No budget for the young

The latest blog from Martin Allen at Education, Economy and Society argues that the Tories have learnt nothing and wonders if Labour will put young people’s concerns at the forefront of its policies.


With young voters flocking to Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour in the last General Election you’d think the Tories would have wanted to use this week’s budget as an opportunity to win back some lost ground.

But, as one disaster follows another, May and Hammond are just as desperate to shore up their existing support and so, unless you are London based, in a ‘career’ job and with parents able to stump up a large slice of a deposit (by itself, the change does nothing to improve a person’s ability to save) for a bargain £300 000 first-time buy, there’s nothing that can remotely help you refill that fridge, never mind pay off the overdraft.

The £350 increase in the level you start paying income tax – worth about £70 a year, will certainly exempt a fair few from tax altogether, yet if full-time students in part-time jobs are excluded, only half of 18-24-year olds are in the labour market. By comparison, there’s been a £1350 increase in the 40% income tax ceiling (it’s now £46,350). There’s no further moves on student tuition fees (May has previously announced an increase in the repayment threshold and Parliament voted down new fee increases) and no direct reference to the need to rescue apprenticeships.

While recent developments have shown that increasing spending on education and training won’t necessarily lead to better employment outcomes; some schools will welcome the increased financial incentives for increasing the number of students taking Maths beyond GCSE. But even here, the amount is modest (£600 a student) and many employer representatives now argue that it would be better to have a broader post-16 curriculum rather than the current specialist one.

Young people have been affected the most from the fall in living standards since the economic downturn and approaching a third are estimated to be living in poverty, Labour will want to put their interests at the top of its agenda.


Youth Sector Briefing : The Happy Apprentice?


The Youth Sector Briefing mentions apprenticeships twice.

Firstly in underlining unity with the government’s policies the Briefing agrees with the objective,

Increase participation in apprenticeships and improve take up of apprenticeships among BME communities by 20%.

Secondly, becoming an apprentice is highlighted as an outcome par exemplar in the final stage of the Social Development Journey.

Applying life skills to access training and employment. Finding a role in the community and becoming a happy, contributing member of society (e.g. Starting an online business or becoming an Apprentice)

We’ll take up the issue of ‘becoming happy’ separately. Our concern here is what the government’s rhetoric about apprenticeships means in reality. We suggest the authors of the Briefing take heed of Martin Allen’s response to the Education Secretary’s instruction to schools to promote apprenticeships.

But the government’s own figures have continued to show only a minority of the 2 million apprenticeships created since 2010 have been for school-leavers – in 2014/15 just 20% of starts were by those under 19. Well over half of new starts have also been ‘low-level’ (being offered at Intermediate level – equivalent to GCSE, a level that most school leavers have already reached) and ‘dead-end’ (not leading to permanent employment, or allowing progression to higher levels of training). Meanwhile, ‘cutting edge’ apprenticeships in engineering and technology for example, are massively oversubscribed.

 Even Ofsted has published a damning report about apprenticeship quality:

‘Inspectors, observed for example, apprentices in the food production, retail and care sectors who were simply completing their apprenticeship by having existing low-level skills, such as making coffee, serving sandwiches or cleaning floors, accredited.  While these activities are no doubt important to the everyday running of the businesses, as apprenticeships they do not add enough long-term value.’ (Ofsted, 2015: 4)

Indeed we also drew attention to a Dispatches expose in a post, Apprenticeships. Channel 4 puts the boot in , once more drawing on Martin Allen’s painstaking monitoring of youth employment issues, which stretches back to the days of the MSC and Youth Opportunity Programmes.

Some three years after the BBC’s Panorama dramatically exposed the misuse of apprenticeship funding by the supermarket chain Morrison; this week’s Channel 4 Dispatches provided further disturbing evidence of how young people continue to be short changed, but also public money misspent, despite government reassurances that the reintroduction of apprenticeships has been a resounding success. Dispatches main target was the clothing chain Next, where young people taken on as ‘apprentices’ complained of low-pay, little if no proper training and worst of all, not even being given permanent employment at the end. Meanwhile, the company had continued to receive government funding – £1.8 million last year – to run a training program now rated ‘inadequate’ by Ofsted.

See also


Martin Allen and Patrick Ainley

At the very least the issue of apprenticeships and the role of youth work is less than straightforward.

Even OFSTED takes the piss out of apprenticeships!

Sobering news and analysis for those sucked into the government’s ’employability’ agenda. Thanks as ever to Martin Allen and Patrick Ainley at education, economy and society.

