2014 can be a year for putting young people back near the top of the political agenda – and as a matter of urgency. This week’s report on research commissioned by the Princes Trust showed 40% of young people who were long term unemployed experienced symptoms of mental illness including suicidal thoughts. But it also claimed that 9% of the survey of 2000 16-24 year olds including those in work, agreed with the statement ‘I have nothing to live for’. Amongst those classified as NEET, the percentage was 21%. (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-25559089)
Despite the economy ‘improving’ youth unemployment isn’t really falling, but youth ‘underemployment’ –where the types of work somebody does not reflect the qualifications they hold –is probably as significant. Most of the attention has focussed on up to 40% of recent university leavers not being in graduate jobs. But graduates having to downsize, means that other less qualified young people are pushed further down the jobs queue and then others further still.
With a degree now considered to be basic currency for securing any type of secure job, it isn’t surprising that young people continue to flock to universities, despite the huge cost. But with the average graduate salary falling –some estimates now putting this as low as £26 000 for an established graduate ( not a starting salary) it isn’t surprising either that some of the government’s own advisors estimate that 40% of student loan debt will never be repaid.
Youth’s plight is now widely acknowledged, but it still doesn’t feature as a prominent political issue. For a start young people are less likely to vote and if they see the issues they face, being ignored, will be even less likely to. Youth’s plight is also often seen as part of a general crisis of education, made worse by the Coalition’s policy. Of course, education needs reforming, but even if ‘proper comprehensive’ education was restored, there’s no clear evidence that youth unemployment would automatically fall or that social mobility would really increase. Changes to education would need to be combined with radically different economic policies, for either of these to happen.
Education will continue to be a battleground as 2014 unwinds. Opposition towards Michael Gove will increase and there’s every likelihood that there’ll be further teachers strikes (http://www.teachers.org.uk/). Education campaigns shouldn’t be downplayed, but they need to broadened so that issues about what happens to young people after they leave school receive the same attention. Many young people have already shown support for striking teachers, but the process also has to work the other way.