Last week, youth unemployment was once again at the top of the UK political agenda when labour-market statistics revealed that the Lib-Con coalition government’s flagship £1 billion scheme to help young people into work had proved a complete failure.
The Youth Contract aimed to create half a million new opportunities for so-called NEETs (people not in education, employment or training), by offering £2,275 in short-term subsidy to companies willing to take on and train a young person for an initial six months. However, since launching in April 2012, only 21,000 applications were made out of the 160,000 subsidies allocated.
It’s easy to see why. The idea that cash-strapped businesses, otherwise unable to recruit new employees, much less inexperienced school-leavers, would take part is moronic. Despite the subsidy, one assumes many companies were naturally hesitant about taking on and training staff to whom they can’t offer long-term employment.
Unfortunately, rather than draw a line under the whole silly business, the government and the opposition are angling for new, perhaps more pervasive alternatives. The scheme’s initial advisers are urging the government to follow Labour’s proposals for a full ‘work guarantee’ for those leaving education and entering the world of work. Meanwhile, a report published by the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission suggested the creation of a new administrative system that would help allocate jobs to those leaving school – mirroring services like UCAS which serve prospective university students.
Despite the evident flaws of such schemes, this renewed focus on the issue of youth employment has been cheered on by commentators. One writer for the New Statesman celebrated the fact that at least now politicians of all stripes were taking it seriously. However, there’s no escaping the fact that the highlighting of this supposedly ‘jilted generation’ as unique victims of the economic crisis is constantly being spouted by commentators and politicians. Many bemoaned the fact that the vast majority of new apprenticeships created by the coalition have been taken up by those over 25, while there is constant talk of slashing winter fuel allowances for pensioners. This debate assumes that 16- to 24-year-olds, presented as the poor victims of an economy whose failure they had no hand in, are to be held up as worthy of our utmost sympathy and support.