The government must be far more proactive on long-term youth unemployment if young people are truly to benefit from the jobs recovery, warns the Trades Union Congress (TUC) ahead of the first ever NUS students and work summit in London today (3 March).
While recent falls in unemployment are very welcome, says the TUC, over 900,000 young people are still unemployed. More than 250,000 young people have been unemployed for longer than 12 months – compared to just over 100,000 at the end of 2008.
The TUC has strong concerns about the effects of long-term unemployment, particularly for those just starting out in the labour market, as long periods out of employment can permanently scar young people’s careers, as well as leading to depression and poor health.
While some young people are finally starting to benefit from improved levels of employment, figures suggest the government’s job subsidy scheme – designed to help young people back into paid work – is woefully inadequate. Only 10,030 (6.3 per cent) of the intended 160,000 18-24 year olds have found work through the scheme so far, according to the most recently published data.
The TUC believes it is time for the Department for Work and Pensions to publish up-to-date information on the job subsidy scheme as it is two years since the government committed to spending £1 billion on tackling youth unemployment. Given the poor performance of the job subsidy element, the TUC fears that much of this money has not been spent and is calling on the government to publish an update on its pledged investment.
TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said: “Young people leaving education are understandably looking at the current labour market with fear and uncertainty. They know that finding a decent job will be difficult, with many accepting part-time and low-paid irregular work – or even working for free – as they try in desperation to get a foot on the ladder.
“While recent falls in unemployment are welcome, there’s a long way to go before we see the rates of pay and employment enjoyed before the recession. The government needs to be far more proactive in helping young people into decent work.
“Current schemes are not working. It’s time for a bold new approach. We need to see a job guarantee for every young person who has been out of work for more than six months. No-one should object to ministers spending existing funds on a job guarantee that could provide a better future for unemployed youngsters, particularly as past experience has shown that these schemes tend to pay for themselves in the long run.”
NUS President Toni Pearce said: “We need an entirely new approach to tackle youth unemployment. The much-publicised recent fall in unemployment figures belies the stark reality faced by young workers across the UK, as more than 250,000 young people have been unemployed for longer than 12 months.
“It’s depressing to hear that students are pessimistic about their job prospects before they’ve even set foot out of the door of their institutions. Apprentices working to get a vocational job don’t have it any easier.
“We are the first generation who stands to be worse off than their parents. Everybody from government to business, unions to youth employment experts must play a role in repairing the damage which has been done to the opportunities for the next generation.”
Speakers at the conference today include Frances O’Grady and the Secretary of State for Business Innovation and Skills, Vince Cable. The summit will feature contributions from across businesses, unions, youth bodies, social enterprises and research institutes.
At the summit the NUS will launch a Commission on the Future of Work, which is to take oral and written evidence and develop recommendations for action. The Commission’s findings will be informed by the input of key partners, experts and opinion formers.