Hardly a day goes by without more bad news on youth unemployment. The latest figures on NEETs (a horrible de-humanising term for school leavers who are not in education, employment or training) show that the numbers rose between 2010 and 2011 to over eight per cent. The release of these statistics coincided with new polling which showed a near-complete collapse of support for the government among young people.
Does this government hate young people? Probably not. Does it belatedly realise it has a massive problem with youth unemployment? Yes it does. The Youth Contract was introduced by Nick Clegg because he and those around him recognised that the Work Programme was not designed to tackle this problem. The reintroduction of job subsidy was a tacit recognition that the abolition of the Future Jobs Fund had perhaps been a little hasty. It is yet to be seen whether giant Welfare to Work prime contractors will be able to deliver it. Suzanne Moore has written passionately about the subject in the Guardian. There has not been a worse time to be a young person in search of work since the last time Conservatives were in power.
The Coalition is not a great conspiracy against the young. It simply has no idea what to do about the entrenched problem of youth unemployment. Apprenticeships are part of answer, so are business start-ups and so is the encouragement of the creative and high-tech industries. But these need to take their place in a youth employment strategy to avoid a deepening of the crisis.
We also need to change the way we think about young people. It is true there is a small but growing group of young people (the NEETS) who are a long way from the labour market Ministers are well aware of this problem. But there is another problem, that of the far greater number of young people, including well-qualified graduates, who would have found work in better economic times. These young people are sick of being blamed for a predicament not of their making.