers have lots of that) but I am just a little concerned that it sounds very healthily middle-class and fine if you like the goodness of scouting at 16. Most 16 years olds I have come across (I am well past that stage with my own children, so this is not total exhaustion speaking here) do not have camping in mind. Maybe they should. Actually, camping is not always great in the British weather (please, nobody tell me how it was when they wore shorts and managed a cooked breakfast half-way up Scafell Pike or had jolly days boating on Ullswater - it is if the weather is great). The location is important - are urban kids likely to get much more from this than those accustomed to the countryside and for whom a spot of time with the townies in the town is more mind-broadening. Shades of dyb dyb dyb and dob dob dob here which will not work with everyone, although I am married to one for whom it was a childhood experience of huge happiness. We have been told this programme includes a three-week course, seven days away taking outdoor challenges,  seven days of study at a university campus (whoa! shout the pre-1992s, oh yesss! shout the post-1992s) with the final week at home - and it culminates in a graduation ceremony and a "milk round" attended by voluntary groups.

Now - this is probably more like it but I have to admit to feeling just a little sneeringly cynical (there, I have admitted it before anyone else accuses me of it) that this might not be what families need and is not going to provide an overnight success-rating for a fresh government with lots of energy to burn. The Times reports on 22 July, 2010 that:

'Craig Morley, chief executive of the Challenge Network, which is running the programme in Birmingham and London, said that the aim was to foster understanding across social and racial divides, "to mark a rite of passage" into adulthood and to get people engaged with their own communities.'

We will capture the willing - those we need to educate through an appropriate rite of passage will disappear into the sub-culture and underclass, as they usually do. What might capture them, though, is a real job with suitable ‘purpose' in life. Can anyone come up with that, then?

The Justice Select Committee is to launch an inquiry into the operation of the family courts, it was announced. It would be interesting to know whether the difficult job of getting money from absent parents was worse in the past than it is now, since Gingerbread has a nationwide league table of child maintenance debt which makes fascinating reading. The debt mountain stands at 3,761 million pounds, of which less than a third has been judged to be collectable. What have we done about this?

I have hidden the news from my partner regarding what he could have done before we married over thirty years ago - I wouldn't want to upset him. Prenuptial contracts are in the news again with more evidence stacking up each time it (re-)emerges. Research at Mishcon de Reya on 200 high-flyer earners of 100,000 pounds a year suggests that men under 45 are three times more likely to have a prenuptial agreement that those over 45. The older you are, the more likely, it seems, that you believe a fifty-fifty is the situation you would have were the marriage to end in divorce. Of the men aged under 45 who do not believe in equal splitting of assets, three quarters of them say it is because they feel they make a greater financial contribution to the relationship; half believe their wives should only be entitled to as much money as would be needed to look after the children and no more. Wow. I see that the youngsters have a modern perception of child-rearing, then. No, wait, I get it! How on earth can you work to be paid that much unless you have someone at home looking after the children and housekeeping for you? My domestic science teacher in 1967 was right, after all.

Historically, bearing in mind that those under 45 were born no later than 1965, these results are probably to be expected. Over 100,000 pounds sterling a year? Yup - that's enough money with a few holiday cottages, yachts and a growing pension pot to argue about. Worth having a prenup, then? It makes quite a contrast with the child maintenance debt.

Penny Booth is running the Great North Run for Age UK on 19 September, 2010. This is a half marathon and should she manage to complete the 13.1 miles then please consider giving a donation to Age Uk via www.justgiving.com/PennyBooth

Penny Booth is an Honorary Research Fellow at Liverpool University Centre for the Study of the Child, the Family and the Law. Click here to follow Penny Booth on Twitter.

The views expressed by contributing authors are not necessarily those of Family Law or Jordan Publishing and should not be considered as legal advice.

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