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).

Getty
Show Hide image

Boris Johnson is right about Saudi Arabia - but will he stick to his tune in Riyadh?

The Foreign Secretary went off script, but on truth. 

The difference a day makes. On Wednesday Theresa May was happily rubbing shoulders with Saudi Royalty at the Gulf Co-operation Council summit and talking about how important she thinks the relationship is.

Then on Thursday, the Guardian rained on her parade by publishing a transcript of her Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson, describing the regime as a "puppeteer" for "proxy wars" while speaking at an international conference last week.

We will likely never know how she reacted when she first heard the news, but she’s unlikely to have been happy. It was definitely off-script for a UK foreign secretary. Until Johnson’s accidental outburst, the UK-Saudi relationship had been one characterised by mutual backslapping, glamorous photo-ops, major arms contracts and an unlimited well of political support.

Needless to say, the Prime Minister put him in his place as soon as possible. Within a few hours it was made clear that his words “are not the government’s views on Saudi and its role in the region". In an unequivocal statement, Downing Street stressed that Saudi is “a vital partner for the UK” and reaffirmed its support for the Saudi-led air strikes taking place in Yemen.

For over 18 months now, UK fighter jets and UK bombs have been central to the Saudi-led destruction of the poorest country in the region. Schools, hospitals and homes have been destroyed in a bombing campaign that has created a humanitarian catastrophe.

Despite the mounting death toll, the arms exports have continued unabated. Whitehall has licensed over £3.3bn worth of weapons since the intervention began last March. As I write this, the UK government is actively working with BAE Systems to secure the sale of a new generation of the same fighter jets that are being used in the bombing.

There’s nothing new about UK leaders getting close to Saudi Arabia. For decades now, governments of all political colours have worked hand-in-glove with the arms companies and Saudi authorities. Our leaders have continued to bend over backwards to support them, while turning a blind eye to the terrible human rights abuses being carried out every single day.

Over recent years we have seen Tony Blair intervening to stop an investigation into arms exports to Saudi and David Cameron flying out to Riyadh to meet with royalty. Last year saw the shocking but ultimately unsurprising revelation that UK civil servants had lobbied for Saudi Arabia to sit on the UN Human Rights Council, a move which would seem comically ironic if the consequences weren’t so serious.

The impact of the relationship hasn’t just been to boost and legitimise the Saudi dictatorship - it has also debased UK policy in the region. The end result is a hypocritical situation in which the government is rightly calling on Russian forces to stop bombing civilian areas in Aleppo, while at the same time arming and supporting Saudi Arabia while it unleashes devastation on Yemen.

It would be nice to think that Johnson’s unwitting intervention could be the start of a new stage in UK-Saudi relations; one in which the UK stops supporting dictatorships and calls them out on their appalling human rights records. Unfortunately it’s highly unlikely. Last Sunday, mere days after his now notorious speech, Johnson appeared on the Andrew Marr show and, as usual, stressed his support for his Saudi allies.

The question for Johnson is which of these seemingly diametrically opposed views does he really hold? Does he believe Saudi Arabia is a puppeteer that fights proxy wars and distorts Islam, or does he see it as one of the UK’s closest allies?

By coincidence Johnson is due to visit Riyadh this weekend. Will he be the first Foreign Secretary in decades to hold the Saudi regime accountable for its abuses, or will he cozy up to his hosts and say it was all one big misunderstanding?

If he is serious about peace and about the UK holding a positive influence on the world stage then he must stand by his words and use his power to stop the arms sales and hold the UK’s "puppeteer" ally to the same standard as other aggressors. Unfortunately, if history is anything to go by, then we shouldn’t hold our breath.

Andrew Smith is a spokesman for Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT). You can follow CAAT at @CAATuk.