Opinion: Labour are to blame for the “lost generation”

Here’s a question for you. How have Labour got away with pretending that the crisis of a “lost generation” of young people has nothing to do with them? Listening to Ed Miliband pontificate about the plight of the young in Britain, you could be forgiven for thinking that the Government in which he served had nothing to do with the current crisis of devalued qualifications, lack of jobs, high house prices, crippling debts and a rising cost of living. Those young people who are thinking of joining Labour because they’re angry at the current situation should consider a few facts.

A year ago, after 13 years of Labour government, almost million young people aged 16 to 24 were out of work. This number was 30 per cent higher than when Labour came to power http://thetim.es/4Wjbrln. By the time Labour left office in May 2010, there was an average of 70 applicants for every job. And after three terms of Labour government, many academic degrees were all but worthless thanks to the party’s policy on setting arbitrary targets for university places.

Most Lib Dems would agree that Labour’s aim to widen education chances was laudable. But by attempting to equalise academic ability, they sowed the seeds for the current crisis in youth unemployment. As more and more degrees were issued, it became harder for employers to distinguish between job applicants. Employers responded by imposing new criteria for interview selection, which at a stroke made thousands of qualifications irrelevant. Consequently, bright and talented young people who had worked hard to get to university and complete a degree were cheated out of the qualifications they had sweated for.

What they did get from Labour was lots of debt, thanks to Tony Blair’s decision to introduce university top-up fees in 2004 – a reversal of their own 2001 Manifesto commitment. Under Gordon Brown, Labour twisted the knife by commissioning the Browne review, which – as Gordon well knew – was always bound to recommend that fees be massively increased. Brown realised that an incoming Tory government would have to abide by the recommendations and would therefore be blamed for the increase. But when the Lib Dems formed the coalition, he unexpectedly doubled his money – both the Lib Dems and the Tories could be blamed! The fact that a million young people were left to suffer was, for Labour, a price worth paying.

Since last year’s general election, the Labour leadership has been busy airbrushing its betrayal of young people from history. Ed Miliband maintains the fiction that the current plight of the young in Britain has nothing to do with them. Emboldened by his own hypocrisy, the Labour leader scoffed at a recent PMQs, “What has the Government got against young people?’. But the real question is this: having spent 13 years wrecking the life chances of young people, what practical policies are Labour now offering them? Unlike the Lib Dems, who have saved EMA, introduced the pupil premium, lowered tax on the low paid and put social mobility at the heart of Government, I think we’ll find the answer is nothing.

Joe Taylor is Vice Chair of Truro and Falmouth Lib Dems.

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • Leviticus18_23 15th Apr '11 - 11:30am

    Seriously, you can’t keep blaming everything on Labour.

    And do you think trebling university fees (which was something that some people pledged to oppose) is going to help students?

  • There is some truth in this but try to blame Labour for the Lib Dem volte-face on tuition fees because they commissioned the Browne report is utterly foolish. If a ‘million young people are left to suffer’ that is entirely down to the decisions made by this government You need to be grown-up – to use a favourite coalition word – and take responsibility for your own actions.
    And before someone leaps in and says deficit, Labour’s mess, 400 million a day, borrow 1 pound in every 4 yadda yadda you need to realize that not only is the coalition policy on fees going to cost us more in the short-term but if there are any savings to the taxpayer this will be after the deficit is paid down. The tuition fees policy is an ideological choice to marketize higher education so please save us the crocodile tears.

  • Actually those suffering now are the consequences of the previous administration, if the situation has not improved over the next 5 years then yes both the conservatives and the liberal democrats will have the blood of the younger generation on their hands.

  • JustAnotherVoter 15th Apr '11 - 1:17pm

    It’s a nice article but based on a false premise, and bad interpretation of the statistics.

    The claimant count for the 18-24 group is around 400K. It was around 400K in 1997.


  • 1) The biggest cause of problems for the young today is the 1989 Rent Act. As far as I am concerned, none of the major parties will reign in the boomer generation. I do not say this to point the finger at any party – just to say that none really have paid a great deal more than lip-service to the young.

    2) At the CSR, pensioners got free bus passes, TV licenses, fuel payments (paid even to the dead), a gold-plated pensions earnings link, free prescriptions and eye tests. The young were told that there is no money. The idea that Lib Dems are blameless is one that leaves a bad taste in the mouth.

    3) The Daily Telegraph has a long history of misrepresenting the 50% target for university. That linked article, for example, talks about, ‘teenagers.’ The target was 50% of young people aged 18-30 [explicitly not school leavers], to have some experience [not enrol on and complete a degree] of higher education [not a university necessarily]. There are arguments about this as a goal, but at least quote the target correctly.

