The House of Lords and the Young Unemployed.

Their Lordships, even if, as one of the most archaic parts of the British state, many of whom are unlikely to have had any real personal contact with working class young people, have commissioned a two hundred page report on youth joblessness.

With a committee membership stretching from Lord (Kenneth) Baker, as education minister under Mrs Thatcher, the creator of the school National Curriculum, to Baroness  (Christine) Blower -previously General Secretary of the National Union of Teachers that was, this is a wide ranging document, covering everything from the failure of the Tory’s Kickstart programme, to the dangers of T-Levels being a ‘one-size fits all’ alternative to academic education (the Lords have called for proposed cuts to BTEC funding to be delayed) and funding levels in FE.

In addition to reminding us that youth unemployment remains much higher than for the population as a whole,  the report contains many positive proposals for increased support for unemployed youth. Researchers should be grateful  for the up to date statistical sources  on which they have based these.

But like so much of the policy agenda that has come before, its central argument  is that many young people lack the necessary skills and attributes to successfully enter the labour market and in particular, to address the challenges of the digital economies of the 21st century.  These problems are intensified by the low status of technical and vocational education, the narrowness of the school curriculum, a lack of proper careers education and support,   the badly designed  apprenticeship levy. The list is long.

This site and the recent e-book

has continued to argue that by itself there is no ‘education and training’ solution to youth unemployment. The lack of labour market opportunities for young people requires alternative economic policies, in particular, job guarantees for those who have completed appropriate levels of training. along with some form of youth basic income, rather than a reliance on student loans and means testing.  

It has also questioned the extent to which the economy and labour market of the future will be ‘high skilled’. This is not to say that there isn’t going to be an increased need for IT and AI  professionals, but that the extent of this should not be exaggerated. Neither is it to argue that those entering employment in the future will not need ‘digital skills’, only to point out that these are as likely to be restricted to basic  data processing roles, as much as they are computer programming.

The Lord’s report makes clear that its prime concern is with the prospects of those young people not going progressing to university. and it’s certainly the case that the lower a young person’s qualification level, then the more likely they are to be unemployed. But it does not address the fact that a major problem for relatively highly educated young people is also ‘underemployment.’ In fact, youth joblessness in the UK is lower than the EU  average but this certainly does not mean that the experience of young people entering the labour market is a positive one.  

It’s true, as the report notes, that those finishing higher level work based apprenticeships may well earn more than graduates, but it’s also the case that employers increasingly recruit graduates for work for which a degree is not necessary to do, pushing those less qualified further down the jobs queue. In other words,  young people are facing a ‘jobs’ as much as  a ‘skills’ crisis. The established  relationship between education and employment has broken down  – we need a new economic model.

2 thoughts on “The House of Lords and the Young Unemployed.

  1. Good article on an interesting report.

    However, I would urge a word of caution surrounding the assertion that “Researchers should be grateful for the up to date statistical sources on which they have based these [positive proposals].”. Most of the labour market and unemployment statistics cited are UK-wide, whereas the education statistics are England-only and the report is actually meant to be a report into England, education being devolved. Now, in one sense it doesn’t make a lot of difference as the 80% of the UK population that live in England will always determine to a very significant extent the total figure. However, methodologically speaking one needs to be careful about comparing like with like, quoting statistics measuring different populations alongside each other to a spurious level of accuracy.

    The report rightly gives caveats and a couple of informative examples of different strategies employed by devolved governments in Wales and Scotland, but determining the effects of education policy on youth unemployment in those areas is a complex activity, difficult to evidence precisely within a UK wide labour market and economic system.

    Your call for a new economic model is quite right, but as the “UK state” is increasingly defined as four different polities with totally different political directions, it is also essential that the “new economic model” follows the education model and should be at least as devolved, through significant fiscal and regulatory mechanisms.

    Given the recently accelerating nature of the “partisan vertical incongruence” (Harvey) of UK democratic governance – with the recent governmental agreements between the Scottish Green Party and the SNP in Scotland and Plaid Cymru with Labour in Wales, and the continued crisis over the Northern Ireland Protocol – we now have a situation where the impact of democratic policies on education under devolution are being desperately usurped by the Tories in Westminster through control over macroeconomics (eg the UK Internal Market Act) and their ‘power grab’ of education and other devolved powers in, for example, the replacement of the former highly significant EU structural funds through the so-called “Shared Prosperity Fund” controlled from Westminster. Taking back control was not only about Brussels! How long the UK can hold together is now a very real issue that their lordships conveniently ignore the consequences of.

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