11/10/2012 08:02 BST | Updated 10/12/2012 05:12 GMT

'Aspiration nation' or Lost Generation? The Government Needs to Do More on Youth Unemployment

David Cameron's party conference speech contained some strong words, and some big claims. The Tories are not the party of better off, he declared, but the party of the "want to be better off". They will build an "aspiration nation" to "get Britain on the rise". One million new private sector jobs have been created in the last two years (actually nearer to eight hundred thousand, according to FactCheck, but still far better than under Labour) and last year more businesses were created than in any year before.

Despite those words and statistics, the "aspiration nation" remains just that - an aspiration. Especially if you are unlucky enough to be young.

Youth unemployment currently stands at 20%: over 1 million 16-24 year olds haven't got a job. One in five. In addition, a further one in five young people are underemployed (part-timers wanting or needing a full time job, and full-timers looking for even more work).

In total, that means 40% of young people either have no work, or not enough work. The prime minister is in serious danger of presiding over a lost generation. If that happens, he can kiss goodbye to his dream of an "aspiration nation" (and ending the welfare dependency culture will be off the table, too).

In his speech Cameron defended unpaid work experience for jobless young people, and he was right to do so. The schemes provide valuable experience of the workplace. But unless there are actually jobs available afterwards, then they are a waste of time.

We didn't hear much about youth unemployment from Chancellor George Osborne, either. His conference speech didn't even mention the word "growth" (unfortunately, that isn't a joke). All we really got were plans for a further £10 billion of welfare cuts (bound to frighten anyone currently on the dole) and a scheme allowing workers to trade away their employment rights in return for shares (which begs two questions: why should they have to give up rights, and why should people do it, at a time of economic stagnation and lack of jobs?).

So the question lingers: how will this government prevent a lost generation? What action will they take to create jobs for the one million young people who need them, and better jobs for the other one million who want them?

Deficit reduction has, rightly, been a key focus of the government. But youth unemployment, and all of the resulting social and economic effects, pose just as grave a threat to this country's future.

The Tory conference slogan was 'Britain Can Deliver'. But, Mr Cameron, can you? Your government must act, and act fast. Or two million young people will pay the price.