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.

Photo: Getty
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Ann Summers can’t claim to empower women when it is teaming up with Pornhub

This is not about mutual sexual fulfilment, it is about eroticising women’s pain. 

I can’t understand why erotic retailers like Ann Summers have persisted into the twenty-first century. The store claims to be “sexy, daring, provocative and naughty”, and somewhat predictably positions itself as empowering for women. As a feminist of the unfashionable type, I can’t help but be suspicious of any form of sexual liberation that can be bought or sold.

And yet, I’d never really thought of Ann Summers as being particularly threatening to the rights of women, more just a faintly depressing reflection of heteronormativity. This changed when I saw they’d teamed-up with Pornhub. The website is reputedly the largest purveyor of online pornography in the world. Pornhub guidelines state that content flagged as  “illegal, unlawful, harassing, harmful, offensive” will be removed. Nonetheless, the site still contains simulated incest and rape with some of the more easily published film titles including “Exploited Teen Asia” (236 million views) and “How to sexually harass your secretary properly” (10.5 million views.)  With campaigns such as #metoo and #timesup are sweeping social media, it seems bizarre that a high street brand would not consider Pornhub merchandise as toxic.

Society is still bound by taboos: our hyper-sexual society glossy magazines like Teen Vogue offer girls tips on receiving anal sex, while advice on pleasuring women is notably rare. As an unabashed wanker, I find it baffling that in the year that largely female audiences queued to watch Fifty Shades Darker, a survey revealed that 20 per cent of U.S. women have never masturbated. It is an odd truth that in our apparently open society, any criticism of pornography or sexual practices is shut down as illiberal. 

Guardian-reading men who wring their hands about Fair Trade coffee will passionately defend the right to view women being abused on film. Conservative men who make claims about morals and marriage are aroused by images that in any other setting would be considered abuse. Pornography is not only misogynistic, but the tropes and language are often also racist. In what other context would racist slurs and scenarios be acceptable?

I have no doubt that some reading this will be burning to point out that feminist pornography exists. In name of course it does, but then again, Theresa May calls herself a feminist when it suits. Whether you believe feminist pornography is either possible or desirable, it is worth remembering that what is marketed as such comprises a tiny portion of the market. This won’t make me popular, but it is worth remembering feminism is not about celebrating every choice a woman makes – it is about analysing the social context in which choices are made. Furthermore, that some women also watch porn is evidence of how patriarchy shapes our desire, not that pornography is woman-friendly.  

Ann Summers parts the net curtains of nation’s suburban bedrooms and offers a glimpse into our peccadillos and preferences. That a mainstream high street retailer blithely offers guidance on hair-pulling, whipping and clamps, as well as a full range of Pornhub branded products is disturbing. This is not about women’s empowerment or mutual sexual fulfilment, it is about eroticising women’s pain. 

We are living in a world saturated with images of women and girls suffering; to pretend that there is no connection between pornography and the four-in-ten teenage girls who say they have been coerced into sex acts is naive in the extreme. For too long the state claimed that violence in the home was a domestic matter. Women and girls are now facing an epidemic of sexual violence behind bedroom doors and it is not a private matter. We need to ask ourselves which matters more: the sexual rights of men or the human rights of women?