I happened to be watching an episode of the 90s British TV series House of Cards the other day (led there, admittedly, by the American re-make). In the episode, during a TV interview, hard line Tory Prime Minister Francis Urquhart (known as FU) curtly delivers this damning verdict on the youth of Britain:
Urquhart: There is a deep division in society today, between those who want to work and enjoy the fruits of their labours and abide by and uphold the laws of the land, and an increasing number of what it has become fashionable to call the disaffected, the disadvantaged, the differently-motivated -- what we used to call lazy people, dishonest people, people who don't want to take responsibility for their actions or their lives.
Presenter: So you don't feel inclined to do anything about the situation?
Urquhart: On the contrary. I decided that the time has come to take quite drastic action. We're going to bring back National Service as the first step in a large-scale programme of public works. We're going to get our young people -- all our young people -- off their backsides. We're going to put a large investment into Britain's future. And we're damned well going to get our money's worth.
One can't help but think David Cameron was similarly glued to Netflix when he concocted his latest attempt to end youth unemployment, forcing those without work aged 18-21 to do 'community work'. Cameron, speaking of young people today, said: 'they drift from school to worklessness to benefits'. Urquhart would have been proud.
Now in principle I do not think there is anything wrong with Cameron's proposals. There certainly is a growing culture of entitlement in Britain and the idea of working for benefits is not a bad one. But why start with youth? Why not start with those with a far longer history of unemployment?
The answer Cameron gives is that he is trying to eradicate the problem before it starts. He believes that by forcing young people 'off their backsides' they are less likely to rest on them in the future. He also believes that the scheme will make young people more employable.
I think Cameron is wrong. First of all his words presuppose laziness amongst many young people. In my opinion this is misguided. Young people are inherently optimistic, driven and forward looking. At the same time however these qualities can easily be squeezed out of the young by poor education, lack of opportunity and boredom.
Second of all this scheme comes far too late in a young persons life to make any material difference to their prospects. The intervention is in the right vein in that it recognises work experience as an essential element of employment in the current jobs market, but it is fundamentally too little too late.
The issue needs to be addressed in our education system. Work experience needs to be a fundamental part of our young people's education. Not just two weeks stacking shelves at Tesco in year 10, but a year long placement that gives young people the skills and direction they need.
We also need to start recognising that not all people are inclined to classroom education. Why do we force restless, practical young people to sit twiddling their thumbs/fighting each other through lessons in Geography and History? I see no reason why those aged 14, not inclined to the classroom, should not begin practical work based training whilst still studying the basics of English, Maths and Science.
Further to this, why not invest the money wasted on the education of some to enable them to start businesses? I have no doubt that empowering young entrepreneurs with small business loans, and the necessary support would excite and transform many a young life. A report by the Prince's Trust showed that more than two thirds of young people believed that having a business would give them a sense of achievement and purpose and a quarter were actively considering starting a business.
Another Prince's Trust report showed that 34% of those who left school with fewer than 5 GCSES graded A*-C believed they would be on benefits for at least part of their life, and less than half believed they would get a job they enjoy. These alarming statistics should wake Cameron up to the real problem: an education system that fails to equip students for the work place and drains them of ambition.
It is time for things to change, and if Cameron is bold he could make a real difference. If not we really do risk losing a generation.
(You can read more about my ideas for youth unemployment here)