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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Leader: Corbyn’s second act

Left-wing populism is not enough – Labour must provide a real alternative.

Since Jeremy Corbyn first stood for the Labour leadership he has been fortunate in his opponents. His rivals for leader ran lacklustre campaigns in 2015 and failed to inspire members and activists who longed to escape the tortured triangulations of the Ed Miliband era. Later, at the 2017 general election, Mr Corbyn was confronted by a dismal Conservative campaign that invited the electorate’s contempt. Theresa May’s complacency – as well as Mr Corbyn’s dynamic campaign –has helped propel the Labour leader to a position from which he could become prime minister.

With greater power, however, comes greater responsibility. Mr Corbyn’s opponents have for too long preferred to insult him or interrogate his past rather than to scrutinise his policies. They have played the man not the ball. Now, as he is a contender for power rather than merely a serial protester, Mr Corbyn’s programme will be more rigorously assessed, as it should be. Over the months ahead, he faces the political equivalent of the “difficult second album”. 

Labour’s most electorally successful – and expensive – election policy was its pledge to abolish university tuition fees. Young voters were not only attracted by this promise but also by Mr Corbyn’s vow, in an interview with the free music paper NME, to “deal with” the issue of graduate debt. The Labour leader has since been accused of a betrayal after clarifying that the phrase “to deal with” did not amount to a “commitment” to wipe out student debt. In an interview with the BBC’s Andrew Marr, he explained that he had been “unaware of the size of it [graduate debt] at the time”. (The cost of clearing all outstanding student debt is estimated at £100bn.)

In fairness to Mr Corbyn, Labour’s manifesto said nothing on the subject of existing student debt (perhaps it should have) and his language in the NME interview was ambiguous. “I’m looking at ways that we could reduce that [graduate debt], ameliorate that, lengthen the period of paying it off,” he said. There is no comparison with the Liberal Democrats, who explicitly vowed not to raise tuition fees before trebling them to £9,000 after entering coalition with the Conservatives in 2010. Yet the confusion demonstrates why Mr Corbyn must be more precise in his policy formulations. In a hyperactive media age, a single stray sentence will be seized upon.

At the general election, Labour also thrived by attracting the support of many of those who voted to remain in the European Union (enjoying a 28-point lead over the Conservatives among this group). Here, again, ambiguity served a purpose. Mr Corbyn has since been charged with a second betrayal by opposing continued UK membership of the single market. On this, there should be no surprise. Mr Corbyn is an ardent Eurosceptic: he voted against the single market’s creation in 1986 and, from the back benches, he continually opposed further European integration.

However, his position on the single market puts him into conflict with prominent Labour politicians, such as Chuka Umunna and the Welsh First Minister, Carwyn Jones, as well as the party membership (66 per cent of whom support single market membership) and, increasingly, public opinion. As the economic costs of Brexit become clearer (the UK is now the slowest-growing G7 country), voters are less willing to support a disruptive exit. Nor should they. 

The worse that Britain fares in the Brexit negotiations (the early signs are not promising), the greater the desire for an alternative will be. As a reinvigorated opposition, it falls to the Labour Party to provide it. Left-wing populism is not enough. 

The glory game

In an ideal world, the role of sport should be to entertain, inspire and uplift. Seldom does a sporting contest achieve all three. But the women’s cricket World Cup final, on 23 July at Lord’s, did just that. In a thrilling match, England overcame India by nine runs to lift the trophy. Few of the 26,500 spectators present will forget the match. For this may well have been the moment that women’s cricket (which has for so long existed in the shadow of the men’s game) finally broke through.

England have twice before hosted women’s World Cups. In 1973 matches were played at small club grounds. Twenty years later, when England won the final at Lord’s, the ground was nearly empty, the players wore skirts and women were banned from the members’ pavilion. This time, the players were professionals, every ticket was sold, and the match was shown live around the world. At the end, girls and boys pressed against the advertising hoardings in an attempt to get their heroes’ autographs. Heather Knight, Anya Shrubsole, Sarah Taylor, Tammy Beaumont, and the rest of the team: women, role models, world champions. 

This article first appeared in the 27 July 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Summer double issue