The focus that can follow effective leadership was demonstrated last week by the attention given to the youth unemployment crisis by South Shields MP David Miliband. One in five young people are not in work or education and long-term youth unemployment is rising dramatically. This is bad for those young people and broader society now; it is also generates problems later on. There's good evidence that shows periods of long term unemployment when young continue to have an effect on employment, earnings and wider social measures, such as health, throughout adult life.
The recession and post-recession economic policy of the current government are major contributors to youth unemployment. In this recession, more than in previous ones, young people are hardest hit. When this is combined with increased tuition fees plus the removal of Education Maintenance Allowance we see young people disappearing from our economic community.
It is important to add, though, that even at the most recent height of economic progress there were still more than half a million young people not in education, training or work. There are structural problems and challenges as well as economic cycle issues, although current economic policy is certainly exacerbating youth unemployment.
The response to this crisis is, of course, more important than the analysis. The introduction of the 'youth contract' is right in principle, but is wrong in scale, it's far too small; is ineffective in impact, the intervention will not attract enough employers; and is poor in reach, kicking in only after a long period of unemployment. Intervention of this kind needs to be bigger, more powerful and more available for young people to make a meaningful difference.
It is vital now and for the future to do more to enable young people to enter the labour market in a meaningful, positive and effective way. Certainly, employers should be both encouraged and supported to offer good quality opportunities to young people. Apprenticeships are an excellent way to start a career, but too few employers (only 10 per cent in the north east) are offering apprenticeships and, despite recent progress, there remains, at the margins, some concerns about quality.
Work Experience can be a good opportunity for both employers and young people to try each other for size; most of us don't know what we want to do at 16 or in our early 20s, short-term work experience can be a good 'taster'. But work experience must also be subject to quality guarantees, seen to be an opportunity to progress, rather than a route to drudgery and exploitation as it can be if abused.
There is a strong case for a jobs guarantee too. Half of all Future Jobs Fund participants moved into non-supported employment. It worked, better than the current Work Programme.
The most important realisation, for politicians, businesses and stakeholders at all levels, is that it doesn't have to be like this. Actions now can help to tackle this crisis of a generation lost.
Briefing document (600 words) issued 9 Jul 2012
This page http://www.tuc.org.uk/economy/tuc-21188-f0.cfm
printed 18 May 2013 at 20:02 hrs by 22.214.171.124