Adept as ever at stating the bleeding obvious, the moronic Deputy Prime Minister notes that “sitting at home with nothing to do when you’re so young can knock the stuffing out of you for years.” That being so, he ought to explain why the coalition government has conspired to deny young people help and support by slashing the education maintenance allowance and forcing local authorities to suspend youth services by denying them adequate national funding. At a time when unemployment is on the rise, cutting already flimsy benefits to 16 and 17-year-olds that enabled them to continue studying is a complete slap in the face.
It tells them that, in ministers’ eyes, they don’t matter. There are no jobs for them and the government doesn’t care whether they study or not. Latest figures reveal that the number of so-called Neets – not in education, employment or training – aged 16 to 24 has reached 1,163,000, almost 20 per cent of that age range. Yet Clegg’s master plan is not envisaged, even at best, to help more than 55,000 of them, however briefly.
The bosses’ organisation CBI let the cat out of the bag by disclosing that the Youth Contract stunt, which invites employers to bid for contracts worth up to £2,200 to engage young people, was its own idea. Its employment and skills policy director Neil Carberry directs the usual bosses’ righthander at schools, blaming them for inadequate careers and study advice and failure to develop links with local business. This is a variation on the now traditional conservative penchant for blaming the unemployed for not having a job rather than a clapped-out system that turns its back on the need to find employment for every citizen to ensure self-respect and self-reliance.
Government economic policies are driving up unemployment and denying finance to youth services that provide support to the young jobless. Yet Clegg has the temerity to waffle on about how “incredibly important” it is, “at that very vital moment in someone’s life, when they are in their teens, that they don’t lose the ambition and the hope and the optimism about working.” Does he really believe that the slim prospect of being part of this employer-support scheme will enthuse youngsters denied the right to work or study?
Youngsters are not stupid. Just like older people they can see the political direction of this government, which is committed to slashing spending on public services, salaries, pensions and benefits. Young people’s hopes and ambitions of getting quality training and employment depend on a substantial change of political direction where the interests of working people take precedence over big business profits. This requires an end to the cuts agenda and increased taxation on corporate profits, the super-rich and inherited wealth, combined with public ownership of essential assets such as the financial sector, the energy utilities and public transport.