Kickstarters alone won’t reboot Yorkshire’s economy – Jayne Dowle

IT sounds like a fantastic idea. Rishi Sunak’s coronavirus recovery package promises to turn England into a green and energy-efficient land.
Is the Government doing enough to tackle youth unemployment?Is the Government doing enough to tackle youth unemployment?
Is the Government doing enough to tackle youth unemployment?

Homeowners will be eligible for vouchers of up to £5,000 to cover at least two-thirds of the cost of improved insulation, energy-efficient boilers and even new doors and windows.

If you join up the dots, there’s some logic at work here. Almost in the same breath, the Chancellor is promising a £2bn jobs fund to pay the wages of young people on new work placements for six months. The state will cover their minimum wage, with employers given a sweetener of £1,000 for taking on each employee.

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It’s estimated that up to 300,000 young adults aged 16 to 24 are now unemployed and claiming Universal Credit. No government, even in a pandemic, wants this kind of joblessness figure on its conscience.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak prepares his Summer Statement.Chancellor Rishi Sunak prepares his Summer Statement.
Chancellor Rishi Sunak prepares his Summer Statement.

These new measures aim to give such unemployed young people a purpose. And it’s not inconceivable that an increased demand for energy-efficient upgrades can become a driver of opportunity as businesses expand to meet need.

What could possibly go wrong? Well, as the Prime Minister is fond of telling us, we can learn a lot from history. So perhaps he might like to remind his Chancellor that the last time a government attempted to roll out a publicly-funded national energy-efficiency scheme it ended in disaster.

According to the official auditors’ report, just one per cent of UK homeowners took up an improvement loan under David Cameron’s £400m ‘Green Deal’ scheme, which launched in 2013.

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It folded amidst ignominy within two years. And it took countless installation firms down with it. Needless to say, any household energy savings ended up as negligible.

Does Chancellor Rishi Sunak's Summer Statement go far enough for apprentices? Jayne Dowle poses the question.Does Chancellor Rishi Sunak's Summer Statement go far enough for apprentices? Jayne Dowle poses the question.
Does Chancellor Rishi Sunak's Summer Statement go far enough for apprentices? Jayne Dowle poses the question.

Given this, muddying the waters of economic recovery with an idealistic programme which demands enthusiasm, co-operation and some personal financial outlay from socially-distancing members of the public sounds like a gamble we can’t afford.

Also, are we being gaslighted again? It’s not just the impact of youth unemployment on the benefits bill, but the growing frustration, anger and the sense of alienation and disaffection which the Government must address.

My son is almost 18 and at college. He was lucky enough to secure a part-time supermarket job at Christmas; he’s clinging onto it for dear life.

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So many of his friends have been
less fortunate; apprenticeships
cancelled, employers furloughing indefinitely, colleges shut and jobs simply vanishing into thin air. There is real anxiety here. Talk to this generation and you’ll learn that the future feels like a black hole.

Above all, such widespread joblessness has serious implications for both short and long-term economic recovery. Comparisons are being made with the early 1980s when contraction of heavy industries and the painful path towards a service-based economy left school-leavers bereft of traditional routes of employment.

However this is 2020. The prospect of joblessness does not just affect the 16-year-old leaving education with a handful of GCSEs, but the graduate who may have been at university for five years, studying for a Masters degree. Whether your ambition is to be a hairdresser or an astro-physicist, the threat of unemployment is endemic.

I spoke to one friend who said that her three adult children are all back at home since lockdown; her elder daughter, with a degree in bio-medicine, has managed to keep her part-time job in a shop, her son is furloughed from his job in a theatre and her younger daughter’s university course in ancient history is hanging in the balance.

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What kind of future exists for a country in which the next generation of taxpayers simply don’t have meaningful work? A difficult one.

The solution requires, at the very least, a government department entirely dedicated to getting everyone – regardless of age – back to work and into secure long-term employment. Stress on the ‘long-term’.

If you’re old enough, you’ll remember the Manpower Services Commission, a government agency dedicated to creating employment and finding work for the unemployed in the 1980s.

And let’s not forget the oft-derided YTS, the youth-training scheme which guaranteed a place for up to two years with an employer for every school-leaver. It wasn’t perfect, by any means, but its heart was in the right place.

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Given this, the Chancellor should remember that you can’t build a firm future without a deep foundation. And this demands much more digging than six months’ paid work experience and a new Green Deal.

Editor’s note: first and foremost - and rarely have I written down these words with more sincerity - I hope this finds you well.

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James Mitchinson


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