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.
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A new German law wants to force mothers to reveal their child’s biological father

The so-called “milkmen’s kids law” would seek protection for men who feel they have been duped into raising children they believe are not biologically theirs – at the expense of women’s rights.

The German press call them “Kuckuckskinder”, which translates literally as “cuckoo children” – parasite offspring being raised by an unsuspecting innocent, alien creatures growing fat at the expense of the host species’ own kind. The British press have opted for the more Benny Hill-esque “milkmen’s kids”, prompting images of bored Seventies housewives answering the door in negligées before inviting Robin Asquith lookalikes up to their suburban boudoirs. Nine months later their henpecked husbands are presented with bawling brats and the poor sods remain none the wiser.

Neither image is particularly flattering to the children involved, but then who cares about them? This is a story about men, women and the redressing of a legal – or is it biological? – injustice. The children are incidental.

This week German Justice Minister Heiko Maas introduced a proposal aimed at to providing greater legal protection for “Scheinväter” – men who are duped into raising children whom they falsely believe to be biologically theirs. This is in response to a 2015 case in which Germany’s highest court ruled that a woman who had told her ex-husband that her child may have been conceived with another man could not be compelled to name the latter. This would, the court decided, be an infringement of the woman’s right to privacy. Nonetheless, the decision was seen to highlight the need for further legislation to clarify and strengthen the position of the Scheinvater.

Maas’ proposal, announced on Monday, examines the problem carefully and sensitively before merrily throwing a woman’s right to privacy out of the window. It would compel a woman to name every man she had sexual intercourse with during the time when her child may have been conceived. She would only have the right to remain silent in cases should there be serious reasons for her not to name the biological father (it would be for the court to decide whether a woman’s reasons were serious enough). It is not yet clear what form of punishment a woman would face were she not to name names (I’m thinking a scarlet letter would be in keeping with the classy, retro “man who was present at the moment of conception” wording). In cases where it did transpire that another man was a child’s biological father, he would be obliged to pay compensation to the man “duped” into supporting the child for up to two years.

It is not clear what happens thereafter. Perhaps the two men shake hands, pat each other on the back, maybe even share a beer or two. It is, after all, a kind of gentlemen’s agreement, a transaction which takes place over the heads of both mother and child once the latter’s paternity has been established. The “true” father compensates the “false” one for having maintained his property in his absence. In some cases there may be bitterness and resentment but perhaps in others one will witness a kind of honourable partnership. You can’t trust women, but DNA tests, money and your fellow man won’t let you down.

Even if it achieves nothing else, this proposal brings us right back to the heart of what patriarchy is all about: paternity and ownership. In April this year a German court ruled that men cannot be forced to take paternity tests by children who suspect them of being their fathers. It has to be their decision. Women, meanwhile, can only access abortion on demand in the first trimester of pregnancy, and even then counselling is mandatory (thereafter the approval of two doctors is required, similar to in the UK). One class of people can be forced to gestate and give birth; another can’t even be forced to take a DNA test. One class of people can be compelled to name any man whose sperm may have ventured beyond their cervix; another is allowed to have a body whose business is entirely its own. And yes, one can argue that forcing men to pay money for the raising of children evens up the score. Men have always argued that, but they’re wrong.

Individual men (sometimes) pay for the raising of individual children because the system we call patriarchy has chosen to make fatherhood about individual ownership. Women have little choice but to go along with this as long as men exploit our labour, restrict our access to material resources and threaten us with violence. We live in a world in which it is almost universally assumed that women “owe” individual men the reassurance that it was their precious sperm that impregnated us, lest we put ourselves and our offspring at risk of poverty and isolation. Rarely do any of us dare to protest. We pretend it is a fair deal, even that reproductive differences barely affect our lives at all. But the sex binary – the fact that sperm is not egg and egg is not sperm – affects all of us.

The original 2015 ruling got it right. The male demand for reassurance regarding paternity is an infringement of a woman’s right to privacy. Moreover, it is important to see this in the context of all the other ways in which men have sought to limit women’s sexual activity, freedom of movement and financial independence in order to ensure that children are truly “theirs”.  Anxiety over paternity is fundamentally linked to anxiety over female sexuality and women’s access to public space. Yet unless all women are kept under lock and key at all times, men will never, ever have the reassurance they crave. Even then, the abstract knowledge that you are the only person to have had the opportunity to impregnate a particular woman cannot rival the physical knowledge of gestation.

We have had millennia of pandering to men’s existential anxieties and treating all matters related to human reproduction, from sex to childbirth, as exceptional cases meaning women cannot have full human rights. Isn’t it about time we tried something new? How about understanding fatherhood not as winning gold in an Olympic sperm race, but as a contract endlessly renewed?

What each of us receives when a child is born is not a biological entity to do with as we choose. It is a relationship, with all of its complexities and risks. It is something worth contributing to and fighting for. Truly, if a man cannot understand that, then any money wasted on a Kuckuckskind – a living, breathing child he could get to know – has got to be the least of his worries. 

Glosswitch is a feminist mother of three who works in publishing.