We need an enterprise revolution to tackle the scandal of youth unemployment

The coalition has failed to help would-be entrepreneurs innovate their way into work. Labour will show that we can do better.

Under this government, youth unemployment reached a staggering one million. Even more face the prospect of a low-skill, low-paid and insecure job. This has to change.

But we don’t just want to help people to get a job; we want to help those who want to create a job for themselves and for others. An enterprise revolution among our young people could help us tackle the scandal of youth unemployment – and help get our country back on its feet. And that’s what we’re setting as a Labour ambition today.

Today, Britain doesn’t do as well as it should in global enterprise league tables. In fact, if we had the same start-up rate as Germany or America, we could create another 200,000 new self-employment opportunities and businesses. That’s the conclusion of a brilliant new report written by Jamie Mitchell, former managing director of Innocent Drinks for Labour’s Youth Jobs Taskforce today.

The report is urgently needed. This week, we learned that the government’s much vaunted plan to help would-be entrepreneurs innovate their way into work is miles short of hitting its target. The New Enterprise Allowance was supposed to support 40,000 people set up shop. But it’s still 35% short of hitting its goal – and a measly 6% of young people have received help. We think we need to do better than that.

Jamie’s recommendations should be read and considered by anyone – and any party – who thinks that we can and should do better. Studying the pioneering work of Labour councils all over Britain, along with the great work of the Prince’s Trust and Young Enterprise, Jamie has handed us some big conclusions to think on.

First, we need to make sure enterprise isn’t just a bolt-on to careers advice. Enterprise needs to be recognised as a big option that’s open. There is no lack of talent, ideas or creativity among our young people. Our problem is that too much of this entrepreneurial energy is unrecognised or unsupported. Right now, JobCentres’ advice is mixed at best and what’s left of our careers service often gives enterprise only a fleeting mention.

Second, Jamie also encourages us to consider whether we could expand the Start Up Loan scheme, targeting young people aged 18-30, and how to put more emphasis on encouraging young unemployed people to consider the New Enterprise Allowance, which is on course to dramatically miss its targets. Local councils need to follow the example of trailblazers like Sheffield Council, which has built a team of school enterprise champions, academies like the Peter Jones Enterprise Academy offering enterprise qualifications, business networks offering advice, and universities offering incubator space, advice, training and even grants – all dedicated to boosting the ranks of local young entrepreneurs.

Next, we have to look at enterprise in schools. Young Enterprise for example, reckons that 42% of their alumni start a business during their career. That’s nearly twice the rate for those who join their programme. And finally, we need to think about how we measure outcomes a little better so that we know what works and what doesn’t.

This is a big ambition. It is to the next generation of entrepreneurs that we will look for the businesses that will help our nation thrive in a fast changing world, drive the innovation that will improve our lives, and create the decent jobs we need.

Jamie’s report is about putting entrepreneurship at the heart of our national story and builds on our ambition to make this happen - from our plans for a proper British Investment Bank with a network of regional banks to help businesses get the finance they need, to a revolution in skills giving firms the support, funding and responsibility to make this happen.

Our challenge is to open the floodgates of opportunity, giving our young people the chance to turn their good ideas into successful businesses.

Liam Byrne MP is a former technology entrepreneur and shadow work and pensions secretary

Chuka Umunna MP is shadow business secretary

Unemployed young people stand in line outside a job centre in London. Photograph: Getty Images.
Getty
Show Hide image

Taxation without benefits: how our tax system increases inequality

We often hear the progressive income tax used as a proxy for all tax when it actually accounts for just over a quarter of the tax take.

Tax may not be the burning issue on everyone’s minds over the next month, but the Panama Papers leak has proven that the thorny issues of who pays what, and what level of tax is fair, are ones that are never too far away from the public consciousness.

One of the most important annual publications on tax is the Office for National Statistics’ Effects of Taxes and Benefits on Household Income. Published today, it shows, among other things, the proportion of income paid in tax by people at different points on the income spectrum. This may sound like the natural domain of the data nerd, but it actually tells us some rather interesting facts about our system of taxes and benefits.

First, the good news. Our much maligned welfare system is in fact a beacon of progressiveness, drastically reducing the level of income inequality we see in this country. In fact, overall, taxes and benefits are quite substantially redistributive. Without them, the income of the richest 20 per cent of households would be 14 times higher than the poorest 20 per cent. With them, that gap falls to only four times.

The benefit system as a whole decreases the Gini coefficient, the most frequently used measure of inequality, by 14 percentage points. For anyone who sees taxes and benefits as a key component in reducing economic inequality, or boosting the incomes of the poorest, or, frankly, tackling social injustice, this is rather welcome news.

But now for the bad news.

While our welfare system is undoubtedly progressive, the same cannot be said of our tax system when looked at in isolation. The poorest face a disproportionately heavy tax burden compared to the richest, paying 47 per cent of their income in tax, compared to just 34 per cent for the richest. Last year (2013/14) this difference was 45 per cent – 35 per cent, and the year before (2012/13) the gap was 43 per cent – 35 per cent. So while the proportion of income paid in tax has fallen slightly for the richest, it has increased for the poorest.

While some taxes like income tax are substantially progressive, those such as VAT and Council Tax are not. Even after adjusting for rebates and Council Tax Benefit, the poorest 10 per cent pay 7.1 per cent of their income in council tax while the richest 10 per cent pay only 1.5 per cent.

Should this matter, if our system of benefits continues to narrow the gap between rich and poor? Well, yes, not least because that system is under severe pressure from further cuts. But there are other good reasons to focus on the tax system in isolation from the benefit system.

Polling by Ipsos MORI has shown that the public believes that the tax system by itself reduces inequality, and it is often spoken of by politicians as if that is the case. We often hear the progressive income tax used as a proxy for all tax, for example, when it actually accounts for just over a quarter of the tax take.

Understanding why the tax system does not by itself reduce inequality is therefore important for both thinking about how tax revenues could be better raised, and for understanding the importance of the benefit system in narrowing the gap between the richest and the poorest.

John Hood is Acting Director of the Equality Trust