Opinion: Youth unemployment – something must be done

When I began university in September 2007 I was, like everybody else, full of aspirations. I believed I would do well in my degree, have a wonderful time, graduate and find a job. Unfortunately things didn’t go to plan, and when my boyfriend graduated a year ahead of me, and spent a year unemployed, I knew I was in for a bumpy ride.

When we graduated we were each in £18,000 worth of debt (excluding interest) from student loans, and had no job prospects on the horizon. We sat down and worked out that my boyfriend had applied for over 400 jobs in the past year, and had 4 interviews. I had been applying for jobs since April, most of which you only need GCSEs for, and had been turned down for all of these.

On top of all this, it felt as if the government couldn’t care less about us. When my boyfriend decided to go to the JobCentre, this is when we found out the stark reality of our situation. It took 3 months before my boyfriend saw any money, as they were quibbling the fact that I was still a student (even though he was only claiming for himself). After all of this trouble, he was finally granted £50 a week to live on (it would be £65, but he was under 25).

When I graduated and we went in to make a joint claim for Job Seekers Allowance, they weren’t even able to put into the system that I was a graduate. After this I was shown their ‘Top Jobs’ list… number 1 on the list? A 2-week unpaid work trial at McDonalds. After my boyfriend had been unemployed for a year, he started to be told that he would be made to clear out ditches to receive his benefit.

A week or so later we received a letter saying they needed more information to process our claim. As we read the letter we realised that they wanted to know ‘Who prepares the meals – and do you eat together?’ and ‘Do you spend leisure time together, in and outside of the home?’. To this day, I cannot fathom why they would need to know such personal details.

It is all well and good for the JobCentre to provide work trials for people, but they offer little for people with aspirations and bills to pay. The system is not designed for graduates, and with up to 25% of graduates facing unemployment after graduation, surely something needs to be done?

* Elizabeth Parr is a Liberal Democrat district councillor in Uttlesford, Essex. She graduated from the University of Birmingham in 2010 and is now a Student Nurse at Anglia Ruskin University.

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15 Comments

  • My now partner and I were in exactly the same situation in 1989.

    At least you don’t appear to have had someone coming into your home to examine your sleeping arrangements.

  • First of all, my deepest sympathies to Elizabeth. I came onto the jobs market after graduating during the last recession and it was tough and humiliating. Luckily at least my debts were much smaller, but on learning that I did not have a job to go straight into, the bank basically closed down my account. A series of temping jobs allowed me to rescue that situation, but it was effectively another three years until I found continuous paid employment in the area in which I hoped to work, and even then on a derisory salary.

    The problem we have at the moment – and one that will become increasingly apparent as the Eurozone crisis deepens – is that effectively we are importing unemployment, mostly from other European countries. If you look in detail at the figures (http://www.ons.gov.uk/ons/dcp171778_237932.pdf) in the year to August a net 239,000 jobs have been created in the UK economy. But while employment for those born outside the UK rose by 289,000, for those born in the UK it fell by 50,000.

    These are the undisputable facts, so please don’t start howling me down as some kind of UKIP europhobe/racist. My partner is Italian and I have nothing against people from other countries, but we have to face facts as they are. Young people born in this country are trying to enter the workforce when the flow is overwhelmingly in the opposite direction. Employers are favouring workers from other countries, both inside and outside the EU, and until we can work out why and try to counteract this tendency, we will have a growing problem of indigenous unemployment on our hands.

  • Daniel Henry 14th Oct '11 - 3:17pm

    I’ve had a similar problem as a graduate searching for jobs. It’s not a fun situation to be in.

    The question is, what should be done? Clearly we need more job creation but how? Growth is important. Personally, I think it’s time Osbourne started listening to Vince about a plan A+.

  • Maybe the government should just admit that the one size fits all approach of the job centre plus doesn’t work and should, with assistance from universities set up a system specifically for more recent graduates that can provide some continuity of assistance between the town/city where the person studied and the hometown that they may go back to for a period of time afterwards. This is what I see as the main challenge, the universities career services work in their own way while you are actually physically there, if you don’t set anything up before you leave then there is a gap.

