Comment: Govt kicks away ladders of support for young people

Labour left good foundations in the system of support for young people, but the government is taking a wrecking ball to that.

By Nic Dakin

It is our responsibility to ensure our young people have a better future than their parents and their grandparents. Now – thanks to the actions of this government – that is in jeopardy.

We know how motivating it is for someone to get onto a course or get into a job. It is particularly motivating for young people. I know this from my 30 years experience in education, most recently as principal of John Leggott College in Scunthorpe. Students grow in confidence in their first few weeks. Encouraged and enthused by staff they become amazed at their own abilities. Talent is unlocked and potential realised.

We've all observed – I'm sure – how someone loses interest in life, becomes irritable with friends and family and is in danger of sinking into idleness as a result of weeks of worklessness. And how that same person suddenly grows in stature and confidence in their first few weeks of work. Work is transformational for young people.

Sadly youth unemployment is now rising. With the economy stuttering young people are particularly vulnerable. I have a real worry that many will not learn the habits of employment but sink into worklessness, creating future problems for themselves and society.

And the number of those 'not in education employment and training' (Neets) rose by 18.4% in the last quarter. The prime minister answered my question on this by saying that this was not the case for 16-18 year olds. Yet, as I pointed out to him at this week's prime minister's questions, the Department for Education's published figure for 16-18 year old Neetss show a rise of 27,000 from 162,000 in the last quarter of 2010, making the total 189,000. To show he understands the problem the prime minister should start by recognising the reality of these figures. He should correct the record, roll up his sleeves, respond to the challenge and get on with the job.

Instead this government is kicking away the ladders of support that were transforming the life chances of the next generation. As a sixth form college principal I witnessed how the educational maintenance allowance (EMA) significantly improved attendance, retention and achievement and was helping to tackle some of the most deep seated issues by raising aspirations. The EMA is now scrapped.

At Crosby Employment Bureau in Scunthorpe, I was privileged to see firsthand the impact of work on youngsters provided by the future jobs fund. From being listless and desperate they became focused and enterprising. With the majority progressing onto jobs at the end of the programme this was a real success. A success for individuals, but also for society. This is now scrapped.

Not only are the EMA and the future jobs Fund to disappear, the September guarantee and aim higher funding are to go as well. Tuition fees are trebled, university places slashed and youth services cut. Only apprenticeships are saved from the axe – and thank goodness they are. But they, on their own, will not deliver the future our young people deserve.

We need to be able to look our young people in the eye and say to them we are determined to give them a good future. We need to encourage them to study and ensure that that study leads to work. These are simple challenges but ones we must respond to. And the past was not perfect. The EMA, the future jobs fund, higher education and other support services could be improved from where the Labour government left them. But good government should build positively on the foundations it inherits. Instead this government has taken a wrecking ball to the infrastructure of support for young people. Instead of investing in skills it wastes opportunity.

It is not too late to think again. The government needs to be honest with itself and the country about the rising level of youth unemployment. It needs to recognise the figures, not quibble with them. Above all else it needs to put in place a robust plan to ensure young people realise their potential so that the UK can realise its own.

Nic Dakin has been Labour MP for Scunthorpe since 2010.

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