Newspapers have reported research findings from the Intergenerational Foundation on how young people’s prospects continue to worsen compared to other sections of the population.
For the Foundation, young people are now the ‘new poor’ – facing higher levels of unemployment than adults, suffering significant declines in wages and having to spend growing proportions of their income on housing and other daily essentials.
According to the British Chamber of Commerce for example, young people under-25 are three times as likely as adults to be unemployed (http://www.britishchambers.org.uk/press-office/press-releases/budget-submission-spark-investment-young-people-secure-britains-future.html), while ONS statistics show how the decline in earnings for young people in the 18-21 age group, with only a minimal increase for 22-29 year olds since 1997, can be contrasted with a 25% growth in real incomes for those over 50. Young people also make up the bulk of ‘generation rent’ –with one third of young men and a quarter of women still living with parents in into their 30s. (www.theguardian.com/money/2009/apr/15/children-living-parents-office-national-statistics).
It’s wrong however, to see ‘intergenerational’ divisions as being more important than traditional class divisions, or to accuse the ‘baby-boomer’ generation for having too much. Instead, we can only explain the experiences of young people by looking at more general changes in society and in particular, more general changes in the labour market – the decline of ‘permanent’ employment and loss of what used to be a ‘youth labour market’. Rather than a ‘knowledge economy’, the growth of a service sector economy generates low-paid, low-skilled and often part-time employment, where the minimum wage is becoming the going rate and where trade union representation and ‘collective bargaining’ is restricted to the few. Despite the much touted expansion of ‘self-employment’, the reality is that most newly self-employed people earn far less than they did previously. New economic conditions now mean that many people find themselves becoming part of a new poor. Class divisions may be recomposing but they are still paramount.
It’s also misleading to see the problems faced by the current generation of young people as being primarily the result of the recent economic downturn. The recession has accentuated these changes resulting in a situation where it’s highly likely that each successive generation will be poorer than the previous one despite being better ‘qualified’ than the previous one. In these circumstances, education cannot deliver upward social mobility save for an exceptional few, while for the majority the only absolute social mobility is downward. Like Alice through the Looking Glass, most young people have to run faster and faster just to stand still – like running up a down-escalator.
Instead of a new youth or intergenerational politics as some now espouse (eg. www.lwbooks.co.uk/ebooks/Regeneration.html), existing political organisations and parties, particularly those that claim to be ‘left wing’ or ‘socialist’ need to seriously re-adjust to these changing conditions. As argued (Allen and Ainley 2013; 111 www.radicaledbks.files.wordpress.com/2013/09/great-reversal.pdf), in relying on the power of social networking, the current generation of young radicals may have little time for the traditional campaigning activities of their parents’ generation, but the power of young people to act as an independent force is questionable and a new youth politics will still need to use old alliances.
Contribution to ‘The Riots One Year On, A One Day Conference’ 28th September, London South Bank University
RUNNING FROM THE RIOTS – UP A DOWN-ESCALATOR IN THE MIDDLE OF A CLASS STRUCTURE GONE PEAR-SHAPED
Patrick Ainley and Martin Allen
This paper updates one presented to the British Sociological Association Youth Study Group in autumn last year. Like other commentators, we point out that the majority of youth did not riot and focus instead upon young people in the new working-middle class who are running up a downwards escalator of devalued qualifications to avoid falling into the so-called ‘underclass’ that has been widely blamed for the riots. This only intensifies national hysteria about education as the Coalition’s reception of Browne’s Review restricts HE entry to those who can afford tripled fees, while relegating those who cannot to ‘Apprenticeships Without Jobs’ (cf. Finn 1987) in FE and private providers. With reference to Ainley and Allen (2010), this paper speculates as to the likely outcome of this generational crisis, while reviewing available evidence after the fact as well predictions before it of last summer’s riots – from Owen Jones’ Chavs to Guy Standing’s Precariat and drawing upon our own Lost Generation?
Download paper running from the riots
Another ‘lost generation’ piece by Polly Toynbee www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/jul/02/lost-generation-will-cost-more?fb=native&CMP=FBCNETTXT9038 follows UCAS announcing a 10% drop in English undergraduate applications but still leaving 100,000 without a place. Given the lack of any alternatives, it is no wonder so many still apply but the graduatisation of remaining jobs (barrister to barista etc) pushes those ‘further down the food chain’, as Polly says, into part-time, unskilled, insecure and contract working – if they are lucky.
