Youth Unemployment: Government Policies Aren’t Working
Figures released by the ONS this week have revealed that unemployment is now the highest that it has been since the early 1990s. There are now 2.57 million people unemployed in the UK, and just short of 1 million – 38.5% of the total – of them are under the age of 25.
The coalition government’s response to this has been to announce that they are setting up “Work Academies” to provide training and work experience placements for young people. How this is supposed to help, I’m not entirely sure. As Employment Minister Chris Grayling enthused on the press release:
“With training, work experience and a guaranteed interview, they will put people at the front of the queue for vacancies that employers are looking to fill.”
Training might help individual people move up the queue, but what use is that when the queue keeps getting longer and longer? It’s hardly as if there are jobs sitting empty, waiting for the day that the nation’s workshy scroungers deign to lever themselves off the sofa and hand in an application form. There aren’t enough jobs to go around, and sending people on training courses isn’t going to create more. This is just re-arranging the queue, increasing the competition for the few jobs that are available, and making the unemployed fight even harder against one another to get into paid work.
It brings us back to the old idea of the deserving or undeserving poor. In order to get any financial help, the government is forcing benefit claimants to go further and further to prove that they “deserve” to be housed and fed, and being seen to take part in mandatory jobseeking activities to prove that they are among the deserving. Regardless of how useful these activities are, we’re supposed to want to see the unemployed being busy, just for the sake of it. It’s like a secular form of penance: they have to demonstrate that they are suitably sorry for not having a job before they can collect their dole money.
The new work academies sound no different to the existing programmes for getting people into jobs; in particular, they sound like a vehicle for work-for-your-benefits schemes, where the unemployed are forced to do unpaid work for profit-making companies. The academies are endorsed by Tesco, who are one of the well-known retailers already taking on “volunteers” for placements which can last for months, and the press release invites more businesses to do their bit by employing unpaid staff. Some of the academies will be based in sectors like retail and hospitality, where much of the work is low-skilled and low-paid, and a steady supply of work placement volunteers could provide competition for staff earning minimum wage or above.
One detail left out of the DWP’s press release is any information on who will be running the work academies. Now that there are private sector providers like A4e running services that try to get people into work (with success rates far below what was promised on the contracts), it’s entirely possible that these could be run by private sector contractors. That would mean that there are companies making a profit from their unemployed clients – either by sending them on work placements or by using their free labour – without providing them with any meaningful help.
The unemployment figures aren’t going to fall any time soon, and the government aren’t going to improve matters by continuing to blame it on individuals who don’t have jobs. Jobs don’t magically appear or disappear according to the level of work ethic we show, and “try harder” is not a substitute for economic policies that would provide long-term work. The people who are to blame for rising unemployment are in the Commons, not the dole queue.