What Labour is really proposing for under-25s on benefits

The party isn't planning to "scrap benefits for under-25s". It's planning to guarantee them work or training.

There's been much outrage this morning at a report in today's Telegraph that Labour is planning to "scrap benefits for under-25s", with party supporters accusing it of entering a race to the bottom with the Tories. But the reality is more complex than the fury suggests. 

The first point to note is that the idea is contained in an IPPR paper due to be published later this week; it isn't, contrary to what the Telegraph suggests, party policy (yet). The second is that the report itself doesn't even propose scrapping benefits for the under-25s. Rather, it calls for a new means-tested "youth allowance" for 18-24-year olds who are not in work or education. This would be set at £56.80, the same level as the youth rate of Jobseeker's Allowance, and would be conditional on participation in "purposeful training" or "intensive" job hunting. This might seem objectionable but it's some distance from abolishing all benefits for the young. 

But there's another important detail that's been missed entirely. Were Labour to adopt the plan (with an announcement likely to be made in Rachel Reeves's first speech as shadow work and pensions secretary in January), it would do so only on the basis of guaranteeing all-under 25s a job (paying at least the minimum wage), or a place on an approved training scheme. The upfront costs will be high, but so will the long-term savings. (It's odd, incidentally, that some on the left seem to think it's better to pay young people just £56.80 a week than to guarantee them a job paying the minimum wage.) This enlightened approach contrasts with that of the Conservatives, who have proposed removing all benefits from under-25s who aren't "earning or learning" but haven't offered anything resembling a jobs guarantee. 

As Labour a spokesperson told me: "Labour policy is a jobs guarantee for young people.

"Ed Miliband has talked about making the welfare system work for young people, with a compulsory jobs guarantee, to sustainably bring down the social security bill.

"Compare that with Cameron's simplistic attempts to take benefits from all young people, which would harm the severely disabled, which were drawn up on back of a fag packet to try and please Tory conference."

There are plenty of questions that remain for Labour. How will these jobs be created? Party sources suggest that companies will sign up to the scheme voluntarily but it isn't clear what incentives will exist for them to do so. Will jobseekers be offered a choice of posts are be forced to accept one unsuited to them? And how will it all be paid for? 

But to one question at least - is Labour planning to scrap benefits for under-25s? - there is a definitive answer: no. By promising to guarantee them work or training, it's actually planning to increase them. 

People enter the Jobcentre Plus office on January 18, 2012 in Bath, England. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Calum Kerr on Governing the Digital Economy

With the publication of the UK Digital Strategy we’ve seen another instalment in the UK Government’s ongoing effort to emphasise its digital credentials.

As the SNP’s Digital Spokesperson, there are moves here that are clearly welcome, especially in the area of skills and a recognition of the need for large scale investment in fibre infrastructure.

But for a government that wants Britain to become the “leading country for people to use digital” it should be doing far more to lead on the field that underpins so much of a prosperous digital economy: personal data.

If you want a picture of how government should not approach personal data, just look at the Concentrix scandal.

Last year my constituency office, like countless others across the country, was inundated by cases from distressed Tax Credit claimants, who found their payments had been stopped for spurious reasons.

This scandal had its roots in the UK’s current patchwork approach to personal data. As a private contractor, Concentrix had bought data on a commercial basis and then used it to try and find undeclared partners living with claimants.

In one particularly absurd case, a woman who lived in housing provided by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation had to resort to using a foodbank during the appeals process in order to prove that she did not live with Joseph Rowntree: the Quaker philanthropist who died in 1925.

In total some 45,000 claimants were affected and 86 per cent of the resulting appeals saw the initial decision overturned.

This shows just how badly things can go wrong if the right regulatory regimes are not in place.

In part this problem is a structural one. Just as the corporate world has elevated IT to board level and is beginning to re-configure the interface between digital skills and the wider workforce, government needs to emulate practices that put technology and innovation right at the heart of the operation.

To fully leverage the benefits of tech in government and to get a world-class data regime in place, we need to establish a set of foundational values about data rights and citizenship.

Sitting on the committee of the Digital Economy Bill, I couldn’t help but notice how the elements relating to data sharing, including with private companies, were rushed through.

The lack of informed consent within the Bill will almost certainly have to be looked at again as the Government moves towards implementing the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation.

This is an example of why we need democratic oversight and an open conversation, starting from first principles, about how a citizen’s data can be accessed.

Personally, I’d like Scotland and the UK to follow the example of the Republic of Estonia, by placing transparency and the rights of the citizen at the heart of the matter, so that anyone can access the data the government holds on them with ease.

This contrasts with the mentality exposed by the Concentrix scandal: all too often people who come into contact with the state are treated as service users or customers, rather than as citizens.

This paternalistic approach needs to change.  As we begin to move towards the transformative implementation of the internet of things and 5G, trust will be paramount.

Once we have that foundation, we can start to grapple with some of the most pressing and fascinating questions that the information age presents.

We’ll need that trust if we want smart cities that make urban living sustainable using big data, if the potential of AI is to be truly tapped into and if the benefits of digital healthcare are really going to be maximised.

Clearly getting accepted ethical codes of practice in place is of immense significance, but there’s a whole lot more that government could be doing to be proactive in this space.

Last month Denmark appointed the world’s first Digital Ambassador and I think there is a compelling case for an independent Department of Technology working across all government departments.

This kind of levelling-up really needs to be seen as a necessity, because one thing that we can all agree on is that that we’ve only just scratched the surface when it comes to developing the link between government and the data driven digital economy. 

In January, Hewlett Packard Enterprise and the New Statesman convened a discussion on this topic with parliamentarians from each of the three main political parties and other experts.  This article is one of a series from three of the MPs who took part, with an  introduction from James Johns of HPE, Labour MP, Angela Eagle’s view and Conservative MP, Matt Warman’s view

Calum Kerr is SNP Westminster Spokesperson for Digital