The Beat(en) generation
Youth is wasted on the young? Well to be honest it isn’t a great time to be a young person right now. Figures out from the Prince’s Trust charity this morning show that the number of people aged between 16 and 24 claiming unemployment benefit for more than a year has also quadrupled since the start of the recession. Not surprising the same period of time has seen the cost of youth crime increase 20% to around £1.2bn per annum.
I’d proffer that the figures are probably hide a situation that is significantly worse. The measure of long-term unemployment is pretty urban centric and rules out a lot of seasonal workers in rural areas who break long periods of unemployment with short periods of employment. But that aside this is a hell of a bleak outlook for our next generation and a significant cost to the tax payer at about £20m per week.
It is hard to see what we are doing at the moment to try to tackle any of these issues. Young people, and particularly those shorter educational backgrounds, are stereotyped. Partly because they are ill-equipped for the world of work but also partly through prejudice and fear. Crime we believe to be purely because of misintention and evil and never because of need, anger or frustration.
I’ve said it before, but our education system is not fit for purpose and is failing our young people. The answer is not to compel education but instead to make education compelling. Young people become disaffected and leave the education system because their talents are not recognised and they see no relevance in the lessons. So we need to understand how to make this better, more relevant and more diverse. Some may call it dumbing down, I’d happily argue that some education is better than no education and just because a course is, for example, vocational doesn’t mean it is easy.
And then we need to tackle the labour market. Spending £20m a week to keep people out of work is a complete nonsense. But subsidizing employers to employ young people doesn’t work either. We need to take a longer term view, to understand the sectors that we believe are growth and the ones in which we want UK plc to excel in. Then we need to encourage capital investment to make sure that we are world-class and the background skills development to ensure that we can provide the local labour force to add to the competitive advantage.
Sure it isn’t easy and there are greater minds than mine who will wrestle with this. But big problems require big thinking, courage and passion. Everybody should have the right to a decent education and a decent job. What that means will be different for different people, but the disaffected youth are no exception.