Monday, 7 April 2008

Caring about our young people

As many of you know, I am the Chairman of the Prince’s Trust Technology Leadership Group. I am pretty passionate about this because I am concerned about the well-being of our young people. Currently, over 1.2m 16-24 year old are Not in Education, Employment or Training – the so-called NEETs. That figure is up from under 1m when Labour came to power in 1997. The number of NEETs is a very crude measure of the health (or otherwise) of our young people. Clearly many of them are not feckless or causing problems to ‘society’. However, too many are. Ignoring them is not an option because they will not ignore us.

I believe that every British youngster has something to contribute and our task should be to give them that chance and the encouragement to do something really useful with their lives.

There were three news items this week that related to the problems of youth employment, or rather unemployment, that caught my eye:.

- The Lords Economic Affairs Committee issued a report, which gained considerable publicity, on the Economic Impact of Immigration on the UK. One of the clear findings of the report was that “Given the age and skill profile of the new immigrants, native youngsters have been losing out in the battle for entry level jobs”. Because of the availability of immigrants with both higher skills – and often a better ‘work ethic’ – than local youngsters, employers were put off training local workers ‘particularly at the lower end’. For example, in 2006 there were 50,000 applicants for apprenticeships in the construction industry for 9000 places.

-Mr Justice Coleridge was widely reported for a speech he gave in Saturday about the collapse of family life. He said "What is certain is that almost all of society's social ills can be traced directly to the collapse of the family life. I am not saying every broken family produces dysfunctional children but I am saying that almost every dysfunctional child is the product of a broken family. What is government doing to recognise and face up to the emerging situation? The answer is: very little and nothing like enough".

- There is a growing rebellion over the axing of the 10% tax rate. This means that those earning less than £18,500 could pay higher tax. Many of these people find that Family Tax Credits will make up the difference. However, Tax Credits cannot be claimed by those without children or those in full time employment (rather than part time). Those people will pay several hundred pounds more each year in tax. I find this quite incredible. The very group that needs the most encouragement to work (rather than claim benefits), to get on the employment cycle (rather than be a NEET) and NOT to be a teenage parent, seem to be singled out to be hit! Did Gordon Brown really want this to happen when he introduced this in the 2007 Budget? Or was it another example of “Unintended Consequences” (like the changes to CGT)?

I feel very strongly that:

- we must give preference to our own youngsters. We must reduce the number of NEETs. We should do this not just by increasing the skill levels of our own youngsters but also by recognising that not all of them will be suitable for such further education. Therefore we must ensure that it’s our youngsters who get any low skilled jobs on offer.

- we must change attitudes towards the family. I had the incredible fortune of being brought up in a stable family consisting of a mother and father. I’d like to think that my two children had similar good fortune. The fact that we have ‘all turned out OK’ is testimony to the family as a bedrock of good society. We should do everything to ensure that families with mothers and fathers are fostered.

- we should give every economic incentive for our young people to work. I think the current proposals to increase the tax paid by many of the lowest paid youngsters is pretty despicable. Indeed, it seems pretty unacceptable that anyone earning, say, less than £12,000 pa should pay any tax at all.

Note - The opinions above are my own and not necessarily those of the Prince's Trust.

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