What is ignored in these litanies to lost youth is the corrosion of education itself, which is in danger of losing its validity as a way forward for new generations. Unconnected to possibilities for practice, displaying knowledge for evaluation has replaced learning with test-taking. Broken down for quantifiable assessment and behavioural manipulation at one end and cramming for traditional exams at the other, this simulacrum of learning disguises the decline in achievement all teachers recognise
Now over 1 million (more than 1 in 5); youth unemployment will make headlines this week –yet measuring the extent of joblessness amongst young people is a complex process. To begin with these figures include up to 300,000 full-time students recorded as looking for work, but, as is the case with unemployment statistics generally, they do not include those who have given up seeking work and are now classified as ‘economically inactive’. A recent report from the International Labour Organisation (ILO) shows youth unemployment rates ranging from 43% in Spain to 8.9% in Germany, but also argues that ‘ growing frustration has pushed a large cohort of discouraged youth to drop out of the labour market altogether’. Include these and youth unemployment in the UK could be approaching one-in-three 18-24 year olds who are not in full-time education
Neither are there reliable figures on the extent of youth ‘underemployment’, although surveys suggest that as many as 30% of graduates report they are in jobs that don’t require skill levels concurrent with their educational qualifications. In other words, while youth unemployment continues to be disproportionately high amongst those without or with few qualifications, it is just as likely that, rather than unskilled jobs disappearing, they continue to be filled by those with more than enough qualifications to do them.
The Coalition ended the Labour government’s Future Jobs Fund because it was too ‘bureaucratic’ but they have no specific strategies for responding to youth unemployment; only the Work Programme where private contractors compete to find unemployed people jobs and are ‘paid by results’. In a different economic climate where employers were desperate to recruit, there may be some merit in this, but without jobs being available in the first place, young people may wait months, even years, before they find proper employment.
With the economy not only faltering but now also facing another recession, eminent economist David Blanchflower, who as a member of the Bank of England’s Monetary Policy Committee persistently argued for interest rate cuts before the last recession started, has called for 100,000 more university places on the grounds that ‘You’re getting people into university and getting them off the streets.’ (THE 09/11/11)
As well as increasing the likelihood of educational institutions becoming car parks or warehouses, Blanchflower’s proposals are also based on the assumption that there will continue to be a shortage of university places. With up to £9,000 a year fees to pay back we cannot assume this will be the case. Evidence suggests that many of the 200,000 unsuccessful applicants withdrew from clearing last year because they weren’t able to find places in Russell or campus universities considered more likely to be able to deliver in the jobs race.
One thing increasingly clear is that many young people considering the ‘apprenticeship’ route into work will likely think again – unless they are able to gain a place at BT or Rolls Royce which even Education Secretary Michael Gove admits ‘are harder to get into than Oxford’. Coalition ministers now have egg on their faces over claims that they have already met their targets for creating additional apprenticeship places. Reports leaked to newspapers and independent research from the Institute for Public Policy Research shows just 10 per cent of apprenticeships are going to youngsters aged 16 to 18. Instead, around 40 per cent go to people over the age of 25 while those going to workers over 60 have increased nearly tenfold. There’s also clear evidence employers are simply repackaging existing jobs and claiming the money.
Even in more prosperous times, youth unemployment has been higher than for the population as a whole. With government downgrading growth forecasts, in response to the Eurozone crisis, the situation facing young people is bleak.
Download e-pamphlet Why young people can’t get the jobs they want
Despite a further increase in A-level pass rates – the 29th year in succession, a lack of jobs and a shortage of university places means prospects continue to be bleak for large numbers of young people.
Unemployment for 16-24 year olds is now 949 000 – up from 917 000 last month. In addition 727. 000 16-24 year olds ‘not in full-time education’ are now ‘economically inactive’ suggesting youth joblessness is more like 1.5 million. (1 in 5 of all young people) The Office for National Statistics (ONS) figures also show that over a quarter of unemployed 18-24 year olds have been out of work for more than 12 months.
Government and many media sources have suggested the increases in unemployment (the jobless rate as a whole is now back up to almost 2.5 million) are ‘unexpected’ but economic data shows that even if the economy is not yet officially back into recession, it is going to ‘flat line’ for a considerable period. As it takes time for unemployment to work its way through the system and for employers to shed surplus labour it is almost inevitable that youth unemployment will increase further, possibly hitting the million mark by early 2012.
Neither can the increases in unemployment be explained by ’what’s going on in the markets’ as George Osborne maintained – the ONS figures for August are based on the three month period from April to June. Public sector redundancies are starting to kick in however – hence the record number of women heading for the dole queue.
Record numbers have applied for university this year, yet it’s estimated that at least 150 000 will miss out on higher education. With fee increases looming, the majority of those participating in the UCAS ‘clearing’ scheme will not have the option of applying again next year – if they can’t find the place they want. They won’t be comforted by Labour Party research findings that employers would rather hire school leavers with two years work experience, than graduates. (Guardian 17/08/12) They know that this will probably be irrelevant if it isn’t possible to get a job in the first place! For the moment at least, graduates continue to earn much more than non-graduates, though it is likely this graduate premium will get smaller.
