Will the coalition listen to warnings over unemployment?

OECD warns that decision to scrap job schemes could lead to surge in unemployment.

When George Osborne's deputy, Danny Alexander, announced the abolition of a series of employment schemes last month there was understandable outrage from voters. David Cameron responded that the coalition would announce its own comprehensive employment scheme in time but we're yet to receive any more detail.

Either way, the OECD, Europe's leading economic think tank, isn't impressed. Here's what it had to say about the decision to axe the Future Jobs Fund, which subsidises job placements for 18-to-24-year-olds, and the Six Month Offer, which offers training to those who've been unemployed for longer than six months:

While the large fiscal deficit makes it essential to focus on cost-effective programmes and target the most disadvantaged groups, labour-market programmes should remain adequately funded. In this context, it may also be of concern that the new Budget ends funding for two crisis measures -- the Future Jobs Fund and the Six Month Offer.

The body added that the measures introduced by Labour had prevented unemployment from rising as fast as in previous recessions:

Considering that GDP fell by 6 per cent, the increase in unemployment in the United Kingdom is smaller than would have been predicted based on historical experience. For example, the unemployment rate rose nearly as sharply in the 1990-91 recession even though GDP fell by less than half as much.

It goes on:

Effective re-employment assistance has prevented an even sharper increase in UK joblessness and should be reinforced even in the current context of fiscal consolidation.

The lesson of the 1980s is that the costs of high unemployment -- increased mental illness, higher crime levels, wasted talent -- are too high for any government to bear. But the report warns that unemployment is set to remain at nearly 8 per cent until the end of 2011. Osborne, who is fond of citing the OECD when its findings agree with him, needs to provide some answers now.

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George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Photo: André Spicer
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“It’s scary to do it again”: the five-year-old fined £150 for running a lemonade stand

Enforcement officers penalised a child selling home-made lemonade in the street. Her father tells the full story. 

It was a lively Saturday afternoon in east London’s Mile End. Groups of people streamed through residential streets on their way to a music festival in the local park; booming bass could be heard from the surrounding houses.

One five-year-old girl who lived in the area had an idea. She had been to her school’s summer fête recently and looked longingly at the stalls. She loved the idea of setting up her own stall, and today was a good day for it.

“She eventually came round to the idea of selling lemonade,” her father André Spicer tells me. So he and his daughter went to their local shop to buy some lemons. They mixed a few jugs of lemonade, the girl made a fetching A4 sign with some lemons drawn on it – 50p for a small cup, £1 for a large – and they carried a table from home to the end of their road. 

“People suddenly started coming up and buying stuff, pretty quickly, and they were very happy,” Spicer recalls. “People looked overjoyed at this cute little girl on the side of the road – community feel and all that sort of stuff.”

But the heart-warming scene was soon interrupted. After about half an hour of what Spicer describes as “brisk” trade – his daughter’s recipe secret was some mint and a little bit of cucumber, for a “bit of a British touch” – four enforcement officers came striding up to the stand.

Three were in uniform, and one was in plain clothes. One uniformed officer turned the camera on his vest on, and began reciting a legal script at the weeping five-year-old.

“You’re trading without a licence, pursuant to x, y, z act and blah dah dah dah, really going through a script,” Spicer tells me, saying they showed no compassion for his daughter. “This is my job, I’m doing it and that’s it, basically.”

The girl burst into tears the moment they arrived.

“Officials have some degree of intimidation. I’m a grown adult, so I wasn’t super intimidated, but I was a bit shocked,” says Spicer. “But my daughter was intimidated. She started crying straight away.”

As they continued to recite their legalese, her father picked her up to try to comfort her – but that didn’t stop the officers giving her stall a £150 fine and handing them a penalty notice. “TRADING WITHOUT LICENCE,” it screamed.


Picture: André Spicer

“She was crying and repeating, ‘I’ve done a bad thing’,” says Spicer. “As we walked home, I had to try and convince her that it wasn’t her, it wasn’t her fault. It wasn’t her who had done something bad.”

She cried all the way home, and it wasn’t until she watched her favourite film, Brave, that she calmed down. It was then that Spicer suggested next time they would “do it all correctly”, get a permit, and set up another stand.

“No, I don’t want to, it’s a bit scary to do it again,” she replied. Her father hopes that “she’ll be able to get over it”, and that her enterprising spirit will return.

The Council has since apologised and cancelled the fine, and called on its officials to “show common sense and to use their powers sensibly”.

But Spicer felt “there’s a bigger principle here”, and wrote a piece for the Telegraph arguing that children in modern Britain are too restricted.

He would “absolutely” encourage his daughter to set up another stall, and “I’d encourage other people to go and do it as well. It’s a great way to spend a bit of time with the kids in the holidays, and they might learn something.”

A fitting reminder of the great life lesson: when life gives you a fixed penalty notice, make lemonade.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.