How can we tackle youth unemployment?

The government's Work Programme will fall short unless employers are incentivised.

Youth unemployment today reached 973,000, and it looks like it will soon climb above the one million mark again. Add this to a back drop of the summer of 2011 where British youth rampaged through the cities of England, causing millions of pounds worth of damage, incalculable disruption to our high streets and untold distress to the people who live and work in the affected areas.

Is this youth unemployment, cause and effect? As a nation we're heading towards a black hole. If we do not have a viable remedial strategy -- one we all buy into -- then the summer of 2011 will be repeated more frequently and in more places across the land. I'm not being alarmist, just a realist.

So what could that national strategy be? It has to be based in partnership between employers, government and the third sector. Government must show leadership and provide the funding, but employers must match this commitment. They must understand and acknowledge the role they have to play in helping to heal this deep societal wound -- the eradication of hope and opportunities of our youth. After all, employers accept their responsibilities when it comes to the environment, equality and employee rights, so why not their role and responsibilities to future generations? They can make an immediate and very practical impact which would have huge benefits. This could be as simple as looking at the reality of youth unemployment, mentoring young people and helping them understand the reality of the world of work, or offering work experience and apprenticeships.

Yes we've got the government's Work Programme, and yes some employers have accepted jobseekers from the programme, but their involvement is merely on an ad hoc basis. If initiatives such as the Work Programme are to succeed, then it has to be employer-led and for that to happen, employers should be incentivised. Perhaps the cost of employing a long term jobseeker should be fully tax deductible -- that would make a huge difference to employers and, given the fact that over 90 per cent of business are small and medium enterprises (SMEs), it would also make a huge difference to the number of organisations supporting the programme and ultimately supporting the one million odd young jobseekers.

But the public sector also has to play its part. We cannot place the burden of reducing unemployment and rebuilding our communities solely on the private sector, because there has to be a partnership between government and the private sector, the public sector and the third sector -- the facilitators in this mix. We all have our part to play if a remedial strategy is to prove successful.

The truth is that the cost of incentivising employers would be more than offset by the positive impact on our society, as well as the significant drop in benefits claims and immediate and future tax paid by young people with incomes in their pocket.

After the summer riots, we really do need to acknowledge the link between unemployment and social unrest and therefore we urgently need radical new thinking and radical new measures. We have had a wakeup call, so we have to do something. This is just the start.

Fred Turok is the founder and chair of youth employment charity TAG (Transforming a Generation).

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Find the EU renegotiation demands dull? Me too – but they are important

It's an old trick: smother anything in enough jargon and you can avoid being held accountable for it.

I don’t know about you, but I found the details of Britain’s European Union renegotiation demands quite hard to read. Literally. My eye kept gliding past them, in an endless quest for something more interesting in the paragraph ahead. It was as if the word “subsidiarity” had been smeared in grease. I haven’t felt tedium quite like this since I read The Lord of the Rings and found I slid straight past anything written in italics, reasoning that it was probably another interminable Elvish poem. (“The wind was in his flowing hair/The foam about him shone;/Afar they saw him strong and fair/Go riding like a swan.”)

Anyone who writes about politics encounters this; I call it Subclause Syndrome. Smother anything in enough jargon, whirr enough footnotes into the air, and you have a very effective shield for protecting yourself from accountability – better even than gutting the Freedom of Information laws, although the government seems quite keen on that, too. No wonder so much of our political conversation ends up being about personality: if we can’t hope to master all the technicalities, the next best thing is to trust the person to whom we have delegated that job.

Anyway, after 15 cups of coffee, three ice-bucket challenges and a bottle of poppers I borrowed from a Tory MP, I finally made it through. I didn’t feel much more enlightened, though, because there were notable omissions – no mention, thankfully, of rolling back employment protections – and elsewhere there was a touching faith in the power of adding “language” to official documents.

One thing did stand out, however. For months, we have been told that it is a terrible problem that migrants from Europe are sending child benefit to their families back home. In future, the amount that can be claimed will start at zero and it will reach full whack only after four years of working in Britain. Even better, to reduce the alleged “pull factor” of our generous in-work benefits regime, the child benefit rate will be paid on a ratio calculated according to average wages in the home country.

What a waste of time. At the moment, only £30m in child benefit is sent out of the country each year: quite a large sum if you’re doing a whip round for a retirement gift for a colleague, but basically a rounding error in the Department for Work and Pensions budget.

Only 20,000 workers, and 34,000 children, are involved. And yet, apparently, this makes it worth introducing 28 different rates of child benefit to be administered by the DWP. We are given to understand that Iain Duncan Smith thinks this is barmy – and this is a man optimistic enough about his department’s computer systems to predict in 2013 that 4.46 million people would be claiming Universal Credit by now*.

David Cameron’s renegotiation package was comprised exclusively of what Doctor Who fans call handwavium – a magic substance with no obvious physical attributes, which nonetheless helpfully advances the plot. In this case, the renegotiation covers up the fact that the Prime Minister always wanted to argue to stay in Europe, but needed a handy fig leaf to do so.

Brace yourself for a sentence you might not read again in the New Statesman, but this makes me feel sorry for Chris Grayling. He and other Outers in the cabinet have to wait at least two weeks for Cameron to get the demands signed off; all the while, Cameron can subtly make the case for staying in Europe, while they are bound to keep quiet because of collective responsibility.

When that stricture lifts, the high-ranking Eurosceptics will at last be free to make the case they have been sitting on for years. I have three strong beliefs about what will happen next. First, that everyone confidently predicting a paralysing civil war in the Tory ranks is doing so more in hope than expectation. Some on the left feel that if Labour is going to be divided over Trident, it is only fair that the Tories be split down the middle, too. They forget that power, and patronage, are strong solvents: there has already been much muttering about low-level blackmail from the high command, with MPs warned about the dire influence of disloyalty on their career prospects.

Second, the Europe campaign will feature large doses of both sides solemnly advising the other that they need to make “a positive case”. This will be roundly ignored. The Remain team will run a fear campaign based on job losses, access to the single market and “losing our seat at the table”; Leave will run a fear campaign based on the steady advance of whatever collective noun for migrants sounds just the right side of racist. (Current favourite: “hordes”.)

Third, the number of Britons making a decision based on a complete understanding of the renegotiation, and the future terms of our membership, will be vanishingly small. It is simply impossible to read about subsidiarity for more than an hour without lapsing into a coma.

Yet, funnily enough, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Just as the absurd complexity of policy frees us to talk instead about character, so the onset of Subclause Syndrome in the EU debate will allow us to ask ourselves a more profound, defining question: what kind of country do we want Britain to be? Polling suggests that very few of us see ourselves as “European” rather than Scottish, or British, but are we a country that feels open and looks outwards, or one that thinks this is the best it’s going to get, and we need to protect what we have? That’s more vital than any subclause. l

* For those of you keeping score at home, Universal Credit is now allegedly going to be implemented by 2021. Incidentally, George Osborne has recently discovered that it’s a great source of handwavium; tax credit cuts have been postponed because UC will render such huge savings that they aren’t needed.

Helen Lewis is deputy editor of the New Statesman. She has presented BBC Radio 4’s Week in Westminster and is a regular panellist on BBC1’s Sunday Politics.

This article first appeared in the 11 February 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The legacy of Europe's worst battle