Socialist Worker

A generation betrayed by New Labour

Sadie Robinson writes on the outrage of a million young people left the dole

Issue No. 2167

Mass youth unemployment has returned to Britain in a way not seen since the worst days of Margaret Thatcher’s Tory government of the 1980s.

The number of young people who are out of work is climbing towards one million. Nearly one in five of 16 to 24 year olds who want to work can’t find a job.

Coupled with cuts in education, this means that many young people have nowhere to go.

Gordon Brown’s mantra is that “training” will help people get a job.

Yet even those with qualifications are spending months languishing on the dole while they try to find work.

Leon left school when he was 16, but went back to study later and now has a degree. Despite his qualifications, he has only recently found temporary work after being jobless for over a year. “The system is cheating young people,” he told Socialist Worker.

“Being unemployed is a painful experience. It’s disheartening.

“You work hard and study but what difference does it make? People’s skills are going to waste.”

Marie graduated from Manchester university this year. “From the day I graduated I’ve been applying for jobs,” she told Socialist Worker.

“But I keep getting told I don’t have enough experience. Young people are encouraged to get an education, but when you’ve finished you just feel worthless.

“There are so many people applying for every job. One adviser at the Jobcentre told me that most places would need a full-time worker just to sort through all the job applications.

“So a lot of the time, my application probably isn’t even read. It can really start to hit your confidence.”

In the 1980s more than one million young people were on the dole. Most working class parents didn’t expect their children to be facing the same situation today. They feel that their children have been abandoned.

Joe Henry is an ex-miner living in Doncaster. He is now a teacher and sees the impact the recession is having on young people first hand.

“There are strong parallels between the 1980s and today,” he told Socialist Worker. “I see kids getting qualifications but ending up on the dole. Doncaster is an unemployment blackspot.

“All the manufacturing industries and big factories have gone. Kids end up in McJobs – they are on the margins of employment.


“The government says that kids need training, that unemployment is their fault rather than the fault of the system. But we educate and train kids up and there are no jobs to go to.

“At the college in Doncaster the bosses are laying lecturers off – at a time of mass unemployment!

“I left school in 1972 aged 15 and I had a choice of five different jobs to go to. Then in the late 1970s unemployment started to rise.

“For people like me, who had grown up with the idea of ‘cradle to the grave’ welfare state, it was a shock.

“When we in the pits went on strike in 1984, we weren’t just fighting for our jobs.

“We were fighting for the right for our kids to have work in the future. The feeling was that you shouldn’t take redundancy because it wasn’t your job to give up – it was a job for your kids.”

The scandal of soaring youth unemployment has forced Gordon Brown to announce plans to unveil a new set of measures to “tackle” the issue.

But true to form, his new “initiative” – Backing Young Britain – will not help young people, but instead panders to business interests.

It offers firms handouts to try to persuade them to employ young people on a voluntary basis, or to run “work trials”.

A government fund will offer some employers a £1,000 “subsidy” if they take on young workers.

Given the scale of the problem, this is unlikely make even a small dent in the unemployment figures.

Brown’s scheme mirrors demands from the bosses’ CBI organisation that the government hands companies £2,500 for each extra apprentice they train.

The fact that bosses think they can hold the government to ransom, and refuse to employ people unless the state pays them to, is disgusting.

But it’s little wonder that they feel confident to do so. The government has bent over backwards to appease big business since the start of the crisis.

New Labour has sunk billions into the banks while refusing to take control of them.

It has shown that the money exists to invest directly and create jobs. But Brown won’t even step in to save existing jobs that are under threat.

For many of those who lived through the recession of the 1980s, Brown’s plans will hark back to the hated “youth training schemes” that did little more than allow bosses to exploit young people as cheap labour.

For young people, being out of work means more than just being poor for a while – it means they are also likely to earn lower wages in the future.

The protest at the Labour Party conference in Brighton later this month should be a howl of anger at a government that is standing by while a generation’s lives are thrown away.

“The demonstration is really important,” said Marie. “It’s better to go and protest than to sit at home sulking.

“If we all get together then the government will see how angry people are and it won’t be able to ignore us.”

March on New Labour’s conference
Brighton, Sunday 27 September
For • Jobs • Education •Peace
Backed by UCU, NUJ, PCS, the Fight for the Right to Work Campaign and others »

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Tue 1 Sep 2009, 19:16 BST
Issue No. 2167
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