Skills Minister Nick Boles might be correct to claim that more people than ever are now currently on apprenticeships, but the government’s own data published last week shows it will struggle to create the 3 million (high quality) new apprenticeships promised by the end of the Parliament.

It’s true that the last academic year saw almost 500 000 starts, but 60% of these have been at Intermediate (GCSE) Level – a qualification most school leavers already have. In comparison barely a thousand 19 year olds started the Higher Level schemes that are being promoted as alternatives to university. Around 4 out of 10 new apprenticeships are still started by adults, many of whom are existing workers – while less than 1 in 5 new starts are by somebody 19 years old or under.

Ofsted will report on apprenticeships this week. Ofsted boss Sir Michael Wilshaw telling the BBC that the expansion of apprenticeships had ‘devalued the brand’ with ‘making-coffee’ and ‘cleaning floors’ being accredited. (He might have remembered that in April David Cameron launched a Costa-Coffee scheme as part of his election campaign) According to the BBC, Wilshaw (not usually right on much) claims some young people taken on in jobs classified as apprenticeships are not even aware they are on them. Quiet Likely!

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Young People to repay benefits by taking out a loan!?

Jobs Centre

Back in late 2008 when I penned the draft of the Campaign’s Open Letter I suggested that a window of opportunity might be emerging, that the system was in crisis [and I hadn’t been drinking]. Over six years later, whatever my hopes, neo-liberalism has survived scandal after scandal testifying to its inherent greed. Indeed the austerity, which serves only to widen inequality, continues to be imposed. The window is barely ajar. In this context we should take seriously the latest proposals from an influential group within the Tory Party. The war on young people and society at large continues apace.

Turn benefits into repayable loan, says Tory group

“Young individuals who have not yet paid national insurance contributions for a certain period, five years say, could receive their unemployment benefit in the form of a repayable loan.

“An unemployed teenager would still receive the same amount of cash as now, for example, but they would be expected to repay the value once in work.

“Turning an entitlement into a loan would mean that people would still be supported while out of work, but would have an additional incentive to find work rather than allow the debt to build up.”

Even if someone was out of work for the entire seven years between 18 and 25, “the total sum repayable would be £20,475 – considerably less than the tuition fees loan repayable by many of his or her peers”.

This is the neo-liberal version of equality. Students must pay for their education. Young people must pay in future for their benefits. Meanwhile the Market fails to deliver jobs.

See The NEET problem is also a jobs problem by Martin Allen

Yet the NEETs problem represents the sharp end of a wider youth employment problem. While there’s a notable correlation between low levels of qualifications and becoming NEET and that NEET’s are more likely to have lower levels of basic skills, at the other end of the spectrum is the increased numbers of youth people who are ‘over skilled’ and ‘underemployed’ in the work they do –OECD now puts this figure at I in 8.

This problem is particularly acute in the UK with up to a third of graduates having to take non-graduate jobs, resulting in the bumping down of those who would generally have done these jobs into lower skilled and lower paid employment. Because there’s been a more than proportionate increase in the growth of unskilled work, there’s been an even larger increase in the number of people or who are able to do it. Generally employers will favour those with more qualifications. But, something on which UK skills agencies regularly comment, unless there are proper incentives employers are less likely to want to employ young people without previous employment experience, when they can take on adults instead.

And for a view of the wider context,

George Osborne moves to peg public finances to Victorian values


Find below the latest  post from Martin Allen of RADICALED.

Paul Box/

Now well over 1 million (more than 1 in 5), youth unemployment will make headlines this week – yet measuring the extent of joblessness amongst young people is a complex process. To begin with these figures include up to 300,000 full-time students recorded as looking for work, but, as is the case with unemployment statistics generally, they do not include those who have given up seeking work and are now classified as ‘economically inactive’. A recent report from the International Labour Organisation (ILO) shows youth unemployment rates ranging from 43% in Spain to 8.9% in Germany, but also argues that ‘growing frustration has pushed a large cohort of discouraged youth to drop out of the labour market altogether’. Include these and youth unemployment in the UK could be approaching one-in-three 18-24 year olds who are not in full-time education.

Neither are there reliable figures on the extent of youth ‘underemployment’, although surveys suggest that as many as 30% of graduates report they are in jobs that don’t require skill levels concurrent with their educational qualifications. In other words, while youth unemployment continues to be disproportionately high amongst those without or with few qualifications, it is just as likely that, rather than unskilled jobs disappearing, they continue to be filled by those with more than enough qualifications to do them.

