Youth unemployment, unlike the economy, has been growing at an exponential rate. It has been growing steadily since before the recession and the Tories’ cuts have only worsened the prospects of millions of young people in Britain. In my own constituency (Paisley and Renfrewshire South, which is home to statistically the most deprived area in Scotland), there are 23 young people chasing every job. That’s 23 young people under the age of 25 for every vacancy – it doesn’t even take into account the number of adults and older people who are forced to continue working as they can’t afford to retire. With college places disappearing faster than the number of Lib Dem councillors, apprenticeships being as plentiful as golden carrots and the requirements for a university place being increased every year, many feel that there is simply no future for them.
A few years ago, it would have been possible to go down to the job centre and ‘sign on’, getting a meager sum of JSA and picking up a job stacking shelves in the local supermarket. However, the impact of ‘welfare reform’ has left it almost impossible for people under the age of 25 to access any kind of benefit, and notes on shelf stacking application forms online immediately exclude those without a computer and those who are computer illiterate. It is also ‘strongly recommend’ that applicants have their own transport as public transport is seen as ‘unreliable and inconvenient’. With the cost of fuel soaring and car insurance premiums skyrocketing, many young people; myself included, find that the typical avenues our first experience of the job market are being closed off.
The day I left school I started searching for a part-time job to gain some experience and a bit of extra cash. It was 9 months before I found any form of paid employment - selling Avon catalogues- which was a commission only job. I then started working with match day staff at Hampden Park, along with about 50 other young people, and at 18 years old, I was one of the oldest there. The pay was barely above minimum wage and we were only offered shifts about once every 2 months. I think I earned about £50 in four months. Then, due to sheer luck, I saw an internship based at the Scottish Parliament advertised on Twitter, and relying on a few months’ work experience and canvassing in the Scottish council elections to get me through the interview, I threw my hat into the ring. It worked.
After my internship, I only found a job with my students’ union, on a one month contract. I’ve applied for many jobs since then, mainly student internships, having given up on trying to find work in the retail or service sector. I’ve now amassed a great deal of voluntary experience within the Labour Party and in the field of mental health, I’ve worked in Parliament and I am studying towards a politics degree at the University of Strathclyde after getting good passes in all my exams at school. Getting a job should be easy for me. But if I’m finding it almost impossible to find anything, what about the young carer, the boy who left school with no qualifications or the girl in a wheelchair? What chance do they have?
‘One Nation Labour’; whatever that’s meant to mean, has talked of a ‘Jobs Guarantee’ – a minimum wage job, further education place or apprenticeship for every school leaver. How will this be guaranteed? How will those who face additional barriers in accessing the job market be assured of a proper start to their career – rather than simply shunted from one six week “work experience” Workfare placement to another?
Instead of promising schemes that have no chance of helping those most in need, Labour should focus on improving the employability of young people by giving them decent work experience opportunities while they’re at school, rather than the present one week’s placement at the age of 15. Employers should also be given a tax break for every young person they take on, and most importantly, keep on. And for the graduates who entered university at the height of the boom and graduated in the depths of the bust, Labour should incentivise employers to take on these young people with so much untapped potential who have been failed by the capitalist system to instill a real sense of hope in them. We absolutely cannot have another tragic case like Vicky Harrison, the bright 21 year old who, after being rejected from 200 jobs, sadly took her own life after feeling completely humiliated and dejected. I can only hope that going forward to 2015, the Labour Party will offer real solutions, not just empty rhetoric, to the tragedy that is youth unemployment. We cannot afford another lost generation.
By Marian Craig
Note - This article was originally written for the June 2013 issue of Labour Briefing.