Birmingham has real issues with youth unemployment, with over 2,500 young people long term unemployed in the city, with inner-city wards reporting as much as 40% rates of long term unemployment amongst young people (long term unemployment is defined as more than 6 months out of work).
Nationally, there are over 1 million young unemployed people, a figure that has risen sharply in the past few years, as school leavers face the worse economic conditions since the great depression, and extreme competition for jobs – earlier this year, when Jaguar expanded their Solihull operations, they had 20,000 applications for the 1,000 jobs. The Hotel La Tour, advertising at a similar time, had 15 applicants for every job.
There is no question that serious action is required to tackle this problem. 15% of NEETs (young people Not in Education, Employment or Training) die within 10 years, and helping these young people is of huge importance.
We hope that the commission will recognise that the biggest barrier to eradicating long term youth unemployment, as Albert Bore claims is the aim, is the state of our economy, and the amount of competition that there is for the small number of available jobs.
Right now the “help” that young people receive is to be sent on workfare placements, doing unpaid jobs for profit making companies, charities and public sector organisations (although we have to say here that we’ve not heard of anyone being sent to Birmingham City Council on a workfare scheme – get in touch with us if you have been, we’d love to know).
This week a new scheme was launched in London what will see 18-24 year olds forced to do unpaid work placements lasting as long as 13 weeks from the day they sign on, if they do not have at least 6 months of work experience already, giving school leavers no opportunity to find work.
Young people are forced to go on the Work Experience Scheme or Sector Based Work Academies, under threat of being sanctioned for between 2 weeks and 6 months – which means not have the money you need for food or to put in the gas meter. Earlier this month, the high court ruled that these schemes are lawful, but opened the door for people to reclaim sanctions in certain circumstances. The rulings are being appealed, and the appeal will take place in October.
Earlier this year, after pressure from campaigners like Boycott Workfare, and high profile internet actions targetting companies who were exploiting this free labour, the government removed sanctions from the Work Experience Scheme, though they have made it clear that anyone refusing will get sent on Mandatory Work Activity instead. Following the court ruling, the government may seek to reinstate sanctions on the work experience scheme.
When we look at the evidence from similar schemes we find that workfare does not help unemployment. Mandatory Work Activity has no effect on unemployment, whilst the Work Programme may actually reduce your chances of finding a job from 28% to 22%. These two schemes are not limited to young people, but many young people have found themselves sent on Mandatory Work Activity, for up to 8 weeks.
When a young person does find a job the chances are they will be an “apprentice”, paid just £2.60 / hr – far below the minimum wage (which is at reduced rates for young people anyway), and just more than a third of a living wage of £7.20/hr. Quite why it is thought a young person needs less money than someone over 25 is not clear. Perhaps it is simply the result of a government of privileged millionaires who have never been financially independent from their parents.
These apprenticeships are not like the apprenticeships of old. They are not designed as training courses to teach young people a trade. You will find apprenticeships in every sector now – 40% of Morrisson’s employees are apprentices, and McDonalds pocketed £10m of taxpayers money on a apprenticeship scheme without creating a single job. Apprenticeships used to be about training young people, building skills and passing knowledge on from one generation to the next. Now they are simply about allowing companies to exploit young people, increase their profit margins and undermine the minimum wage.
Albert Bore has said
We will set a series of targets and programmes, agreed with partners, and will monitor and track delivery. It is our ambition to lead the way in Birmingham for eradicating long term unemployment amongst our young people.
If he wants to have any hope of eradicating long term unemployment amongst young people he will need to think beyond failing workfare schemes or allowing companies to further exploit young people, and towards a more radical approach which recognises that the structures of our economy need to change if everyone is to have a job, and that austerity and cuts in government spending will only reduce the availability of jobs and opportunities for young people.
We’re going to leave the final words to Jamie Chapman & Adam Yosef, and their short poem, “Taught from a Textbook”, performed by Jamie Chapman, about how the current political climate is affecting the opportunities and career goals of young people across the UK.