David Cameron is set to announce a shake up of the welfare system that will effect around 50,000 18- to 21-year-olds if the Conservative party wins the general election…
It is coming up to that time in the calendar most of us dread: general election time. For the last few weeks—and certainly the next few months—the major political parties have been throwing around promises to reform every aspect of society. It all feels a bit like watching a pantomime, complete with booing, hissing, and jeering, as well as promises to provide the moon on a stick.
The latest policy proposal to emerge comes from the Conservatives. In a bid to ensure young people have adequate skills that can be transferred to the working world those who are classed as Neets (not in employment,education or training) will be expected to undertake unpaid community work. Failure to do so will result in the loss of unemployment benefit.
I have a lot of sympathy for young people today. The job market is difficult, and the price of higher education has become a barrier for many. This new scheme seems like it could be a good step for improving the employability of young people. It should provide the additional skills employers want to see, but it will also prepare the next generation of employees for the world of work.
The nitty-gritty details of the scheme mean that in order to receive unemployment benefits, young people would have to undertake 30 hours of mandatory community work per week. Additionally, 10 hours will also be allocated to search for paid work, making up the 40 hour working week.
Neets will still receive the £57.35 Job Seekers’ Allowance (JSA) payment a week, but it will be rebranded as ‘Youth Allowance’.
David Cameron, Prime Minister and leader of the Conservative party, said Neets could partake in community work such as making meals for older people or helping charities.
During a speech later today, he is expected to say: “What these young people need is work experience and the order and discipline of turning up for work each day.
“So a Conservative government would require them to do daily community work from the very start of their claim, as well as searching for work.
“From day one they must realise that welfare is not a one-way street. Yes, we will help them, but there is no more something for nothing. They must give back to their community too.”
Cameron hopes the proposed policy will eradicate youth unemployment, an issue that has been at the forefront of many minds over the last 12 months.
At the beginning of the year, Margaret Hodge, chair of the Public Accounts Committee, said councils were failing to look after Neets sufficiently. She warned that local authorities had in fact lost track of significant numbers of Neets. The national average for lost Neets is seven per cent. In some areas, however, this figure is as high as 20 per cent.
Hodge highlighted the fact that at least 100,000 Neets were off council radars. Speaking at the time she said: “If the activity of young people is unknown to the local authorities where they live, they are unlikely to receive targeted help.”
She added: “It would seem common sense that the main reason the number of Neets is down is that the law has changed to require young people to continue in education or training until at least their 18th birthday.
“It is difficult to show that any other interventions, such as careers advice, have been effective.”
It is imperative that the next generation does not become lost to society, languishing in an endless circuit of benefits and a lack of opportunities. There needs to be support from central government and local authorities to get these young people into meaningful employment.
The Conservatives certainly seem to be making all the right noises when it comes to increasing opportunities for young people. This latest policy proposal comes on the heels of a pledge to cap benefits at £23,000. The money saved will fund three million apprenticeships.
Apprenticeships have undoubtedly seen significant success in providing young people with employment opportunities. Continued growth of these schemes would benefit future school leavers.
However, for those who are not able to go down this route, the Conservatives policy is only useful if there is support to help young people into employment and to get them off benefits, whether that is through continued education or training schemes. My concern is that the scheme will simply see young people stuck in a cycle of unpaid community work and benefits with no job in sight at the end of it.
The Labour party is planning on taking a different approach to tackling youth unemployment.
The party said it will guarantee young people who have been unemployed for a year work for six months. This will be paid for using bankers’ bonus tax.
Shadow work and pensions secretary Rachel Reeves said thousands of young people had been “abandoned” by the Conservatives.
She added: “Under David Cameron young people can spend years claiming benefit without being offered and required to take up paid work.
“Labour’s compulsory jobs guarantee would ensure young people are given the chance to learn, earn and contribute.”
Labour leader Ed Miliband has also pledged to stop benefits for young unemployed people who refuse to take training courses. Like the Conservatives, he is also keen to push the apprenticeship route, and promised a place for every school leaver in England with the right grades by 2020.
On paper both policies sound good. Benefits certainly should be stopped for those who can work and refuse to, but the situation isn’t always black and white. Both parties must ensure young people have somewhere to progress to, and not leave them stuck in an endless loop of free labour and benefit claims with no way into meaningful employment. Increasing opportunities is imperative, and this will need stimulus from the economy, as well as input from the education sector.
Which policy do you prefer? Let us know your thoughts.