David Cameron gives a speech at the EU Council building in Brussels on March 6, 2014. Photograph: Getty Images.
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The Tories' opposition to Labour's youth jobs plan shows they are still standing up for the wrong people

Cameron's party can’t and won’t take the action necessary because it can’t admit that for ordinary Britons there is no real recovery.

Today, Labour announced that if the party wins the next election every young person out of work for more than 12 months will be given a paid starter job, and that every adult aged 25 or over claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA) for two years or more will be given the same support. A Labour government would work with employers to help fund paid work with training for six months. It would mean paid jobs for more than 50,000 young people nationwide – including the 370 in Barnsley who have been left on the dole for over a year by this government (across Barnsley, long-term youth unemployment is up 106 per cent since January 2011).

But this would also be a tough contract – those who can work will be required to take up the jobs on offer or lose their benefits. A life on benefits will simply not be an option. The Compulsory Jobs Guarantee scheme will be in Labour’s election manifesto and funded for whole of next Parliament through a repeat of Labour’s successful tax on bank bonuses and restricting pensions tax relief for people earning over £150,000 – the top one per cent – to the same rate as basic rate taxpayers. It is absolutely right that those at the very top contribute to delivering a recovery for the many.

In a response obviously written before Labour's announcement, the Tories claim this funding has already been allocated, only to look ridiculous once we published the detail which states clearly that the Compulsory Jobs Guarantee is the only policy which will be funded by the bank bonus tax and the proposed changes to pension tax relief. This will be a central part of Labour’s package to get people in to work and bring down the benefits bill. The cost of long-term youth unemployment is £350m a year. It’s unacceptable that taxpayers face such huge costs to pay for the government’s failure to get young people off benefits and into jobs.

Labour will bring welfare spending under control by moving people from benefits and into work and this will run in parallel with other important initiatives, including a Basic Skills Test to assess every new Jobseeker's Allowance claimant within six weeks of claiming benefits. Anyone who doesn’t have basic English, maths or IT skills will have to take up training or risk losing their benefits.

The Tories can’t and won’t take the action necessary to help us to earn our way out of the cost-of-living crisis. They can’t because they can’t admit that for ordinary Britons there is no real recovery. Having declared that "Plan A" was a success and that the "good news will keep on coming", David Cameron is in denial about the cost-of-living crisis that is engulfing the country - with families on average £1,600 a year worse off since he came to power. Indeed, when it was put to Treasury minister David Gauke on the radio that "the idea had merit", his out-of-touch reply was that the government's "record on unemployment is a good one".  It was British Chambers of Commerce economist David Kern who today in fact said, "Any scheme that helps young people to work is a good scheme."

The government won’t take action because it only stands up for a privileged few. Having delivered a £3bn tax cut for millionaires, the Tories think that the top one per cent of earners not only need that tax cut but that they should get tax relief on pension contributions at more than twice the rate that the average taxpayer does. Moreover, the Tories announced a further £12bn of welfare cuts if re-elected.  This comes from a party that introduced a bedroom tax for the disabled, whilst they continue to bankrolled by donations from the mega-rich and the hedge funds.

Of course, the Tories and the Lib Dems refuse to repeat Labour's successful tax on bank bonuses which raised £3.4bn in 2010. We know that bank bonuses are actually higher this year than last year: bonuses at Barclays are up ten per cent at £2.4bn, they are up eight per cent at Lloyds at £395m, HSBC bonuses are up six per cent at £2.3bn, and the RBS bonus pool this year is £588m. But what is the government doing about it? Ministers are currently busy campaigning in Brussels against an EU cap on bankers’ bonuses.

On the backfoot this week, they tried to question Labour's figures. Yet they still refuse to accept our proposal to let the OBR independently audit our plans. What are they afraid of? That Conservative scaremongering about Labour spending will be exposed as untrue?

Labour will take tough decisions to get the deficit down fairly, while making work pay and spreading opportunities for all, in particular for our young people. As a country we simply cannot afford to be wasting the talents of thousands of young people and leaving them stuck on the dole for years on end. It’s bad for them, it’s bad for our economy and it’s bad for taxpayers who have to pay the bill.

Once again this week highlights the battleground for the next general election.  The Tories (backed by the Lib Dems) will stand up for the top one per cent and will die in a ditch to defend the bankers.  A future Labour government would take real action to restore what Ed Miliband has called "the Promise of Britain" - that we must ensure once again that the next generation have better opportunities, not worse ones, than the last.

Michael Dugher is shadow minister for the Cabinet Office, vice-chair of the Labour Party, and MP for Barnsley East.

Michael Dugher is Labour MP for Barnsley East and the former Shadow Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport.

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How society is failing transgender children

In the wake of the cancellation of a public debate on this subject, one of the speakers shares her view on where society's approach to gender nonconformity is going wrong.

In August this year, several UK councils issued guidance to schools on accommodating female pupils who wear binders. A binder is a constricting undergarment for the upper body: what it binds are the breasts, pressing them down to a flatness that the wearer feels is appropriate to their self-perception as masculine or gender-neutral. According to Cornwall Council, the binder is “very important to [the wearer’s] psychological wellbeing.” But binders have unwelcome physical side-effects too, including “breathing difficulties, skeletal problems and fainting.” Lancashire Council’s advice urges teachers to “monitor [wearers] carefully during physical activities and in hot weather. It may be necessary to subtly offer more breaks.”

