The Guardian, Wednesday 8 January 2014 21.00 GMT
Rather than being caused by the limitations of the education system, or the absence of role models, the large increase in youth joblessness highlighted by Christina Patterson (Comment, 4 January) is the product of major changes in the economy and occupational structure – changes that have been greatly accentuated by the recession. Just as serious is the situation where, rather than lacking skills, many more young people now find they are underemployed, having ended up in jobs for which they are overqualified, with around 40% of university leavers ending up in non-graduate jobs.
Although now a major international problem, countries such as Germany, for example, have at least been able to limit youth unemployment by continuing to operate national apprenticeship systems which ensure high levels of employability, and which both employers and trade unions are actively involved. This type of system may not be easily implemented here, but new types of economic policies are desperately required if young people are to be prevented from sliding further into despair. Central to this is a recognition that jobs for young people need to be created, rather than being left to market forces. But also that it’s almost as expensive to keep a young person out of work as it is to employ them. Of course, this would require a major redirection and redistribution of resources and the increases in public spending that Labour and the coalition now both reject.
Without a major change in policy direction, however, the excellent work of the Princes Trust will never be enough.
Dr Martin Allen
• Christina Patterson illustrates the extent to which the «work programme isn’t working». But the problem is not so much the programme as the policy. With fewer than one vacancy for every four people unemployed, even if both were well-matched geographically a «success» rate of less than 25% would be possible. As they aren’t, the 10% figure she quotes may be quite a good performance. A policy change that would bring about an improvement is less deflation of economic activity and more reflation. This might seem unnecessary when economic growth seems to be picking up anyway, but if it is just a cyclic rebound it will not be sustained without a change in policy.
• George Osborne’s proposed cuts of £12bn to the welfare budget should be of no surprise (Report, 7 January). For too long, commentators have accused this government of incompetence. This is only true about presentation and detail. In terms of overall ideology, it has been remarkably successful. It is a staggering achievement to convince people that the world economic crisis caused by the banking industry, hedge-fund expansion and corporate mismanagement at the most powerful financial institutions was the fault of the poor, the unemployed and the disabled.
The very fact that opinion polling shows a relatively narrow gap between Labour and Conservative parties, and the acceptance of the need for further welfare cuts, is proof of the coalition’s success. Postwar history shows that only one other government comes close to such success in implementing an ideological programme: the Attlee government of 1945-51. In that case, it was a benign ideology aimed at ending poverty, deprivation and gross inequality. This government’s ideology is the exact opposite.
Dr Chris Morris