With the general election just a few months away political parties from all sides of the spectrum are rolling out their manifestos and beginning to reveal their plans for the future, from the NHS to immigration. The big plans this year, however, are related to youth unemployment in the 18-21 age group and the various parties’ approaches to tackling this. In particular, the Tories’ controversial plans for unemployment benefits have taken the media by storm.
David Cameron announced this week that as part of his election campaign, he is proposing a complete re-shuffle of the unemployment benefit when applied to young people. Under the new scheme, 18-21 year olds would no longer receive Jobseekers allowance but instead receive ‘youth allowance’ of the same amount. Claimants will only be allowed to receive this benefit for six months under the proposed plans before they have to undertake community service such as volunteering with local charities for up to thirty hours a week. The aim of this proposal is to attempt to lower the number of 18-21 year olds in long-term unemployment but has seen a number of critics question whether or not it will work.
The proposal will not affect those who have already completed six months of independent work experience before their benefits claim or the small number of recent university graduates who may fall under the category, but there have been many questions about the ethics of compulsory work for less than minimum wage, the equivalent of £1.91 per hour. The Prime Minister argues that the proposed plans will change the attitude of young people towards benefits, showing them that they will not be given money for nothing in this world but for those who have little or no choice this is very little consolation.
Labours plans for young people are somewhat different from the conservatives, although they follow similar principles, aiming to keep young people in employment and prevent them from becoming stuck in the benefits trap. They are proposing to introduce a ‘compulsory jobs guarantee’ scheme which would see young people who have been unemployed for a year offered a guaranteed six-month job, paid for by a tax on bankers’ bonuses. This scheme would also apply to adults over the age of 25 who have been claiming Jobseekers Allowance for two years or more, but would mean that young people who failed to comply with the scheme would lose their benefits altogether.
Whilst Labour’s scheme seems to be a much fairer approach to working for money than what the Tories are offering since those working under the ‘compulsory jobs guarantee’ would be earning minimum wage (which Labour are proposing to increase) those who fail to comply could find themselves a lot worse off than those on benefits. Labour are, however, planning to prevent young people from having to claim benefits in the first place by encouraging more companies to offer apprenticeships and schools to offer vocational subjects whilst ensuring more pupils continue to study maths and English to age 18.
Whoever wins the election in May, it’s safe to say that young people who are already struggling to find work will probably not be better off in the future. Despite political parties’ best attempts to make things better for those in a world that they will never understand, while none of these proposals are likely to motivate the young to vote.