One Size Fits All
The chancellor had the opportunity last week to make a real difference to youth unemployment and kick start measures to help young people into jobs. Considering how current initiatives have failed to provide employment and more importantly improve employability for the under 24, a recognition of this fact and a bold, new course of action would have been very welcome. Yet there was no real action on tackling the current job crisis or addressing employability skills.
A number of the announcements were worthy of notice. For instance the increase in student placements, startup loans, and a very welcome change to the 16 hours a week cap to allow young people to engage in over 16 hour traineeships while signing up for JSA. Although the intentions of these measures are good we can only wait and see if, when and how they will be implemented to find out what effect they may have.
On the other hand two announcements that concerned me the most are the promise that Job seekers aged 18 to 21 without basic maths or English will be required to undertake training in these skills from day one or lose benefits. If they are still unemployed after 6 months they will be required to start traineeship, work experience or community work placement or lose their benefits.
The benefit system definitely needs reforming and it needs to be delivered in a way that encourages everyone including young people to actively seek work and self-development. Yet we saw the chancellor sanctioning and penalising young people who do not participate in skills training from day one of claiming benefits. I honestly do believe that 99% of human beings have a genuine predisposition to better themselves, be proud and help others. What constitutes a barrier to these aspirations of attainment and self actualisation is personal circumstances and the environment that surrounds us.
Speak with any youth charity from the Prince’s Trust to the Kids Company and they will tell you that young people can be unpredictable. Strong commitments and drive to move forward can be tampered by day to day concerns and emotional issues. Some young people come from very complex and difficult backgrounds with personal, family and mental health issues that took years to develop and cannot be solved overnight. Not everyone embarks on a road of recovery at the same pace or following the same journey, this is what makes us all individuals. So how could such a prescriptive policy fit all and support all? It’s shortsighted to think that forcing a young person to attend training or lose their benefits from day one is the way to support young people into productive fulfilling futures. If you are not in the right ‘place’ you will not attend training, accept sanctions or even bribery to do so. If the world seems largely at odds with you, you will be likely to forego your benefits your home and friends in order to do it your way. This would only make the young person drop of the radar, increase their hardship and social exclusion and increase their likelihood of engaging with crime.
This is by no means advocating limitless benefits payments. What is needed is a flexible, structured, non-punitive and responsive support system that can provide young people with what they need when they need it most: More investment in the fundamental areas of moral, psychological and practical support to set young people on the path that will make them aspire to a better future. There will be a few that have no desire to get anywhere and tougher measures may be needed to take them off a life on the doll, but we should not penalise the majority for the shortcomings of the few.