The hard work must begin now

IAIN Duncan Smith’s personal response to Yorkshire’s latest joblessness figures reveals one of the great contradictions of this slump – a record number of people finding themselves in employment at a time when growth is still proving to be so elusive.

The Work and Pensions Secretary was quick to highlight the 21,000 additional people who are now in jobs locally. What the top Tory did not explain is why the number of out-of-work individuals on the unemployment register fell by just 1,000, leaving this region with the second-highest jobless rate in the country.

Mr Duncan Smith attributes this to his department’s continuing efforts to find employment for benefit claimants, even though others have criticised the merit of forcing people to undertake work experience placements that are unsuited to their own qualifications – or career aspirations.

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He cannot ignore the fact that more than one million people are attempting to hold down at least two jobs in a desperate attempt to make ends meet – and that the level of youth unemployment, still unacceptably high, is best illustrated by the 1,700 people who applied for eight jobs at a new Costa café in Nottingham.

This explains the urgency of the latest report by the IPPR North policy think-tank which reveals that one million people in this region do not possess any qualifications. Unless this trend can be changed, the Costa queues are likely to be even longer in the months to come.

Significantly, youth training is a key policy being devolved from Whitehall to the city-regions – one of the IPPR North’s recommendations. However this transfer of responsibility is still in its infancy, it will take time to create sufficient apprenticeships, and the think-tank’s report is critical of the manner in which this Government has scaled back careers advice in schools.

In an era when young people are having to work even harder to secure a solid set of qualifications before they begin the search for a meaningful job, they should be able to seek the best possible advice. That they cannot do so is symptomatic of the mixed policy messages coming from a Government supposedly committed to narrowing the North-South divide.