Perhaps the biggest issue facing the UK at present is the impact of the rising levels of youth unemployment. The most important thing for a young person, who has recently left school, is to get a job - to understand the importance of work and to feel a valued member of society. By accepting large scale unemployment, we are simply storing up problems for the country in the future. We have a responsibility to educate the young and to give them those skills that are essential if they are to compete in a competitive, globalised job market. Today sees the launch of a new movement of charities, called Take Charge, to tackle this problem head-on.
Just last week, new figures showed that unemployment among 16-24 year olds has risen by 20,000 and is now yet again approaching the deeply disturbing one million mark. More than one in five young people (21.2 percent) are unemployed, and too many of the other four in five are in part-time work that doesn't provide the income or job satisfaction they need.
For those young people who are lucky enough to have any job at all, a whole range of other factors are making life increasingly difficult. High rents, rising transport costs and the relentless squeeze on household incomes mean that young people are struggling to cope financially. The result is that more and more are falling behind, with three quarters of 18-24 year olds now holding unsecured debt.
So what can be done to help? Youth unemployment, the rent crisis and all of the other consequences of the UK's current economic difficulties are complex problems that no one measure can solve. However, good work is being done across the UK to give young people the skills and knowledge they need to cope and to prosper in life - a key part of the puzzle that will help us meet these challenges.
Financial education and enterprise education are key areas in the fight to improve young people's prospects. Financial capability and enterprise skills are crucial ingredients that improve young people's employability - and a great deal of work is being done to achieve this by charities working in financial education and enterprise education across the UK.
Take Charge is a new movement to unite these charities and increase co-operation and co-ordination in this crucial field. Our aim is simple - to empower, engage and enable young people to take charge of their money, take charge of their life and take charge of their opportunities. Made possible by funding from Standard Life, Take Charge was conceived by financial education charity pfeg (Personal Finance Education Group) as a means of uniting charities already working in financial education and enterprise education in a single movement.
In the movement's first year, 25 partner charities are working together to help create a 'state of the nation' map of existing provision of financial education and enterprise education across the UK, and pool their expertise to map the skills, attitudes, knowledge and understanding that young people need. Work is also under way to identify the broader skills that make young people employable, such as critical thinking, decision making and teamwork, through a survey of the business, education and voluntary sectors.
A total of 20 charities have signed up so far, including the Prince's Trust, Young Enterprise, UK Youth Parliament and many others. Organisations from all corners of the UK are well represented through charities such as Young Scot, Vi-Ability and Brathay Trust - so that partners can learn from each other and share best practice in delivery. Dozens of other affiliate organisations are giving the Take Charge movement additional support, and will help populate our map of provision across the country.
Take Charge has an ambitious agenda for its first year, and we would like to see this become a long-term movement. I am delighted to be involved in helping Take Charge to grow as chair of its Advisory Panel. At the end of this year we plan to publish a five-year strategy to set the direction of our work in 2014 and beyond. The problems facing young people won't go overnight - and neither should Take Charge. We are determined to make a difference.
To survive and thrive in our economy, young people need the skills and knowledge to be financially capable, enterprise and employable. Take Charge will help make this a reality. By working together and harnessing the collective strength, experience and knowledge of charities working across the UK, we can give young people the skills they need to take charge of their opportunities - in good times and in bad. For their sake, we can't afford to do anything less.