    4) The rising cost of living might have started under Labour, but the idea that somehow the Coalition will correct it seems a bit on the fanciful side.

    5) The boomer generation got jobs in nationalised industry, todays young have as nationalised industry the banks. Spot the difference. The idea that this vacuous notion of social mobility and a few internships are a substitute is a delusion.

    6) When talking about 70 applicants for each job it is curious that you do not mention immigration. Labour problem, maybe – but an amnesty?

    7) The Coalition took out of the Browne proposals the sliding scale that was intended to keep fees down, so plainly they felt no obligation to implement Browne in full. Quite what the young make of the Lib Dems commitment to youth following THAT pledge, I will let you dwell on.

  • This rhetoric about Labour putting too many people into education leads me to think that the Lib Dems want to decrease the amount of education in the work force.

    Surely this regressive and elitist approach can’t be true?

  • No from the discusions I have had with my fellow Lib Dems we want to see education and training while working become the norm.
    We see that with the changes in working practices its no good thinking a job is for life – you need flexibility of thought, to acquire transferable skills and have access to training throughout your working life.

  • Dan Falchikov, of course before the Labour Party the interests of most of society, all but the rich and male, were not represented in parliament. Not a time any sensible person would want to return to.

  • @Leviticus18_23

    “Seriously, you can’t keep blaming everything on Labour.”

    Yes, we can actually. Their fingerprints are all over almost all of the problems that the UK faces today.

    Remember, out of the last fourteen years, they have been in power for the last 13.

  • Remember, Labour want a graduate tax. So how would that work, exactly?

    And how would it be different from what we have got now? I think that come the next election, Labour are going to have to face up to actually proposing some policies. That’s when their problems will start.

  • @various – not blaming “everything” on Labour, but their policies in relation to young people have led directly to the combination of crises facing them now. In a nutshell, they created too many qualifications and too few jobs. That’s why it’s so irritating to hear Lab politicians banging on about how young people have been let down by the Lib Dems.

    @Andrew R – I’m not trying to blame Labour for the Lib Dems’ “volte face on tuition fees”. I think that Lib Dems who campaigned against fees should have voted against fees – just like Tim Farron, Andrew George, Ming Campbell, Charles Kennedy, and 17 others. But if we’re all going to be “grown up” about it, shouldn’t Labour also shoulder some of the blame for a) introducing fees in the first place and b) commissioning Browne?

    @Labour Matters – I agree the Future Jobs Fund was a good idea. It was a mistake to scrap it.

    @g – we don’t want to “decrease the amount of education” – quite the opposite. But we need to think about what qualifications are for. They are for employers to understand how capable someone is. If everyone has the same qualification, it becomes worthless. This is a serious problem that universities and the Government need to address urgently.

  • @trurojoe Are qualifications really just for employers? Is that the Lib Dem position? Shall we shut down most history courses? Chemistry? Physics? These are not sectors that employ huge numbers of people? Shall we vastly increase business studies? Media studies? Tourism? These are all large sectors.

    More to the point, have you got any citations to back up your points on people doing the wrong kind of qualification?

    I suggest you start by looking at employment rates of people with HE qualifications vs those without, that might give you some indication of what employers want…

  • Andrew Suffield 15th Apr '11 - 8:13pm

    Seriously, you can’t keep blaming everything on Labour.

    So your claim is that because Labour have been out of power for just under a year, they should now be forgiven for all the crimes they committed in office?

  • @Andrew Suffield

    “So your claim is that because Labour have been out of power for just under a year, they should now be forgiven for all the crimes they committed in office?”

    Labour may be forgiven by myself one day however the LIBDEMS part in this nasty coalition will never be.

  • Ed The Snapper 17th Apr '11 - 1:16am

    I come from a generation that left school and university under Conservative governments. We were a generation that entered an economy of few employment opportunities. Graduate unemployment (and underemployment) was a grievous problem then and continues to be a national disgrace across all of Europe. Personally, I have never recovered from this period and had an opportunity to achieve my potential. Nor have vast numbers of my contemporaries. Mass unemployment and underemployment has many causes including industrial decline, globalisation and changing technologies. To try to make out that this is just a problem of the last 13 years is totally misguided. It is a problem that goes back decades and may be endemic to marketised economies.

  • @g you have to distinguish between education and qualifications. Education is about broadening and deepening the life of the individual. Qualifications are just a crude guide to show (some of) what people know. Labour’s big mistake was to think that more qualifications meant greater life chances. You don’t need a citation to realise that the opposite has in fact been the case – just talk to anyone who graduated after 1997.

    @Ed The Snapper – that’s a good point. But I still think it was Labour’s policies that led to the current crisis – they devalued people’s qualifications, left them in massive debt, inflated house prices and didn’t create the jobs to enable them to climb out of the pit.

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