After spending billions on the Job Support Scheme, Rishi Sunak has now signalled his intention to ‘balance the books’ and reign in government spending, even if the Chancellor was quick to qualify this as being a ‘medium term’ objective – thus hoping to stave off some fears about an imminent return to ‘austerity’. All this reflects the Tories commitment to financial orthodoxy and a refusal to recognise that most of the costs of the government’s extra borrowing have been hoovered up by the Bank of England at rock bottom interest rates– so not really putting pressure on the public finances in the way they want us to believe they are.
Sunak’s decision to end the furlough scheme and only protect ‘viable’ jobs is also driven by this self-imposed fiscal considerations. Ending furlough will effectively crash sectors like leisure and hospitality, but the Tories also know that much of the labour in these sectors is relatively unskilled and can be replaced quickly if and when these parts of the economy re-open.
The Tories training proposals are also a fraud. Apart from offering free FE courses for adults without A-levels, in his speech last week Johnson added nothing new. Encouraging young people soon to be unemployed in retail and hospitality to ‘find a job in the wind farm sector in the North-East’ (!) or ‘retrofitting homes to reduce carbon’ is meaningless without an appropriate, properly funded industrial strategy, let alone a Green New Deal, to enable this.
Stuck in the middle?
Most of Johnson’s speech simply reiterated Tory thinking about the importance of further education (though no commitment to fund it) in developing intermediate or ‘middle’ level skills rather than universities continuing to over-produce higher level ones.https://education-economy-society.com/2020/07/14/stuck-in-the-middle-with-williamson/
Yet this shows a complete lack of understanding of historical changes in the labour market – particularly in the UK, but also internationally (see chart below) where these types of jobs are disappearing largely because of automation, resulting in ‘polarisation’. Rather than locking themselves into a vocational ‘trade’ which has a limited time span, individuals will need a more generic or fluid entitlement. There’s also complete ignorance about the reasons for the success of vocational routes in countries like Germany.
There may be middle skill shortages in particular sectors like construction, but this is as much to do with the way the industry is organised and labour recruited – there were only a thousand apprenticeship starts in construction related occupations last year. Elsewhere it’s reported that employers are as likely to report many workers are overqualified for the jobs they do, but still recruit graduates rather than school leavers whenever they can.
As has been clear for a long time, the Tories are more interested in reducing the number of graduates because of mounting unpaid student debt and because they want HE to revert to being something for ‘the few’. The reality is that young people sign up for higher education in their thousands as a result of the absence of other opportunities.