Last week you may have caught an interesting analysis on cuts to youth benefits from the BBC Politics Editor, Nick Robinson. An analysis which I was already pondering on given the Labour Party’s much heralded new policy to cut benefits to the under-21s, following hard on the heels of the Tories promising to cut housing benefit to the under-25s.
So it’s open season on young people it seems and I agree with Nick Robinson’s conclusion “Hush hush whisper who dares… there is widespread agreement about the need to cut benefits for young people but it doesn't suit the political parties to admit this so they're trying to keep it secret”.
There are elements of the Labour proposal which I support. Of course it’s important to get young people doing something meaningful, but why should those who don’t have A-levels or equivalent be discriminated against? And anyway, I thought we had legislation against age discrimination? And the reality on the ground, as expounded at a TUC event I attended last year made clear, the job market is becoming polarised, with a mix of a few highly skilled, highly paid roles and lots of low or no skilled jobs. Talk to young people who are paying a fortune for their higher education, for how many of them is this still a route to higher skilled, higher paid work? A fact confirmed to an extent by the news that most student loans will never be repaid in full. The fact is that young people, particularly young people from black and minority ethnic communities, are more likely to be unemployed – there are still not enough jobs to go round. Let’s invest in creating those jobs and supporting young people to realise their dreams. For those who have already been let down by the system this means designing programmes that they can engage with and that employ a holistic approach recognising that a tick box approach will not work.
So why is it that young people are becoming such a target for the main political parties? Could it be… I hesitate to suggest… that they just don’t vote? Recently I heard from a leading youth organisation that their young people had been told directly by a senior minister that this was the reason their needs were largely ignored. I’m glad to say that this spurred on the young people to get their peers registered to vote, engaged and voting. But it’s an uphill struggle and a reminder to us all of the importance of connecting young people with the decisions that affect their lives.
Linda Jack is a member of the Parliamentary Policy Committee for Education, Young People and Families, and former member of the Federal Policy Committee