Helen Godwin Teige warns the Tories against another lost generation

The recent media circus surrounding the Raoul Moat case did lead to some interesting discussion about the ‘lost generation’ of working class men who have lost their standing in society as a result of the steady decline in manufacturing since the 1980s.

Numerous commentators discussed fathers and their sons who have spent much of their lives on benefits and with little or no expectation of finding work. This is an issue across the UK, though one more noticeable in the former industrial heartlands of the North, and especially former mining towns that experienced mass unemployment after the pit closures of the Thatcher years.

In the vast majority of these towns, little or no thought was given to the effects of long term unemployment on successive generations, or to the very working of these communities. Small business closures, divorce rates, crime and drug and alcohol addiction all increased in these areas.

As the new coalition continues to talk only of cuts and directing them almost exclusively at the poor, we fear that Cameron will be repeating the mistakes of Margaret Thatcher at her most vile in ignoring the social group which is most likely to suffer in the next five years.

The combination of public service job cuts, a reduction in university places, the abolition of the future jobs fund all point to a bleak future for today’s youth. This is a real life consequence of Osborne’s inflexibility when pushing for spending cuts above and beyond any reasoning. What practical solutions are being offered? None.

To top it off, the Connexions youth careers service has started to downsize as a result of pressure on local government to make spending cuts. This service, which has encountered criticism in the past, does however operate in a vital space dealing with young people not in education, employment or training (‘NEETs’), and there is radio silence from the government in terms of what alternative service will be offered, just when it is needed most.

Last year the Prince’s trust conducted a survey of 2000 young people, which found that the young unemployed were more likely to feel ashamed, rejected, lost, anxious, insecure, down and depressed, isolated and unloved. Many reported having suicidal thoughts. The long term implications of rising youth unemployment are frightening, especially as this recession is affecting graduates as well as school leavers, many of whom are bringing with them the new social burden of huge student debt.

The government owes it to the electorate to offer some hope and practical solution to our young people. It is simply not acceptable to dismantle the structure that has been built to ensure we never return to such horrific youth unemployment as we experienced in the 1980s when over one million youths were registered unemployed – not to mention the two million plus who were not in education or training, causing tension and unrest in Britain’s inner cities.

In 2009, in the middle of the latest recession, the figure approached three-quarters of a million. But the Labour government’s future jobs fund, largely funded by the one-off bankers’ bonus tax, had positive results, with many young people having their 6 month placements extended. The scrapping of this successful scheme points to the short-sightedness of the coalition and the distinct absence of positivity or creativity in Osborne’s fiscal policy.

A new government should be coming to power with ideas and determination to enhance opportunities for youth, not limit them. According to Martina Milburn, chief executive of the Prince’s trust, youth unemployment costs the economy £10m a day in lost productivity. We need action, an emphasis on vocational training, opportunities within the green economy and real projects to target areas with severe skills shortages.

Will these vulnerable young adults be left without any support in what will be an increasingly harsh world of lower benefits and housing allowances? What will the government’s reaction be to the inevitable increase in crime and substance abuse that we are likely to see in certain communities? It is here than the policy of across the board cuts once again implodes. Making job cuts, cutting education and training resources as well as reducing benefits creates a black hole for individuals; but concurrently slashing policing and prison budgets signals dramatic consequences for society as a whole. This is an issue that threatens to be a national crisis as headline unemployment seems likely to rise next year.

Labour needs to ensure that we are organised, vocal and dynamic in opposition and have plenty to offer on this subject if we are to engage with the youth. More importantly, we must make sure that we don’t lose what should be our best-educated, most internationally focused and most technologically advanced generation of young people in British history.

We need to work with and support community groups, social enterprises and careers services that will be the only hope for many in a twisted version of Cameron’s Big Society.

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One Response to “Helen Godwin Teige warns the Tories against another lost generation”

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Mark Selwyn, Mark Selwyn. Mark Selwyn said: Who will rescue a ‘lost generation’ of working class men? Nah, make them homeless if the get a job. Same old #Tories. http://bit.ly/aMJfsf […]

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