Are Gen X failing Gen Y?: Taking responsibility for youth unemployment in 2012
Yesterday it was reported that 1,385 people applied for just 16 jobs at a new DFS store in Wales – just another shocking reminder of the scarcity of new jobs in some areas.
Unemployment statistics amongst young people are one of the resounding reminders of the recession’s impact; last November the number of 18-24 year olds not in employment, education or training (so-called “neets”) reached over 1 million for the first time, of an unemployment total of 2.62 million. Or put another way, over a fifth of 18-24 year olds are currently unemployed.
There’s a strong argument that the government’s austerity measures are the wrong step to pulling the country out of a recession when they risk causing mass unemployment. But regardless of one’s overall stance on the government’s economic policies, it’s clear that not enough is being done to support our out of work youths.
Community work for the unemployed
Under new government plans Job Centre Plus staff are being given the power to instruct anyone claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance to take part in “mandatory work activity” – unpaid posts intended to help unemployed get used to working again, although also seen as an attempt to reduce the number of those claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance – the government predicts that the cost of unemployment claims will be reduced by £100 billion in the long-term.
Figures released last week found that 20% of those ordered to take part in four-week community projects stopped claiming immediately and another 30% did not turn up for the work and thus lost their benefit; one report claimed this showed that the unemployed “would prefer to lose their handouts than do a stint of unpaid work”. This “handout” of course, is only £67.50 per week.
The other perspective of this scheme comes from the case of Cait Reilly, a 22-year-old geology graduate seeking work in the museum sector. Cait claims that in order to keep her benefit she had to work cleaning and stacking shelves for two weeks at Poundland– one of the businesses offering these work placements in partnership with the government. Technically an unemployed person must “express an interest” before being placed on this scheme and there’s also a one-week cooling off period. However Cait and others have claimed they were put on the scheme without understanding these rules.
For Cait this work was not only unpaid but also irrelevant to her needs. Through her lawyers, she is now challenging the the Jobseeker’s Allowance (Employment, Skills and Enterprise) Regulations 2011, her solicitor arguing that “These Orwellian schemes are about work for its own sake rather than for any greater purpose” (BBC). The result of the judicial review will determine the future of this scheme in 2012.
The campaign against unpaid internships
Research by the Labour MP Luciana Berger last December uncovered the volume of unpaid interns being used by arts and sports groups, limiting the types of people able to begin careers in these fields. Unpaid internships are prevalent in areas as diverse as fashion, politics and the charity sector, yet for those without family support or a family home in London they are entirely prohibitive.
Kayte Lawton, senior research fellow at the IPPR, said: “If an intern is doing work for a company, then they need to be paid. It’s as simple as that. Employers often mistakenly believe there is a grey area around internships in the national minimum wage legislation that allows them to take on unpaid interns as long as both sides understand it is a voluntary position – but this is simply not the case.”
Nick Clegg has admitted that “Unfair, informal internships can rig the market in favour of those who already have opportunities.” Yet thus far such statements have seen inadequate action – the result of Cait Reilly’s legal challenge may set the precedent for the kind of furore that continues to build on this subject over the coming year.
What more could the Gen X and Baby Boomer-led businesses, schools, families and the government doing?
For those lacking experience or in unemployment for a very long time, compulsory work placements seem to hold a lot of positive potential. However, government policies seem to show either a misunderstanding or negligence of young people like Cait and what is causing their unemployment.
Nick Clegg has promised to make youth jobs his priority for 2012, with the government’s latest £1 billion “youth contract” aiming to provide 410,000 new work places over three years. Some government schemes have already seen success, such as apprenticeship figures which grew by over half a million last year (Perspective). However, the majority of uptake was from over 25s; it’s clear that not enough is being done.
Are Generation X and the baby boomers – as group more likely to find secure employment, if affected in other ways by the recession – doing enough to help Generation Y? After all, Generation Y did not cause the crash, but they are emerging as amongst its greatest victims.
Supporting Generation Y at Work: Implications for Business – http://www.knoll.com/research/downloads/SupportingGenYatWork.pdf
What happens to the young and educated without a job? – http://www.ox.ac.uk/media/news_stories/2012/120109.html
England’s riots look to have hit some young people’s prospects hard
Nick Clegg’s right. It’s time to start means-testing pensioners – “It’s not ‘misery’ to have to cancel a holiday. As the wealth gap grows, we must focus on young people looking for work” – http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2011/dec/05/clegg-right-means-test-pensioners
Photo credit Ambro.