Youth unemployment, a ticking time bomb…
Firstly, let me doing something I rarely do on this blog, give David Miliband some credit. He is absolutely right to raise the issue of youth unemployment and the ‘ticking time-bomb’ nature of it as a problem. Sadly, Mr Milibands intervention on this issue has been side-tracked by the media into being all about a continuation (or otherwise) of the ‘Mili-drama’ that Labour finds itself caught in – I rather fear that any of his interventions into politics are going to suffer from this kind of framing for a long time to come.
Youth unemployment is not only scarring for the individuals concerned but also for the societies that suffer from its blight. Indeed, one of the key initial catalysts for the Arab Spring was high unemployment rates amoung young workers and the recently graduated. Mr Miliband’s proposed solutions deserve consideration, primarily he wants to extend both the number and reach of apprenticeships offered and wants to improve vocational, non-university based, educational opportunities.
Nothing wrong with this in and of itself. Indeed, the idea of a clearing system similar to the one university’s operate for apprenticeships is a sensible and timely one. Furthermore, vocational educational opportunities should be extended. However, we need to seriously address the structural flaws with the apprenticeships scheme, even as constituted under the previous Labour government. The primary problem with these, and the flaw in Mr Milibands proposals, is that they fall into the trap of saying ‘never mind the quality, feel the quantity’.
It is not acceptable for apprenticeships to become a by-word for slave labour and neither should we accept the false juxtaposition between jobs and wages. The new wheeze of the ruling elite, and this is especially and sadly true of the Labour leadership, is to say well, we will create jobs, but at low wage rates and only if those in work and those taking part in these schemes accept poverty wages. This is a Hobson’s choice. Poverty wages cost the state money – they cost the state money because what the private sector doesn’t pay in wages, the state ends up having to pay out in welfare. Furthermore, poverty pay for apprentices means they become a tool to undercut the existing workforce. Again, you end up paying out in welfare because other people end up on the dole; this is not to mention the impact on consumption patterns etc, etc. So, poverty pay is a false economy, costing the state money and ultimately other people their jobs.
Another way is possible. Look way over the big pond to Australia and you see a government which is committed to ending poverty pay apprenticeships. Obviously, there is at least one Labor Party in the world that there is absolutely no contradiction between providing good wages and jobs for people. How will you fund this I hear people say, well how about ending corporation tax relief on high-pay for a start? Surely it is only right that those on high wages subsidise decent wages and sustainable jobs for those at the bottom of the rung? It is a tragedy that both Mr D and Mr E Miliband cannot see the validity of these basic, common-sense points. If they did then they would not be proposing quite the things they actually are. Another point that arises from this is that people won’t stay in jobs which can’t keep them afloat and ultimately, who can blame them?
It is of course right that Labour as a Party should be committed to ending this blight on our society, Labour should always be the Party of work, and of fairly sharing the proceeds of our socially produced wealth in work. However, we have to be careful that we do it in the right manner, one that provides sustainable job opportunities and doesn’t fall into the jobs v wages false framing of the right.