The Coalition ended the Labour government’s Future Jobs Fund because it was too ‘bureaucratic’ but they have no specific strategies for responding to youth unemployment; only the Work Programme where private contractors compete to find unemployed people jobs and are ‘paid by results’. In a different economic climate where employers were desperate to recruit, there may be some merit in this, but without jobs being available in the first place, young people may wait months, even years, before they find proper employment.

With the economy not only faltering but now also facing another recession, eminent economist David Blanchflower, who as a member of the Bank of England’s Monetary Policy Committee persistently argued for interest rate cuts before the last recession started, has called for 100,000 more university places on the grounds that ‘You’re getting people into university and getting them off the streets.’ (THE 09/11/11)

As well as increasing the likelihood of educational institutional becoming car parks or warehouses, Blanchflower’s proposals are also based on the assumption that there will continue to be a shortage of university places. With up to £9,000 a year fees to pay back we cannot assume this will continue. Evidence suggests that many of the 200,000 unsuccessful applicants withdrew from clearing last year because they weren’t able to find places in Russell or campus universities considered more likely to be able to deliver in the jobs race.

One thing increasingly clear is that many young people considering the ‘apprenticeship’ route into work will likely think again – unless they are able to gain a place at BT or Rolls Royce which even Education Secretary Michael Gove admits ‘are harder to get into than Oxford’. Coalition ministers now have egg on their faces over claims that they have already met their targets for creating additional apprenticeship places. Reports leaked to newspapers and independent research from the Institute for Public Policy Research show just 10 per cent of apprenticeships are going to youngsters aged 16 to 18. Instead, around 40 per cent go to people over the age of 25 while those going to workers over 60 have increased nearly tenfold. There’s also clear evidence employers are simply repackaging existing jobs and claiming the money.

Even in more prosperous times, youth unemployment has been higher than for the population as a whole. With government downgrading growth forecasts, in response to the Eurozone crisis, the situation facing young people is dire.
Martin Allen
Download e-pamphlet Why young people can’t get the jobs they want

Other pertinent links:

Young jobseekers told to work without pay or lose unemployment benefits

All work and no pay – the rise of workfare

Youth Unemployment Nears One Million!

In this piece Martin Allen argues that teachers and their organisations need to engage with a scenario, within which being unemployed has little to do with so-called employability. So too youth workers involved in programmes, which start from a spurious notion of individual adequacy – the young people lack the skills, confidence etc. – need to take a reality check.

As youth unemployment rises towards 1 million: new challenges for educators

The 80 000 increase in unemployment for the period April to June  (taking the total to 2.51 million and 7.9%)   intensifies the pressure on a bedraggled  Coalition  government . Much of this increase is the result  of  rises in youth unemployment – 20.8% of 16 to 24 year olds (973,000) are officially out of work.  Up 78,000 from the three months to April 2011 and likely to hit a million by the end of the year.   The number of unemployed 16 to 17 year olds increased by 1,000 on the quarter to reach 203,000 while the number of unemployed 18 to 24 year olds rose by 77,000 to reach 769,000.

In line with international guidelines, people in full-time education are included in the youth unemployment estimates if they are looking for employment and are available to work.  Excluding people in full-time education, there were 709,000 unemployed 16 to 24 year olds in the three months to July 2011, up 91,000 from the three months to April 2011.  Equally concerning, the number of young people not in full-time education but considered ‘economically inactive’ is  also up –  now  just under 800 000. Though many people in this category are not able to work, it includes those who have  ‘given up’ looking  for employment. With 25% of  economically inactive people as a whole saying  they ‘want a job’ – real levels of unemployment are much higher than official rates. This is particularly true with young people.

Publication of the unemployment figures have coincided with the announcement of plans for strike action in defence of pensions by the public sector unions.  The ONS figures (  show the largest ever recorded fall in the number of those in public sector jobs (employment in the public sector fell by 111 000 between March and June) and the number of people working part-time because they can’t find a full-time job is at its highest ever – 1.28 million.  There has also been a 40%  increase in the number of temporary workers unable to find a permanent job since the recession began. (

These labour market changes mean that public sector unions need to build careful alliances and link their pension demands to broader social objectives so as to maintain mass support for their actions. Nowhere is this more so than in education where, as young people pile up qualifications but are unable to secure the sort of   employment they deserve;  teachers and their organisations must help promote alternatives.

Martin Allen at radicaled: rethinking education, economy and society