When the NSPCC invited me to participate in a discussion on the subject “is society letting down transgender children?” (part of its Dare to Debate series), those guidelines were one of the first things I thought of. They’re written in accordance with the overriding principle of gender identity politics, which is that affirmation is all. Any bodily harms incurred count for little compared to the trauma believed to be inflicted by a “mismatch” between appearance and identity. It’s a doctrine that insists we’ve moved beyond the tyranny of physical sex and social pressure, and into a realm of pure selfhood where all must be able to live in accordance with their own inherent being.

And yet, look again at that list of side effects: breathing difficulties, skeletal problems, fainting, inability to participate fully in exercise. The female adolescents wearing binders have reproduced all the problems of tight-lacing corsets, this time in the service of restrictive anti-femininity rather than restrictive femininity. So is issuing guidance to reduce the harms of binder-wearing in schools an act of care for transgender children, or an abdication of it? Is the role of adults in authority – whether parental, educational or medical – to validate everything that comes under the rubric of transition, regardless of long-term consequences, or could another approach be better?

The number of children who identify as trans is small, but rapidly increasing: referrals to the Tavistock and Portman NHS Trust’s gender identity development service have doubled year-on-year. Putting gender-nonconforming youths on a medical track opens the possibility that they will be prescribed puberty blockers, delaying the physical changes of adolescence that individuals may find distressing. Later, treatment can include cross-sex hormones and surgery to create the desired sexual characteristics.

For many, this can alleviate profound anguish about the self, but not without costs. The long-term effects of hormone therapies aren’t known, and won’t be until the current generation of trans children have lived well into adulthood. There’s a risk that increased medicalisation could be imposing permanent physical changes on children who, left to their own devices, would discover they are quite happy living with their natal sex – about 80 per cent of children diagnosed with gender dysphoria desist before adulthood, but the normalisation of medical transition could commit many to irrevocable treatments they would otherwise avoid.

Remarkably, as I found out when I worked on a long feature on the subject, there isn’t any agreement on what gender identity is or how it relates to the physical body. Which means that transitioning children are receiving an untested treatment for an undefined condition. Medicine often involves a surprising degree of idiosyncrasy and guesswork, but this uncertainty both about what is being treated and the effects of the treatment should be a cause for caution. While many who transition find it wholly positive, not everyone does: doubt and detransition happen, and these stories tell us that the quickest path to reassignment is not always the best treatment for someone presenting with dysphoria.

Sometimes, a diagnosis of gender dysphoria might mask a different underlying cause to a child’s distress. Psychiatrist Susan Bradley reports that children with cross-sex identification are often (not always) either responding defensively to a violent background or engaging in the obsessive behaviours associated with autistic spectrum disorders. A policy of “watchful waiting” – listening to the child, supporting them and giving them freedom to experiment and develop – is vital if we are to give children the kind of help they really need. But in an environment where anything short of total and immediate reinforcement is deemed abusive, “watchful waiting” is not an option.

One more problem: if gender dysphoria is conceived as the problem, and gender reassignment as the solution, then transition represents the summation of a process which should in theory resolve everything. In practice, newly-transitioned young people (especially those crossing the threshold from child and adolescent mental health services to adult provision) can find themselves stranded, no longer in receipt of the support they had during transition. We simply aren’t getting the treatment of transgender children right if we’re only treating their gender.

The consequences extend well beyond children who identify as trans, of course. Schools are suffused with sexual harassment and sexual violence, yet girls are expected to accept a child they previously knew as a boy as female like them, or be called bigots. The naturalisation of sex-stereotypes in parental narratives of transition surely has a limiting influence on other children’s conception of sex-appropriate behaviour. For some gender-nonconforming children, the cultural celebration of transition leads to anxiety about whether they themselves should be trans, even if they’re happy in their bodies. Certainly, many gay and lesbian adults have looked back on their own childhoods and remarked nervously that their behaviour then would qualify them as trans now.

If we’re not able to address these issues, then we’re manifestly failing children. But addressing them is incredibly difficult: practitioners who privately mention their doubts about current approaches to gender noncomformity are afraid to ask questions publicly, anticipating personal attacks and the loss of their jobs.

They’re not wrong to do so. After announcing the Dare to Debate event, the NSPCC was put under sustained pressure, I was persistently abused, and following the withdrawal of the other panelist, the charity cancelled the event. Previous installments in the series have looked at child sexualisation, foetal alcohol syndrome, and asked whether the investigation of child sexual abuse has tipped into “hysteria”, but apparently it would be just too daring to talk about gender. Doctrine so bitterly defended that it must even be protected from good-faith debate is a kind of restrictive garment for the intellect. Wearing it can ease our mental pangs. But the damage it does besides is very real.

Sarah Ditum is a journalist who writes regularly for the Guardian, New Statesman and others. Her website is here.