Last week’s TUC report Stuck at the start provides clear evidence of the difficulties facing young workers. For example:
• 40 per cent of workers on agency contracts or in casual work are aged 16-24 and 36 per cent of workers on zero-hours contracts are aged under 25.
• Three fifths of younger workers are in poorly paid sectors like caring, sales, hotels and catering, or in elementary roles.
• 41 per cent of the young workers had to ask their family or friends for financial help due to a shortage of money.
• The average young worker is only £42 a week better off than young workers were 20 years ago. Yet the average older worker is £95 a week better off
The findings have much in common with those recently published by David Willetts and the Resolution Foundation Amongst other things, Resolution has called for a one-off ‘compensatory’ payment to young people while Willetts has continued to perceive the difficulties experienced by the young as being the result of a ‘generational divide’ – and wants a new ‘contract’ between them.
The TUC does not adopt this approach, it wants better pay and conditions for all workers. But it still sees the problems faced by the young as being the result of ‘exceptional’ circumstances ‘where productivity and GDP growth are exceptionally weak’ and a time where there has been ‘exceptionally low wage growth’. These have come together in a ‘perfect storm’ and prevented young workers from making proper and secure transitions into work without opportunities to progress
The reality is that the current generation are the first to be seriously confronted by global changes in work and employment, which, because of its more flexible labour markets, the significance of the financial crash and long-term deindustrialisation have taken place at a faster rate in the UK than in some other countries.
It’s unlikely that these changes will be easily overturned – for example, previous levels of pay and old types of job security won’t be restored just by reversing current government policies -though this would be a useful start! In many respects it was the favourable economic conditions enjoyed by the post-war ‘baby boomer ’generations that were exceptional. A major, more radical rethink is needed.