The situation is dire, we all know that. The media coverage is painstakingly negative - no money and no jobs. Europe is collapsing, America's debt is at record levels, people are rioting (young people are to blame of course) and cuts are deepening to the very services that hold our communities together. It's enough to turn the milk sour - and that's for those of us in work. Despite concerns about my own financial stability, I can't help thinking what my 17 year old self would make of what is happening today and the future ahead.
Can you imagine facing your future as a 16 or 17 year old today? What a bum set of choices you've got. You've just completed your GCSE's at a middle of the road comprehensive, the teachers are nice but the career's advice is none existent. Despite your average grades you're near the top of the class so your choices are varied but not exactly ambitious - what do you do? You can't afford to stay on at college now the Educational Maintenance Allowance doesn't exist. The idea of going off to University seems alien to you and the eternal amount of debt it will bring with no guarantee of ever getting a job and paying it off seems fruitless anyway. There are no jobs and those at the bottom of the ladder mostly require a degree, or for you to look over 21. What do you do? It's a pretty treacherous path of options. Go on the dole or be in debt, it's kind of like Sophie's Choice (OK, this may be a little dramatic).
We're about to hit record unemployment figures, particularly for the young. According to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation we've hit 1milliion young people unemployed. An entire generation of people completely lost to poverty and worklessness. If there's a civil servant out there looking at economic 'damage limitation' here's a pretty good place to start. It's doubly worrying because I get the sense that Labour's 50% target has given some people in government the notion that young people are no longer likely to be the first in their family to go to University- they are. And those that aren't are certainly going to be the first to go for 9K a year. I get the impression that despite the riots, despite the marches, young people are still not a priority when it comes to employment policy -they need to be. I get the impression that big business has no incentive or inclination to take on young people as a priority- they have to.
This week at Conservative Party Conference, the Work and Pensions Secretary of State Iain Duncan Smith bounded up to the stage to rapturous applause, whilst Tory members waited, salivating at the prospect of another awe-inspiring speech from, oh hang on, we're talking about IDS. Scratch that. On Monday Iain Duncan Smith lectured poor people about the importance of responsibility and told us how young people were to blame for, well pretty much everything. In fact, IDS spent half a sentence outlining how to get young people into work and ten times that describing how they impact negatively on society. What's most interesting/ridculous about the IDS speech is that most of it is spent talking tough on those who don't want to work and little if nothing, about those who do but can't find jobs.
I was hoping to hear something specific about how you were going to get those 1 million young people you've priced out of further and higher education into work, but as you seem to be struggling Smithy, here are a few ideas (some are even costed for!)
1. Get George Osborne to change the terms of the National Insurance holiday for small businesses - no one is taking it up. Make the holiday about employing young people, not 10 or more people (which was wholly unrealistic anyway).
2. Work with CBI, FSB and Job Centres to create short-term work placements for young people. They all agree with me about youth unemployment (I've checked) and are, I'm sure, willing and eager to support this kind of venture.
3. Stop Vince Cable authorising millions of tax payers' money on training schemes for billion dollar corporations like Wal-Mart and re-invest that money into training schemes for small businesses, incentives to employ young people and retraining
4. Think outside the box on Apprenticeships. Create them in new sectors, like the charity Sector.
5. Invest some unspent money on schemes that encourage young people to start businesses and enterprises. They're our most creative asset - let's use them.
6. Reduce Tuition fees, reinstate EMA's, pay FE and HE teachers more, introduce a national bursary scheme, support mature students and those with caring responsibilities more.*
* Ok this one hasn't exactly been "costed", but I couldn't resist.
There's still time to bring in these policies. And there is money available; George Osborne hasn't spent lots of it. You'll get cross party support and thus be deemed champion of the youth. It's a proactive and in the long run, extremely cost effective plan.
You could call it "Sophie's Choice, Duncan's Solution".
That might need a little work.
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