Cameron has a plan for NEETs – has he only just noticed the youth unemployment problem?

The PM faces the youth unemployment problem with a plan for "intensive action" on young people not in education, employment or training.

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The Conservatives' latest plan in this interminable call-and-response election battle – as the new-found policy merchants David Cameron and Ed Miliband try to outdo each other with yet another speech, yet another "pledge" – is to tackle NEETs.

Yes, the day after Miliband set out a plan for helping all school leavers onto apprenticeships, Cameron is laying out his plan for young people who leave school and end up not in education, employment or training. He is unveiling a Community Work Programme, in which 18 to 21-year-olds claiming benefits would also have to do community work for 30 hours week, alongside 10 hours a week looking for a job.

The PM wants to see "intensive action" to "get rid of that well-worn path from the school gate down to the job centre":

We are taking further steps to help young people make something of their lives. Our goal in the next Parliament is effectively to abolish long-term youth unemployment. We want to get rid of that well-worn path from the school gate, down to the Job Centre, and onto a life on benefits . . .

What these young people need is work experience and the order and discipline of turning up for work each day.

There is something a little cynical about this last-minute pre-election pledge to tackle youth unemployment, considering it has been a persistent problem under this government, despite the gradual fall in the general unemployment rate.

The latest ONS figures show that there are 188,000 18 to 24-year-olds who have been unemployed for over a year. This figure is down 10 per cent from four years ago, but is still lagging behind the fall in general long-term unemployment, which has fallen nearly 25 per cent in the same period. And youth unemployment, as opposed to long-term youth unemployment, is actually rising

It is difficult to take the PM's plan seriously when it suggests he has only just noticed the problem of long-term youth unemployment, particularly when his solution is exacerbating the problem jobseekers have today with unemployment being a full-time occupation. The more work schemes imposed upon jobseekers by the government, the less time they have to do constructive, focused things to find employment.

Here's Labour's response, in the words of shadow work and pensions secretary Rachel Reeves:

With youth unemployment rising, not falling, the government should introduce Labour's compulsory jobs guarantee to get young people off benefits and into paid work.   

Under David Cameron young people can spend years claiming benefit without being offered and required to take up paid work. Labour's compulsory jobs guarantee would ensure young people are given the chance to learn, earn and contribute.

Anoosh Chakelian is the New Statesman’s Britain editor.