Nor will many consider gaining a place on an apprenticeship to be a satisfactory alternative unless it’s on one of the hugely oversubscribed blue ribbon schemes like BT and Rolls Royce. Even though the Coalition claims to have met its targets for increasing apprenticeships, the increases include those for older workers many of whom are already in employment. The number available for teenagers has increased by much less. (Guardian 15/08/11)
While criticism grows over the severity of the sentences melted out to the small minority of young people involved in last week’s riots – the needs of the vast majority of young people continue to be largely ignored. Rather than making it even harder to score top marks in the education system as David Willets proposals for differentiating between A-levels will do, urgent measures and new economic policies are needed if this part of the lost generation is to be able to begin to find its way.
There is more than one ‘lost generation’. We have seen at least two in the past months as young people have taken to the streets. Students have protested against fee rises and now a hard core urban youth have taken the stage. On both occasions, the media have focused on the violent scenes – clashes with police and attacks on property, claiming student protesters were infiltrated by anarchists and that rioters were ‘classless’; but these two groups would seem to represent very different constituencies.
On the one hand, the student protestors can be defined as middle- or ‘aspirational’ working- class. They’ve played by the rules and worked hard at school but quickly became politicised in response to the way university is being put beyond their reach and that of their younger brothers and sisters. Despite government and opposition promises, they realise their generation will be the first to be worse off than their parents. Even if many will eventually find work, in many cases it will not be anywhere near commensurate with their hard earned qualifications and may be part-time and ‘para-professional’ at best.
On the other, the urban rioters –The Guardian (12/08/12) estimating that almost 80% of those up in court were under 25 – the ‘criminals who shame the nation’ as The Telegraph called them (10/8/11), have become marginal to society. Failed by an academic education system, without work and without hope, they no longer play by any rules. Not having any commitment to ‘fairness’ or any faith in ‘justice’, they were referred to by the New Labour acronym of NEET (Not in Employment Education or Training) they have become youth’s new ‘underclass’. Not ‘political’ compared to the students, according to some Manchester youngsters interviewed by BBC News (11/08/11) – though not we assume, charged with any of the violence – the riots were ‘the best protest ever’ against a system that denied them access to the consumer goods they see flaunted around them.
There have been opportunities for these two groups to come together – working-class FE students joined the student protests against fees and to demand the restoration of Educational Maintenance Allowances – but it’s difficult to imagine them ever being united. Even though they often live next door in the same neighbourhoods, ducking and diving at the same part-time McJobs – if they are lucky. Also, the number of young people who have taken to the streets still remains comparatively small. Most haven’t!
Nor have most young people’s woes been immediately caused by the recession or by the cuts that followed. As our book argues, they are the result of long-term socio-economic changes in the labour market. Nevertheless, recession has certainly worsened the situation of all youth. Their return to the streets has also coincided with the arrival of a government with little more than a ‘free market’ approach to the youth labour market that leaves the NEETs to rot in gangland.
For all its limitations, New Labour at least introduced the Future Jobs Fund, reduced the number of NEETs to a claimed 8% of school-leavers (now 15%) plus introduced the EMAs that the Coalition have all but abolished. The number of university places were greatly increased to nearly reach Tony Blair’s target of 50% of the age-range – 47% of young women (42% of young men).
Now as the economy flat-lines, youth unemployment remains at the highest level since records began and an estimated 600,000 people under 25 have never had a day’s work in their lives. So nearly all young people face bleak futures and stark choices. Despite wanting to be seen supporting ‘the squeezed middle,’ Cameron and his Education Ministers, Gove and Willetts, clearly believe too many working-class people have gone to university. So the Coalition are pricing them out – offering instead ‘apprenticeships without jobs’ and more unpaid ‘work experience’.
Tory supporters like The Telegraph editorial above and the ubiquitous star of Tory conferences, Katharine Birbalsingh, have also accused the school system of being at least partially responsible for causing the riots with Cameron and Gove calling for more discipline in classrooms. As in the 1970s, when industrialists declared ‘I blame the teachers’ for the unemployment they were themselves creating, schools and colleges are being blamed for an employment crisis not of their making.
Fortunately, the vast majority of ‘ordinary’ youngsters will not riot; but without economic policies that ensure reasonable employment prospects and at least a sniff of prosperity, will they continue to cram for exams when they have little chance of getting into the top universities? Or will they be tempted by cut-price ‘apprentice-degrees’ in FE or dodgier training agencies?
It may be that the riots will tip them towards the worst of both worlds – getting even more into debt (‘a small mortgage’, as the new NUS President describes degrees estimated at £60,000) in desperate hopes of a secure job in three or four years, ‘when the economy has picked up’. Thus they may continue to scramble up the down-escalator of devalued qualifications so as not to fall into the ‘underclass’ beneath; but they may not be so far from them as their parents think!