Youth today: unemployed or unemployable?

Saturday 20 October, 1.30pm until 3.00pm, Frobisher Auditorium 2

For many commentators, the riots in England during August 2011 were a consequence of youth unemployment and despair. With over one million youths aged 16-24 currently unemployed in the UK, and a sharp rise in the number of young people who have been claiming unemployment benefit for more than a year, joblessness among the young is a pressing social and economic problem. Moreover, Europe’s youth more broadly are said to be a generation who can expect to grow up poorer than their parents, with 5.5million 15- to 24-year-olds without a job in the EU, a rate of 22.4 per cent, up from 15 per cent in early 2008.

Nevertheless, unemployment among the young has been a feature of British society before. In the past people often moved to find work; today a record number of young people remain at home living with their parents. Some employers suggest the young are little practised in the habits of work. While some campaigners dubbed the coalition government’s welfare-to-work programme as ‘slave labour’, Marks and Spencer’s CEO Stuart Rose defended it as ‘getting people into the routine of working, making sure they are up in the morning… (that) they’re presentable… arrive on time… know what it’s like to have a properly constructed work programme’. Certainly, lack of jobs seems only part of the story. Under New Labour, the job market expanded with close to a million new jobs created; yet the vast majority of vacancies were filled by young foreign workers. Even in the current recession, young migrants fill jobs British youth won’t touch. Job agencies prefer foreign workers because employers complain of a poor work ethic among young Britons, while failures in basic literacy and numeracy also prevent many young Britons securing work.

Do young people just need more get up and go and a more ‘can do’ attitude, or are such cultural explanations for unemployment merely a cover for a sluggish market’s failure to provide work opportunities? Should we accept uncritically that unemployment and poverty can have a destructive long-term impact on young people? Or are there other malignant forces distorting young people’s sense of themselves and society? Does youth unemployment leave a permanent scar on young people’s future prospects, and were the riots related to their lack of opportunities? Are British youth more unemployable than unemployed?

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Tess Lanning
research fellow, Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR); author, From Learning to Earning: understanding the school-to-work transition in London

Jo Lopes
head of technical excellence, Jaguar Land Rover

Shiv Malik
freelance investigative journalist; co-author, Jilted Generation: how Britain has bankrupted its youth; contributor, Prospect

Peter Smith
director of tourism, St. Mary’s University College, Twickenham, London; co-author, Volunteer Tourism: the lifestyle politics of international development

Chair: Joel Cohen
communications manager, BeyondMe

Produced by
Joel Cohen communications manager, BeyondMe
Peter Smith director of tourism, St. Mary’s University College, Twickenham, London; co-author, Volunteer Tourism: the lifestyle politics of international development
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