Amidst the obsession with EU budget battles you’d be forgiven for not noticing the announcement by the European Commission yesterday of a package of measures to assist Member States in tackling unacceptable levels of youth unemployment.
The package, the centrepiece of which is a recommendation for Member States to implement a Youth Guarantee as called for by the Party of European Socialists (PES) and their MEPs in the group of Socialists & Democrats (S&D) in the European Parliament, is an indictment of the lack of action on the part of Member States who have not done enough since the economic crisis began to deal with chronic levels of unemployment amongst young people in Europe that are still rising today. It is also recognition that co-ordinated European action is necessary if we are to improve the future of Europe’s youth.
Anyone who has experienced periods of unemployment knows how soul destroying it can be. I was forced to leave home at an early age and I bounced from one low paid part-time job to another, often with periods of unemployment in between. Typically, young people tend to be in less stable employment. Over-represented in temporary and part-time work, young people are usually the last to be hired and the first to be fired.
It is particularly important to tackle youth unemployment because the simple experience of unemployment increases future exposure to joblessness, undermining pay and career opportunities throughout your working life and eventually leading to lower pensions. Youth unemployment is also much more prevalent than adult unemployment – the average youth unemployment rate in Europe is now just under 23% compared to 9% for adults. In Greece youth unemployment has just hit a terrifying 57%. 5.5 million young people are out of work across Europe.
In my own region of the North West, over 9,000 young people have been languishing on Jobseekers Allowance for more than 12 months, with many more thousands out of work for a shorter period. Part of another Tory lost generation thrown on the scrapheap by a government that is not interested in looking after those at the bottom, only providing tax breaks for their rich backers at the top.
We’re at risk of creating what the OECD called “a scarred generation of young workers facing a dangerous mix of high unemployment, increased inactivity and precarious work”.
The Youth Guarantee called for by PES and the S&D group and endorsed by the European Commission would ensure that every young person in Europe must be offered a quality job, further education or work-focused training within four months of leaving education or becoming unemployed.
Not dissimilar to Labour’s Future Jobs Fund, the Youth Guarantee would involve investing money in the creation of new jobs and training places for young people. The scheme would be financed initially by unused or re-directed EU Social Funds (ESF).
Some Member States are already taking action. Austria, with active labour market policies, was the inspiration for the Europe-wide campaign. Austria introduced a Youth Guarantee in 2008, ensuring that every young person registered with the Public Employment Service as a jobseeker or apprenticeship-seeker for more than 3 months is offered either a suitable job, an apprenticeship on the free market or a training opportunity provided by the PES. As a result Austria has one of the lowest youth unemployment levels in Europe.
Meanwhile, in the UK, we have a Work Programme getting 2 out of every 100 participants into full-time employment, youth unemployment passing 1 million and the scrapping of compulsory work experience for young people.
At home, we need a national campaign to put pressure on the government to enact a UK version of the Youth Guarantee as soon as possible. Labour has suggested a Real Jobs Guarantee, which is a great start but doesn’t go far enough. We shouldn’t wait until young people have been on the scrapheap for a year before getting them back to work.
In Europe, David Cameron and his 26 counterparts should not only approve this package at next week’s EU summit and implement it across all Member States immediately, they should demand further action to refocus the EU budget towards additional measures to tackle the jobs and growth crisis. Without this, the prospects of Europe ever getting out of this mess look bleak.
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