We get treated like kids with pocket money wages and pay the poverty premium for it. We’re cheaper to pay and easier to fire. We’ve gone from low pay to no pay. Who are we? We’re the generation that thought we had it all until the crisis showed us our dreams were built on a house of cards.
Nothing to show for and confused about our future. From teens into NEETS. From generation Y to generation why.
And now we’re all in this mess together. If we haven’t been made redundant ourselves, then we all know someone who has. We’ve now probably got a greater chance of becoming unemployed than getting swine flu.
First we saw the figures on the news, then we read the stories of young people on the dole in the papers and now we hear the rumours of colleagues and friends getting the sack.
Don’t look down at all the youngsters who are queuing up for the sales to get glammed up for the weekend, next week they’ll be queuing up for the dole. Instead, look deep into our eyes and you’ll see we’re all doled up with the shame and the scars.
We pay for not getting fair pay We may be “an army of youngsters with nothing to do and nothing to lose” , but we are all skilled up. When we know that youth unemployment costs us £100 million a month, we know it’s time to stop the unemployed becoming permanently unemployable.
This fails to address the precariousness of jobs targeted at young people and it exacerbates the exploitation faced by young people in internships or work experience who are asked to work above and beyond what’s legally required of them in return for being paid under the legal minimum wage.
When people argue that not being paid the minimum wage isn’t important when you consider the invaluable work experience you get when you carry out an apprenticeship or internship, they ignore that young people still have to pay the same levels of rent as anyone else and often have to pay back student debt loans too.
Like other low earners, we’re forced to pay more for most things, from food to utilities – the so called “Poverty Premium” (@savethechildren). It’s not only discriminatory that the national minimum wage is lower for people under 22, there are even calls that it should be frozen full stop for young people.
Government policies across Europe fail to address the discrimination faced by young people in government schemes where the employer isn’t bound to offer the training or benefits it offers its staff and not bound to offer the opportunity for turning temporary contracts into permanent employment. That’s why we should call for all young people on government supported schemes to be granted the same benefits – such as training and childcare – as those in the same workplace as them.
And no political party is contesting the conventional wisdom that it’s acceptable for young recruits to be recruited because they’re cheaper to pay and easier to fire. That’s why we should call for all young people on government supported schemes to be granted the same working rights as those in the same workplace as them.
Shock and awe
We’re not the first generation that has faced shocks or setbacks. In many ways we have been taught we live in a “no risk” society. It’s maybe why we find it more difficult to cope with these shocks and bounce back. As @rowennadavis states, “Being hit so hard at the first hurdle, some may be tempted to quite the game together”.
Grant Aherne despairs “There’s nothing going on. We go and try to find work but there isn’t anything around and that’s very frustrating. When we go to college they just get you to fill in forms but it doesn’t come to anything.”
What does it say about our society when career advisors tell us “You don’t get jobs by complaining, whining, going on marches or signing petitions. You get jobs by working your ass off”?
That’s we need a focus on support which is both practical – such as fairer wages to pay back our debt and cover our rent – and psychological – like more time to build our skills and our relationships with others.
Rabbit in the headlights or leaders in the spotlight?
But maybe being in this mess together could be a way of building those relationships. We’re one million unemployed, but are we one million strong? Our generation are more rabbit in the headlights than leaders in the spotlight. 20% youth unemployment and no movement, no struggle; how bad does it have to get?
Are we really in it together? We should all be concerned about each others’ welfare – that many of our peers are out of work. Yet by targeting the poorest, the government ends up creating a sense of “them” and “us” which you don’t get with services that benefit everyone. Would so many people have tweet #welovethenhs if they had felt the stigma people feel when claiming benefits?
Across Europe, policies to unemployment and wider welfare reform confuses a “carrot and sticks” approach to reciprocity. It makes the assumption that those out of work don’t have anything to contribute and therefore are in need of skills to get back into work. It also presumes that by stigmatising them, they will be more likely to take up benefits and comply with its conditions. So much for creating the good society.
The value of out of work benefits relative to average earnings has halved since Thatcher got into power. In fact, if you’re out of work, all you get is £9 per day which would mean you were getting under a quarter of what the public think ought to be “a basic but acceptable standard of living”. As Natasha Cordey says, “After I’ve bought my food, gas, water, electricity, television there’s nothing. I can’t get a job in town because I couldn’t afford the bus fare. It’s catch-22 ”.
Some things never change. The investment bankers may be sobbing that their bonuses are being taxed, but those most likely to lose their jobs are in the lowest paid occupations – like sales assistants, manual or care workers and in the neighbourhoods already with the highest unemployment rates. Those sectors and regions hit by the last recessions have not only never really recovered, they have actually suffered the most. They’ve seen the lost decade pass them by and the lost generation all around them.
Being dependent on benefits doesn’t improve people’s confidence or well being, especially if the majority of the community is out of work. So they need to feel they can to access opportunities to improve their skills. But let’s stop giving people the illusion that they can run up the down escalator of social mobility.
“Social mobility is painful. If inducements to move “upwards” are delivered from the top down to individuals, rather than generated within communities, those who leave behind their peers may never again feel entirely comfortable in any social group.”
We’re the people we’ve been waiting for
Young people out of work have skills and assets that are invaluable to community groups. They have connections in the area and can better understand the experience of others out of work. And they’re already creating alternatives to rebuild a more caring economy – take this example – they don’t need lords to tell us that investment banks can be “socially useless”, instead they’re creating waffle banks.
Micronomics Festival 09 – Wafelbank di micronomics
That’s why we should campaign for a community allowance linking those out of work with those in work, not on the basis of their relationship to the labour market but on their relationship to the community.
This would support young people out of work to take their first steps back into work, developing their skills, experience and confidence. By enabling them to earn an income on top of their benefits and providing integrated training and support, it makes the money spent on the benefits system work for people and their communities. Indeed, for every pound invested in the Community Allowance £10 worth of social value is created.
It would start with young people working out with their communities what they would like to give back or even how to better value what they’re already giving back. Surely this is better than the concept of a compulsory civic service which is being used as a sticking plaster for just about any social need that politicians don’t know how to solve?
The Community Allowance could be combined with new training for new vocations which will be needed most – resilience coaches, green plumbers, social reporter – to rebuild a healthier, greener and more ethical economy. These approaches not only develop people’s skills, they build the capacity of the community to become more resilient in collaboration with public services. This helps everyone feel ownership in preventing avoidable needs arising and reducing demand on the services themselves.
Young people out of work have skills and assets that are invaluable to community groups. They have connections in the area and can better understand the experience of others out of work. That’s why we should campaign for a community allowance linking those out of work with those in work, not on the basis of their relationship to the labour market but on their relationship to the community. This would support young people out of work to take their first steps back into work, developing their skills, experience and confidence.
By enabling them to earn an income on top of their benefits and providing integrated training and support, it makes the money spent on the benefits system work for people and their communities. Indeed, for every pound invested in the Community Allowance £10 worth of social value is created.
Lynsey Hanley sums it up; “The thing about place is that it forms you as you grow: you need rich yolks to get thriving chicks. There’s no such thing as growth in a vacuum, which is why it’s folly to believe all that people need to thrive is a house and a car. They need other things, not least the chance to live with and learn from other.