Monday, 19 March 2012

Youth challenge

We can all see the effects that cuts in public expenditure are having. What may surprise and concern you is that, by the end of this month, we will only have seen the effect of 6% of the cuts that the coalition government has agreed in the spending plans. Many families – especially low income working families – are going to start to experience massive reductions in their total income as cuts in working families’ tax credits and housing benefits begin in April.

Young people – and their families – were hit quickly, with the cuts to education maintenance allowances and the hike in tuition fees. This has been compounded by the massive rise in youth unemployment – already more than one million and growing; the highest since records began in 1992 – and £200 million cuts in youth services provided by local councils.

This comes despite the claim by Education Secretary Michael Gove that the Government is "protecting the frontline", and especially when we learn that Liberal Democrat (eg Kingston on Thames cut 100%) and Conservative (eg Peterborough 90% and Westminster 70%) controlled councils have made the biggest cuts in youth services between 2008 and now. The picture locally is mixed. Rotherham has cut by 58% and Doncaster by 20%, whilst Sheffield increased by 12% and Barnsley increased by 162%.

A report ‘Hidden Talents’ published this week suggests that attempts to get more than one million young people into work are being hampered by excessive bureaucracy, duplication and central government control. Young people aged people aged 13 to 24 receive support from at least eight different national organisations, who fund 33 different schemes and span 13 different age boundaries.

NEETs - young people, not in employment, education or training for more than 12 months - are growing at a faster rate than any other and have doubled in four years to 260,000. This means one in four young people out of work is now classed as long term unemployed and more likely to be living on benefits in later life. If the government is serious about tackling this challenge, it should devolve the budgets and responsibilities to local councils to work with local partners and agencies. That would be real localism.

Meanwhile, in the budget, a tax on bankers’ bonuses to fund 100,000 jobs for young people would be a good start.