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Aspiration Nation: where the young don’t even have a safety net

NO MORE BENEFITS BASEBALL CAPThere are 1.09 million people between the ages of 16 to 24 who are neither earning nor learning. They can’t find jobs, but are unwilling to retrain. There are some who have, since leaving school, actively refused to improve themselves through the dignifying act of work and plan to live, forever, on jobseekers’ allowance. This is a terrible, expensive state of affairs. But there is no need to worry, because as was made clear at The Conservative party conference, the Tories are planning to swoop in and give them what for.

In plans that I, perhaps naively, found shocking in their sweeping severity, the Conservatives have announced the potential reduction and removal of benefits for the under 25s. All at a time when there are at least three applicants chasing every job vacancy.

This is, strangely, never mentioned by the Tory party. Backed up by an agenda-driven section of our media, it’s much more convenient for them to tar the unemployed as deliberately work-shy than to admit there simply aren’t enough jobs. And, beyond this, many of the jobs that do exist are insecure, part time, or take full advantage of  zero-hour contracts.

People are working without the rights – holiday, sick pay, and procedures for fair dismissal – that took the working class a hundred years of campaigning to get in the first place. Ignored by statistics on unemployment, they also aren’t earning enough to be independent of government help. Indeed the welfare system frequently props up private companies unwilling to fulfil their end of the bargain and provide meaningful, secure work.

But it’s set to get worse. Young people out of university and relying on temping agencies could find themselves bereft of housing benefit in the months between temporary contract jobs. Their chances of permanent employment – in areas they paid thousands of pounds to be qualified to work in – would be vastly decreased as they are forced to move back home and take whatever job they can find locally. Forget about living in expensive places such as London, or even to travel anywhere for interview.

As it stands, you can already lose benefits for doing an internship or voluntary work. When I was signing on, and I raised the potential of interning, the advice I was given was breathtaking. Move to London, pretend I wasn’t doing one, and claim housing benefit – because there was no way I could afford the £600 a month commute on Jobseekers Allowance.

Without even this dreadful option, those who are expected to work for free after training at university will have absolutely no means of doing so. This is, essentially, cutting off people from less affluent backgrounds from the careers they desire, which doesn’t sound much like an Aspiration Nation to me.

For young adults with complicated family lives, chronic but not entirely debilitating illnesses, or little education, the picture looks even bleaker. If you have no family to rely on, you can’t find work or the work you do find is hellishly insecure, what do you do when your housing benefit is taken away?

How will those living with illness cope, as they are passed over for jobs when gaps in their employment and absences at work are noted? They’ll be given absolutely nothing. It will force those with supportive families into further dependence and delayed adulthood, whilst strangling their opportunities. As for those  with no one to turn to, we’re talking ruined lives. No chance of ‘aspiration’ at all.

The Conservatives have conjured the image of a feckless youth. In David Cameron’s world, there are 16 year olds who leave school, sign on, and opt out of working life. Graduates, like Cait “Poundland” Reilly, who refuse grow up and face the real world.

Us young ones, well, we simply won’t get our act together. In the picture the Tories paint, this is an age group that has been spoon fed for too long by an over-generous government and will have to be nagged, pushed and guided into work. The young may not be malicious, they say, but a childhood under Labour has instilled the them with laziness. And Daddy Cameron is about to get tough and take our pocket money away.

The sort of person who announces “what this generation needs is a good war!” may be convinced, but this is a hackneyed, insulting and, ironically, utterly lazy way for a government to paint it’s young people. The Tories are once again manipulating reality to suit their own ideological agenda.

They know it will please those who have been persuaded that their struggle to make ends meet can be entirely blamed on the welfare state, but it is thoroughly dishonest and damaging.

And who’s saying it? Men of astronomical privilege, demanding we strip away a safety net that they or their children would never need. No surprises then.

One Comment

  1. Robert says:

    It’s always the Tories but it was labour that started this, we had Blair screaming about McDonald apprenticeships.

    The fact is if Miliband came back in tomorrow we be in the same mess, we do not have the factories or the jobs to get these young people into work.

    The problem is wait until Tesco and Asda decide to close the shops that do not make the big profits then we see the mess get really big.

    I’m disabled and I have been through labour new deal Pathways to work and workfare, what a load of utter tripe.

    None of the parties have an idea, and now we are trying to get our young back to work and sadly we do not have the jobs.

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