Sunday, July 13, 2008

Youth Unemployment

At one time people actually pledged to take reponsibility for themselves!

In the 1997 election it was one of NuLab's famous five pledges:

"We will get 250,000 under-25 years-olds off benefit and into work by using money from a windfall levy on the privatised utilities."

Well, they took the money from the utilities tax all right, but eleven years on - years in which the UK economy grew by almost one-third - the OECD verdict on employment delivery is damning: the unemployment rate among under-25 year olds has actually increased. It's up from 13.4% to 14.4% of the age group.

Even worse, despite a decade of Gordo telling us how the UK has performed so much better than overseas economies, the average unemployment rate for this age group across the OECD has fallen, as this Economist chart shows:

And despite a decade of Labour nannying, hot air, and pious hand-wringing, the OECD found that the proportion who have dropped out altogether into welfare dependency - the so-called NEETs (Not in Employment Education or Training) - has also gone up, from 11.6% to 13%.

In short, Labour's New Deal for Young People has failed catastrophically. It's cost taxpayers nearly £4bn and has been another gigantic waste of money - just like all the other bits of the New Deal we've blogged so often (eg see here for the recent PAC probe).

What's gone wrong?

Come on, we know what's gone wrong - our state schools are still doing a pants job at equipping the bottom 20% of our kids for the world of work.

To which the government's disastrous reponse is to force all teenagers to stay on in education until they're 18 (eg see this blog). But in the real world, any amount of money pumped into post-school remedial wallpaper will not compensate for the failures in school. As the Economist comments:

"Rather than forcing unwilling youngsters to stay in education, the priority should be to tackle the failings in both primary and secondary schools that allow so many to leave without even rudimentary qualifications. For those who fall through the net, work is a better remedy; and a job allied to training through good apprenticeships better still."

Ah yes, those apprenticeships of myth and legend. It would be fantastic to find a way to get more. But as we are witnessing yet again with the half-baked new Diplomas (see this blog), few private sector employers want to get sucked into government driven work experience/job training schemes.

The stark truth is that people who can't handle the 3Rs are increasingly unemployable. Which is why - apart from school choice and competition - we like Frank Field's idea of making kids stay on at school until they have passed a basic proficiency test (aka the School Certificate). But then once they've done so, allowing them to leave school for a job/apprenticeship as early as 14.

PS Just for the record, here's the OECD's summary table:

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