If I can’t stomach press reporting I turn to columnists, to the likes of Daniel Finkelstein, Libby Purves and others. This morning I felt let down. Libby Purves began her piece on youth unemployment by a detailed recounting of a tragic suicide of someone who couldn’t find work. Way too emotive, and makes it much harder to discern the real truth. She ends with a moan about over-regulation as a barrier to companies taking on young people. Also a mention of immigration, as if well-motivated and often well-qualified people from Poland would be doing the same jobs as kids coming out of school and university. It’s as if governments are wilfully culpable and that they and countless others haven’t been trying to solve this problem for years – years when it got worse during the boom years and entrenched itself in the recent bust. Yes, they failed, and they failed bigtime. We all failed. But not for want of trying.
There’s a much bigger picture here and it will take sanity, not screaming to sort it out, co-operation, not taking sides.
The fact is government have got it wrong. I think targets of 50% of university places for young people don’t help because it needs focused training and a focus on real jobs from 18 onwards. Not pieces of paper. But that’s not a moral failing. Apprenticeship schemes can also help, but industry has to buy into them, and it hasn’t done. Training schemes of one kind or another are laudable, but they don’t guarantee jobs.
Young people often get a lousy press, and that doesn’t help. They’re considered a risk to employ just as car insurers are wary of insuring them.
Over-regulation I’m sure puts companies off, because they may want to take chances employing young people but daren’t.
At the other end of the spectrum the pension age is to put back, and that means people in their 60s holding on to their jobs for longer.
So where will these jobs for young people, and over-60 (and indeed 65) year olds come from? Out of the ether? Maybe in boom times we’ll all suddenly have jobs. (Unlikely.) And we’ll then all lose them again when the downturn comes.
All this suggests a very different approach to employment is needed, with more focused training, on the real needs of the economy, a wider employment catchment involving shorter hours and more people working, lower pay and lower prices, pensions contributions payable by law from an early age, an end to student fees so everyone starts employment unburdened and only pays out for future benefits not past burdens, all in all a less fevered approach to work – work as hard as ever but not for as long as before.
Much of this may be unworkable or too radical, and even against human nature, but we are haring off in the wrong direction at the moment. Libby Purves’s moaning certainly doesn’t help. We know the situation is bad. Many people young and old, in and out of government, in business and out of it, in all areas of society, are working hard on answers, and getting it wrong maybe more than they’re getting it right. But we need to recognise they’re trying, and all of us together to focus on a bigger picture, on the longer term.
Matthew Taylor mentioned the Left’s obsession with the betrayal myth in a recent blog. It’s not just the Left. These days the press encourage us to think we’re being betrayed all the time.
I proposed a moratorium on newspapers on Twitter today. Also I think on weekly columnists. Only write when you’ve something to say.