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Opinion Broken dreams

Henry McLeish

Unemployment among 16-24 year olds in Scotland has reached 100,000. Tese latest figures are not merely a consequence of current austerity policies, cuts and recession. Tey require us to have a radical rethink of how we view the young unemployed and how we integrate the large numbers of 16-19 year olds into society as they transition into adulthood. Unemployment and the “not being in education, training or employment” is more than just a market failure or the inevitable consequence of capitalism or a sluggish labour market; it is about the young person as a human being with needs that have to be met so they can make a contribution, be independent, have an income, dignity, freedom and a future. Why is it that in a society that attaches so much importance to work and the work ethic as the core of our civilised existence, we can allow so many young people to have no work and in the process deny them the access to the means of acquiring a positive role in our society? We must recognise too the inextricable links

between the young unemployed and inequality, the geography of poverty, lack of social mobility and families that have experienced unemployment over generations. In our unfair, socially divided, unequal and resentful society, we ignore the plight of the young unemployed at our peril. Ever since William Beveridge identified the

five evils the welfare state was set up to tackle – idleness, want, disease, squalor and ignorance – there has been a fierce, partisan debate about unemployment. In recent years Norman Lamont, Tory Chancellor, captured one view when he said, “unemployment was a price well worth paying”, laying bare the idea that the unemployed were just another economic variable alongside interest rates and inflation. Sadly as a society we have bought into this idea. Over the past 30 years very little has been done, by society or successive governments, to address the underlying issues. Creating a dedicated Government Minister

for Youth Employment with a budget of £30m is a sensible but still limited response which most people will welcome. In addition to spending more money the new minister should address current employment issues, training and education provision for young people: the remarkable fragmentation of effort and waste; the lack of clear and workable objectives; the unnecessary duplication and competition; the failure of many secondary schools to ensure more demanding levels of literacy and

going into colleges and universities next year as government cuts start to bite and student numbers are unable to be maintained. But more radical long term thinking is needed if unemployment among this vulnerable age group is to be tackled. First, the depth of current economic conditions and the prospect of a new recession will only make matters worse. We are then likely to see a jobless recovery or jobless growth as so many firms seek to remain competitive and productive and not risk increasing costs. Second, where are the new jobs to be found, especially for the young unemployed with basic or no qualifications? (Tis raises again the question of why we produce so many young people without basic education learning skills – a mind should be a terrible thing to waste). Tird, are we creating surplus labour by a series of measures, such as: outsourcing jobs to low-wage countries, continuing computerisation and mechanisation of manufacturing and services, continuing increases in worker productivity and the unwillingness of many employers to consider employing people who have been unemployed for a long time? Fourth, are the many European

“In our unfair, socially divided, unequal and resentful society, we ignore the plight of the young unemployed at our peril”

numeracy; a poorly resourced careers and employment advisory service; a reluctance by many large employers to take on difficult or long-term unemployed young people; and the realisation that greater investment in education and learning in schools and colleges will provide a better long-term return to the economy and society than more training places, which merely play catch up for the lack of basics in earlier years. Tere is also the problem of fewer students

workers who are properly working in Scotland and providing good quality and efficient employees nonetheless adding to the dilemma by taking jobs in services that Scots simply don’t want?

All of this leaves us with a real employment dilemma. If modern capitalism in its current form is likely to eliminate more jobs than it creates and the public sector continues to be an enemy of the present coalition and employment opportunities slump, what hope is there for those 100,000 young unemployed who are seeking to find a place and a purpose in a modern Scotland?

What could be done to prevent a future where

fewer people find work? Both the private and public sectors will have to think radically in terms of labour intensive economic growth and innovation. We need to think in a completely different way

if we are to preserve Scotland as a healthy and fair society; otherwise, we risk creating conflict between the have-jobs and the have-nones. Broken futures should have no part to play in the future of our country.

12 December 2011 67

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