  • Old Codger Chris 14th Oct '11 - 6:13pm

    Why are emoloyers no longer allowed to impose a retirement age?

  • “Why are emoloyers no longer allowed to impose a retirement age?” Because the politicians want to please the baby boomer generation. You might as well ask why have political parties screwed the young when it comes to housing, education and the likes.

    I won’t even vote anymore, they’re all the same.

  • Elizabeth Parr, just be greatful that fees were only £3,000 per year when you were at uni. The Liberal Democrats and Tories have made it much worse for young people now. Young people today who want higher education will be around £40,000 in debt when they leave and most likely carry that debt with them until they are well into their middle age.

    Politicans only care about the ‘Baby Boomer’ generation because they figure that’s where the votes are. Politics and politicians are by enlarge self serving and utterly corrupt.

  • re: “Why are emoloyers no longer allowed to impose a retirement age?” Because the politicians want to please the baby boomer generation. You might as well ask why have political parties screwed the young when it comes to housing, education and the likes.

    All the evidence is that demand creates its own supply. This means that when a firm decides to continue to employ an older worker, that worker has an income which in turn circulates round the system, and can be used to employ the younger person who has apparently been cheated out of a job.

    In any case, only a relatively small proportion of people actually retired at the state retirement age, so the change in legislation mainly confirms what already happens.

    Finally, the rise in youth unemployment hugely pre-dates this legal change.

    Youth unemployment is very important – and Elizabeth makes important points – but tilting at windmills will help no-one.

  • Or you could always try the advice from your political partners…

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2011/oct/15/house-swap-plan-unemployed-work

  • Old Codger Chris 16th Oct '11 - 10:02am

    Tim Leunig is right to say that allowing the old to keep working doesn’t make a huge difference, but David is right to point out that it’s the young – our country’s future – who are being especially targeted by the coalition.

    Lord Sugar pointed out again on Friday that there’s no mechanism for him to repay his old person’s heating allowance – I’m sure nobody would object to more help for the many elderly folk who shiver through the winter but we keep throwing public money at people who don’t need it – bus passes are another example. That’s why David’s decison not to vote is an example of how to shoot yourself in the foot. As he says himself, Baby Boomers vote!

    What youngsters – and anyone else who cares about our future – should do in 2015 is to grill the politicians and vote for whoever seems to give a damn, and if that turns out to be the Greens, UKIP or practically anyone else except the BNP it may teach the big 3 parties a lesson. They don’t seem to grasp the fact that us oldies tend to die first – or perhaps they’re planning to revive the old Irish practice of adding the deceased to electoral rolls.

  • “After my boyfriend had been unemployed for a year, he started to be told that he would be made to clear out ditches to receive his benefit.”

    Good. People should work for money, even if they’re graduates in need of benefits. I spend my holidays labouring for my father in exchange for a term time allowance, and I’m a scrawny engineering student. There’s nothing wrong with learning the difference between a shovel and a spade.

    “A week or so later we received a letter saying they needed more information to process our claim. As we read the letter we realised that they wanted to know ‘Who prepares the meals – and do you eat together?’ and ‘Do you spend leisure time together, in and outside of the home?’. To this day, I cannot fathom why they would need to know such personal details.”

    Because they have to assess your lifestyle, to establish whether you are genuinely looking for work. If you’re living as if you’re a married couple then one of you may be a “home maker” which casts doubt on whether they’re looking for work.

  • Charles, if people are digging ditches they should be paid, at the very least, minimum wage and offered a contract. Otherwise it’s exploitation.

  • Old Codger Chris 16th Oct '11 - 10:15pm

    “one of you may be a “home maker” which casts doubt on whether they’re looking for work” Charles – which century are you and the Benefits Agency living in? Don’t you know everyone must work now – including mothers of very young children let alone childless couples – otherwise there must be something wrong with them. And it’s unlikely they’ll be able to buy or rent somewhere to live if they don’t both work – unless they qualify for social housing.

    Of course that doesn’t do much to help the unemployment problem. Now if house prices and rents were to fall to an affordable level………….

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