Just the jobs
by Matt Grist
Nick Clegg today finally announced some substantive measures from the Government on youth unemployment. What he offered is more or less something Demos argued for way back in February in our report The Forgotten Half – a subsidy on employers who take on workers under twenty-five (although the Government’s offer of a subsidy of £2,275 over six months is more generous than our idea). Where the money is going to come from is as yet unclear, but in lieu of knowing that, well done to the Government for finally doing something to create jobs for the young.
The good thing about these job subsidies, compared to the last government’s Future Jobs Fund, is that they are on real jobs in the private sector, not jobs concocted in the public sector. In an economic downturn employers just need an extra boost of confidence to nudge them into investing in a new job and these subsidies will hopefully provide that.
Another good thing about the ‘Youth Contract’ Clegg announced is the £50 million targeted at 16-17 year-olds not in employment, education or training. In our report, Youth Labour’s Lost, we argued that the so-called ‘NEET’ problem is ill-defined because the category is so broad it includes stay-at-home parents and gap-year students. However, there are two real problems beneath the statistics: 16 and 17 year-olds not in education or training, and those over 18 who spend more than a few months unemployed.
So it’s nice to see targeted action on 16-17 year-olds. But the rolling out of a further 250,000 ‘work experience’ places as the cure-all for 18-24 year-olds who are unemployed is less encouraging. There have been lots of stories of exploitation and unsupervised chaos around the work experience that has been on offer so far. Moreover, from our research we have found that work experience is beneficial only when it is good quality. When it is bad quality it can actually be damaging – knocking confidence and narrowing rather than broadening horizons.
We all want to see something done about youth unemployment but quantity over quality is never a good thing with government programmes (witness the massive recent roll-out of shoddy apprenticeships). By subsidising employment in the private sector the Government will at least create real jobs that have a chance of continuing once subsidy ends, and which will build genuine work habits and skills. The expansion of work experience, on the other hand, looks very much like being seen to be doing something. Strange, for a government premised on rejecting wasteful spending.