A Lost Generation?

In the early 80’s I was at an education conference where someone was talking about youth unemployment and the devastating impact it was having in his community in the North East – his words still ring in my ears “that time is lost and it’s lost forever”. At least in those days there was still a youth service which was geared up to work with those young people but today it’s not just nothing to do, it’s also nowhere to go. The energy, creativity and joy of being young is being crushed, not only is that productive time lost to the young people themselves, it’s lost to all of us.

Currently 20% of our young people don’t have a job and even more concerning is that this leaps to 50% among black young men. Recent research found that a third of the young unemployed were depressed and rarely left the house and 40% didn’t feel part of society.

In September we will be debating the Nick Clegg Danny Alexander Economy motion, not a lot to like from my perspective, but there is one proposal I strongly support. The motion recognises that the government is having little success in tackling youth unemployment, committing to “Take radical action to tackle stubbornly high youth unemployment by developing a comprehensive strategy for 16- to 24-year-olds ensuring that all young people have access to the skills, advice and opportunities necessary to find sustainable employment. Last year I was happy to summate on Jo Swinson’s “Giving Young People a Future” motion which sought to build on the Youth Contract and picked up on some of the flaws in the current policy, for instance the importance of guaranteed access to careers advice.

But things have moved on from then and it is clear that the need to take that radical action and develop that comprehensive strategy is urgent.

So what needs to happen to prevent a “lost generation” and ensure the Youth Contract along with the welcome investment in apprenticeships, does more than scratch the surface?

As Liberal Democrats we are, and always have been, committed to the idea of localism, people have a much better grasp at a local level of how to tackle the problems in their area. So the news, reported by CYP Now last week that where the Youth Contract is devolved to local councils it is more successful by a ratio of 2:1 in getting young people into work, should give us pause for thought.

CYP Now also found that the wage supplement element of the Youth Contract isn’t working, only 4,690 payments of £2,275 having been made with a target of 160,000. This has lead to calls from a number of organisations for a rethink. Liam Preston, policy and parliamentary officer for YMCA England, saying “The figures are disappointing and staggeringly low compared to their intended success rate.

“The Youth Contract was held up as the flagship programme to end the youth unemployment crisis and this announcement would suggest that wage subsidies do not go far enough in ensuring those who are long term unemployed are able to get back into work quickly.” There is clearly an urgent need to consider using that funding more effectively.

At the weekend Vince Cable attended the UK Youth Parliament and urged young people to become entrepreneurs as a way to beat the recession. Well said Vince! But of course many young people will need much more than a start up loan to get them going.

My view is that the over-riding principle that must underpin any new strategy is the need to take a holistic approach and most importantly, to listen to young people and those who work with them.  At the moment the Youth Contract offers a few pieces in the jigsaw, which may be enough for some young people, but not all. Considering the whole picture means appreciating that a one size fits all approach won’t work. Our most vulnerable young people need a lot more support, with 11 young people applying for every apprenticeship many will fall through the net – and with a deficit in the jobs market of some 2 million, the approach has to take account of how to keep them motivated as well as seeking to equip them for work. Sadly one of the key services devoted to supporting these young people is largely missing – another example of where one policy – cutting the youth service – impacts on the success of another – the youth contract.

So there’s much to do.  My advice is that there should be an urgent Youth Summit, involving unemployed young people and those who work with them, to begin to thrash out the strategy Clegg and Alexander are calling for. Politicians and civil servants should be welcome to come and listen and learn – but apart from perhaps a few nice words to open proceedings, otherwise hold their peace.

Linda is a former youth worker and blogs for Children and Young People Now magazine on youth issues

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2 comments on “A Lost Generation?
  1. Amalric says:

    This is a very disappointing and depressing article. Linda Jack supports the clause of the leadership’s economic motion. As I have posted on Liberal Democrat Voice – The motion says radical action should be taken to tackle stubbornly high youth unemployment but doesn’t say what this radical action is. Access to advice is not radical. Access to good relevant advice might be, a guarantee to access training to gain the skills needed in the area in which they live might be radical and guaranteeing them a job at the end of their training would be radical. As far as I can tell the clause is just fine words with no idea what needs to be done. Maybe it is the word “access” that I don’t like and so prefer “guarantee”. I also suggested that Jobcentres needed to get more involved in their local community, however if district councils are having success then I am happy to encourage them to apply to be the provider and change the process to give them an advantage to be successful in applying to be the provider.

    With regard to wage supplements one of the problems could be that the young person has to be in the job for 6 months before payment is made. Therefore this could be changed so the employer gets some money for every week the young person is employed by them. Also maybe the period of unemployment should be reduced to three or two months from six. Should we be supporting the idea that no employer national insurance for those under 24 should be required? I am not sure I like the idea of employer tax cuts for training because I believe they only pay tax on profits. However I would support the government paying 33% of training course costs for those under 24 and 20% for everyone else (I recognise there are other employer costs involved in training hence the higher than the tax rate payments for those under 24).

    Linda also likes the idea of encouraging young people to become entrepreneurs and says they need more than a start-up load without saying what this is. Some suggestions could be courses on how to become entrepreneurs, free access to business advisers and someone to do the accounts and tax and loads for their living and housing costs while they develop their business.

    Linda talks about keeping the young unemployed motivated without saying how. Do they wish to have drop in centres? Do they wish to have young people’s job clubs?

    Linda talks about the motion “Giving Young People a future” which had a policy paper with the same title. One could imply from Linda’s article that this policy paper failed because she is calling for a Youth Summit to discover what is needed. I thought our policy paper process was supposes to do this. In fact the leadership’s clause on youth unemployment could also be seen as a rejection of party policy and its replacement with a slogan.

    (I have often wondered what happened to those who were the youth unemployed in the 1980’s. Has anyone discovered what the effect on them was?)

  2. Linda Jack says:

    Amalric, thanks for your detailed and thoughtful response. I think you misunderstand what I am saying – I am welcoming the lines but also saying we need to define what that strategy is. I actually have a strategy that I am working on at the moment, if you are interested I can email you but it is very early days, having spent most of my adult life working with or on behalf of young people I have a very clear and radical idea (!) but even that isn’t enough if it doesn’t build on what the young people themselves are saying they need. My main point is that politicians and civil servants come up with ideas without listening to either the young people impacted or the people who work with them, so let’s make that the starting point. I have already had an excellent response to my CYPNow article from someone delivering on the ground who really appreciated what I was saying (I go into more details there about principles) there is plenty of good practice out there it needs joining up. I will share my strategy publicly when it is further developed. In terms of the policy paper I think that some of it isn’t working because it hasn’t been able to be delivered in practice (for example guaranteed access to careers advice), that access, particularly in schools in deprived areas is almost none existent. Do email me though to carry on the conversation, I would be interested in your ideas. I’m linda_a_jack@yahoo.co.uk

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