The idea of giving young people aged 18-21 guaranteed access to education or training or help to find work is obviously a good one, but why spoil it by proposing that such persons should receive a means-tested ‘youth allowance’ at a rate perhaps even lower that the current job seeker’s allowance (JSA)? The latter is already paid at the extremely low level of £72.40 a week (£10.34 a day) for adults aged over 25 – almost the lowest rate of unemployment benefit anywhere in Europe – and for those aged below 25 the rate actually falls to no more than £57.35 a week (£8.19 a day). It is now proposed in the IPPR report published yesterday that they will only get this princely bauble if they already had the skills to secure a job or were in vocational training.
A successful training policy depends on three principles. One is an economic policy that favours growth over continued downward pressure on economic demand (i.e. prologed austerity) so that there widespread opportunities for well-paid, high-skilled, high-productivity jobs. Today there are still 2.3 million people unemployed who can’t find such jobs since they are scarcely available. Of the 1.5 million jobs the government boasts it has created, two-thirds are in self-employment on a pittance income and the overwhelming majority of the remainder are in low-paid, insecure or zero hours contracts jobs. The second requirement is good-quality trainers, not the likes of A4E or Serco who cherry-pick the most able or motivated young people to get the government’s bounty, but focus much less on others who thereby lose not only job opportunities by work benefits as well. And the third requirement is a positive programme that fires up young people’s enthusiasm, not one super-charged with sanctions.
Why does Labour so often follow the Tory line whilst tweaking it a bit to remove the rough insensitivities, but still sticking to the same Tory principles? Why have we accepted the Tory policy of austerity for reducing the budget deficit when growth would do the job far quicker? Why have we gone along with the Tory canard that people on unemployment benefit are all skivers or shirkers when they desperately want a good job, but it’s not available when there are 4 times more people on the dole than there are job vacancies available? Why have we fallen for the ugly Tory practice of sanctioning people (i.e. depriving them of all benefits) even for the slightest offence when the number of deliberate miscreants is tiny and the real problem is the system’s failure to offer the sufficient incentives?