Among the many serious challenges that will face an incoming government after the next election, one of the most urgent will be tackling Labour’s jobs crisis, which this year has seen almost 2,000 people a day lose their job. Although this has affected all sections of society and all parts of the country, it is a crisis that has particularly affected young people.
One in five young people cannot find a job. We have the highest level of youth unemployment in Europe. The task for a new government will be to support both the job-ready young people who are unemployed as a result of the recession as well as those who have become disengaged from work and training because of structural problems resulting from Labour’s long-term failures.
Tackling worklessness is not just a matter for one government department or agency. It is the job of all of us. We need small businesses freed from the regulations and red-tape that have hampered them. We need to promote science and innovation and develop new industries across the country. We need the economy to grow. We need volunteering opportunities and engagement with charities and social enterprises. And we need better education and more apprenticeships so that young people have the chance to succeed. The benefits of work for our young people go far beyond simply that of receiving an income. Worklessness doesn’t just result in poverty of wealth, it also creates poverty of aspiration and that is why it is so important that we intervene early to give young people the support they need.
A Conservative government will introduce a single, fully-funded integrated programme of welfare to work – The Work Programme – which will cover more people, intervene earlier and be more focused on results than the current system. In doing so, we will replace the various New Deal programmes as well as Pathways to Work, which have not had the success that many hoped for. Crucially, we will give faster help to those who need it most – the young and the long-term unemployed.
We believe a young person is in real need of help once they have been out of work for six months. Unlike Labour’s programmes we will not let young people wait ten or twelve months for specialist help; and unlike Labour’s Young Person’s Guarantee, which diverts young people away from welfare to work providers, we feel it is essential that this earlier intervention and increased support is an integrated part of welfare reform.
But during the recession we also recognise that job opportunities are harder to come by. So as part of our Youth Action for Work scheme we will provide extra training opportunities to supplement and compliment the Work Programme. Over two years we will create an additional 200,000 apprenticeships and training places, partly by offering incentives to small and medium sized enterprises. We will create up to 100,000 work pairing places to set young people up with sole traders. We will provide 100,000 additional training places with Further Education colleges – and by freeing them up from the bureaucracy of the Learning and Skills Council we will give them greater power to work with local partners to provide the courses that will be of most benefit to students.
The challenges that we face are great, and the context in which we face them daunting. Our society and our economy cannot afford to lose out on the potential that is currently being wasted. We can no longer write off young people who have something to offer. Giving them hope, and helping all our citizens to fulfil their promise, will be central to re-building a strong economy for the future.