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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The Prevent strategy needs a rethink, not a rebrand

A bad policy by any other name is still a bad policy.

Yesterday the Home Affairs Select Committee published its report on radicalization in the UK. While the focus of the coverage has been on its claim that social media companies like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube are “consciously failing” to combat the promotion of terrorism and extremism, it also reported on Prevent. The report rightly engages with criticism of Prevent, acknowledging how it has affected the Muslim community and calling for it to become more transparent:

“The concerns about Prevent amongst the communities most affected by it must be addressed. Otherwise it will continue to be viewed with suspicion by many, and by some as “toxic”… The government must be more transparent about what it is doing on the Prevent strategy, including by publicising its engagement activities, and providing updates on outcomes, through an easily accessible online portal.”

While this acknowledgement is good news, it is hard to see how real change will occur. As I have written previously, as Prevent has become more entrenched in British society, it has also become more secretive. For example, in August 2013, I lodged FOI requests to designated Prevent priority areas, asking for the most up-to-date Prevent funding information, including what projects received funding and details of any project engaging specifically with far-right extremism. I lodged almost identical requests between 2008 and 2009, all of which were successful. All but one of the 2013 requests were denied.

This denial is significant. Before the 2011 review, the Prevent strategy distributed money to help local authorities fight violent extremism and in doing so identified priority areas based solely on demographics. Any local authority with a Muslim population of at least five per cent was automatically given Prevent funding. The 2011 review pledged to end this. It further promised to expand Prevent to include far-right extremism and stop its use in community cohesion projects. Through these FOI requests I was trying to find out whether or not the 2011 pledges had been met. But with the blanket denial of information, I was left in the dark.

It is telling that the report’s concerns with Prevent are not new and have in fact been highlighted in several reports by the same Home Affairs Select Committee, as well as numerous reports by NGOs. But nothing has changed. In fact, the only change proposed by the report is to give Prevent a new name: Engage. But the problem was never the name. Prevent relies on the premise that terrorism and extremism are inherently connected with Islam, and until this is changed, it will continue to be at best counter-productive, and at worst, deeply discriminatory.

In his evidence to the committee, David Anderson, the independent ombudsman of terrorism legislation, has called for an independent review of the Prevent strategy. This would be a start. However, more is required. What is needed is a radical new approach to counter-terrorism and counter-extremism, one that targets all forms of extremism and that does not stigmatise or stereotype those affected.

Such an approach has been pioneered in the Danish town of Aarhus. Faced with increased numbers of youngsters leaving Aarhus for Syria, police officers made it clear that those who had travelled to Syria were welcome to come home, where they would receive help with going back to school, finding a place to live and whatever else was necessary for them to find their way back to Danish society.  Known as the ‘Aarhus model’, this approach focuses on inclusion, mentorship and non-criminalisation. It is the opposite of Prevent, which has from its very start framed British Muslims as a particularly deviant suspect community.

We need to change the narrative of counter-terrorism in the UK, but a narrative is not changed by a new title. Just as a rose by any other name would smell as sweet, a bad policy by any other name is still a bad policy. While the Home Affairs Select Committee concern about Prevent is welcomed, real action is needed. This will involve actually engaging with the Muslim community, listening to their concerns and not dismissing them as misunderstandings. It will require serious investigation of the damages caused by new Prevent statutory duty, something which the report does acknowledge as a concern.  Finally, real action on Prevent in particular, but extremism in general, will require developing a wide-ranging counter-extremism strategy that directly engages with far-right extremism. This has been notably absent from today’s report, even though far-right extremism is on the rise. After all, far-right extremists make up half of all counter-radicalization referrals in Yorkshire, and 30 per cent of the caseload in the east Midlands.

It will also require changing the way we think about those who are radicalized. The Aarhus model proves that such a change is possible. Radicalization is indeed a real problem, one imagines it will be even more so considering the country’s flagship counter-radicalization strategy remains problematic and ineffective. In the end, Prevent may be renamed a thousand times, but unless real effort is put in actually changing the strategy, it will remain toxic. 

Dr Maria Norris works at London School of Economics and Political Science. She tweets as @MariaWNorris.