How youth unemployment has risen under the coalition

The number of young people out of work has increased from 919,000 to 963,000 under the coalition.

A year on from their first press conference in the Rose Garden at No 10, David Cameron and Nick Clegg appeared together at an event on youth unemployment in Stratford today.

They announced the launch of a £60m employment programme and pledged to fund 250,000 more apprenticeships over the next four years, as well as 100,000 work placements over the next two years.

But is it too little, too late? As the graph below shows, youth unemployment among 16-to-24-year-olds, which was falling when Labour left office, has risen from 919,000 to 963,000 under the coalition, the highest level since records began.

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In opposition, the Conservatives rightly drew attention to Labour's failure to reduce the number of "Neets", young people not in education, employment or training. But in government, they have failed to improve on this performance. On the contrary, they have made a bad situation worse.

Since it came to power, the coalition has scrapped the Future Jobs Fund (described by Frank Field, the government's poverty adviser, as "one of the most precious things the last government was involved in"), abolished the Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA) and announced that it will offer 10,000 fewer university places next year. All of these measures are likely to make the jobs crisis worse.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Scotland's vast deficit remains an obstacle to independence

Though the country's financial position has improved, independence would still risk severe austerity. 

For the SNP, the annual Scottish public spending figures bring good and bad news. The good news, such as it is, is that Scotland's deficit fell by £1.3bn in 2016/17. The bad news is that it remains £13.3bn or 8.3 per cent of GDP – three times the UK figure of 2.4 per cent (£46.2bn) and vastly higher than the white paper's worst case scenario of £5.5bn. 

These figures, it's important to note, include Scotland's geographic share of North Sea oil and gas revenue. The "oil bonus" that the SNP once boasted of has withered since the collapse in commodity prices. Though revenue rose from £56m the previous year to £208m, this remains a fraction of the £8bn recorded in 2011/12. Total public sector revenue was £312 per person below the UK average, while expenditure was £1,437 higher. Though the SNP is playing down the figures as "a snapshot", the white paper unambiguously stated: "GERS [Government Expenditure and Revenue Scotland] is the authoritative publication on Scotland’s public finances". 

As before, Nicola Sturgeon has warned of the threat posed by Brexit to the Scottish economy. But the country's black hole means the risks of independence remain immense. As a new state, Scotland would be forced to pay a premium on its debt, resulting in an even greater fiscal gap. Were it to use the pound without permission, with no independent central bank and no lender of last resort, borrowing costs would rise still further. To offset a Greek-style crisis, Scotland would be forced to impose dramatic austerity. 

Sturgeon is undoubtedly right to warn of the risks of Brexit (particularly of the "hard" variety). But for a large number of Scots, this is merely cause to avoid the added turmoil of independence. Though eventual EU membership would benefit Scotland, its UK trade is worth four times as much as that with Europe. 

Of course, for a true nationalist, economics is irrelevant. Independence is a good in itself and sovereignty always trumps prosperity (a point on which Scottish nationalists align with English Brexiteers). But if Scotland is to ever depart the UK, the SNP will need to win over pragmatists, too. In that quest, Scotland's deficit remains a vast obstacle. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.