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Youth Unemployment: Time to Act For Our Lost Generation

Why is youth unemployment in the Netherlands 8%, in Germany 9%, in the UK 21.9%? This is a shocking statistic and nails the lies of the anti European Tory lobby and focuses minds on how the Coalition have wrecked the recovery in the economy that was underway when Labour left office. They can’t blame the crisis in the Eurozone on it’s own when you read figures like that. 

Statistics released in 2009 showed that nearly 1 million people under 25 lost their jobs in this recession, and since the ConDems came to power those figures have surged relentlessly upwards and young people have been hammered disproportionately. Out of the 2.65 million out of work, 1.1 million are under 25. 

We are creating a whole lost generation. If you are 23 years old you have borne the brunt of the bad times. Born before the advent of child tax credits, increased child benefit, the baby bond scheme and SureStart, this generation was then tested over and over again during their school career as the obsession with league tables and performance indicators meant that “systems” overrode and destroyed the crucial bond between teachers and the young people they wanted to inspire. Then in 2003 the Labour Government trashed the sacroscent principle of free education for as long as you needed, or wanted it by introducing fees, something that the ConDems have exploited by trebling course payments to a monumental £27,000 for a three year degree course. Then factor in the abolition by the Tory led Government of the Education Maintenance Allowance, so vital to less well off families, and the axing of Labour’s Future Jobs Fund, a flat lining of the economy due to the crippling VAT rise, then you have a perfect storm that is battering this age group more than others. 

When New Labour came to power the mantra was; “Education, education, education”, and Tony Blair doubled the money going into the system in order to try and create a highly educated workforce which would help Britain to adjust to the decimation of our industrial base which saw a contraction of 25% between 1979-81 and unemployment reach 3.5 million in the mid eighties. 

But I feel strategic mistakes were made by the Government, not through malice but because of a lack of attention to detail. Blair was a great one for sweeping catchall ideas but with little time to enforce a sense of doing things right. A good example is the NHS database where he just decided we needed one and expected it to happen overnight. When the advice came that it would be a lengthy and costly process his response was just get on with it, the technology must be there!

And so it has been with education. “Hey! Let’s get everyone a University standard qualification and all will be well!” 

Thus many young people have been carolled into thinking that University was their only option for progressing after school, and as a result a whole “industry” has developed of expanding Universities at the expense of standards, and the aggressive marketing of frankly risible courses mean that young people take on a stinging level of debt, have unrealistic expectations foisted on them, and end up with a largely pointless and irrelevant degree.

And then you have the mirror image of young people who feel like total failures if they don’t achieve the 5 A to C benchmark at GCSE, and are turned off by a curriculum which was far from the inclusive ideal that Labour strove for. 

What is needed is for the Government to re align the system via increasing the level of meaningful apprenticeships, vocational courses post 14, and a return to the old system of awarding A level grades based on a graph rather than pre set marks to give true rewards to the high fliers. 

Then at 18 the UCAS system that matches students to University courses, should be expanded to include college and vocational posts, meaningful apprenticeships and all public and private sector jobs. This would encourage parity of esteem for non University bound young people and end the scandal of unpaid internships which see sharp elbowed better off families shoving the children of their peers out of the way. 

1 in 5 of our young people are kicking their heels and desperate for work. And many of those in work are poorly paid and part time. This is a real and immediate crisis and Labour must prove that we are the only show in town when it comes to answering the needs of our young people. 

Ed Balls has made a start with his five point plan to kick start the economy via measures such as a VAT cut and a housing plan paid for by a bank levy, and this is clear evidence that Ed Miliband does “get” it when it comes to frightening loss of hope evident amongst our young people. But he needs to be more radical. Public opinion is ahead of us, and seeing the base unfairness in what the Tories are doing, wants and desires action from the Labour Party. 

When the public hears about boardroom pay soaring by 49% when the rest of us are being squeezed till the pips squeak, and read about state owned bank RBS paying 100 top managers over £1 million each in bonuses, and open utility bills which constitute private company extortion they want action not just the lame words spoken by ConDem Ministers. 

We can raise £800 billion (yes you read that right) by making sure landowners pay their way like the rest of us do via Council Tax, with a 20% one off Land Tax which then reverts to a generous 5% levy per year. We can then abolish VAT thereby putting money back into the pockets of working families who then spend it on goods and services. We invest that cash into a proper industrial policy, green energy production and providing free education for all. The Living Wage should be set at £8 an hour and pensions for all should be on the Public Sector model that the Tories hate so much. Then we can embark on a policy of nationalisation for the utilities and a massive overhauling of our creaking infrastructure putting our world-class young engineers and innovators in the driving seat. 

Let’s stop hiding our Socialist light under a bushel. The market has failed, the people know that and want us to act. The last time capitalism was in this position it took a world war to reboot the world economy, we must learn from history. We owe it to ourselves, and above all to our young people.


About dermotrathbone

Writer and co author "Through Red Lenses". Activist Unite the Union, Save Our NHS Hull. Fan of Yorkshire County Cricket Club, Hull FC, Munster and Ireland Rugby. Views are mine alone and may not reflect the organisations concerned.


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