Young people are being used as a battering ram to attack the pay, conditions, and rights of all working-class people. Despite the supposed upturn in the UK economy, youth unemployment — especially long-term youth unemployment — remains at record levels.
In the third quarter of this year (July-September), the unemployment rate for those aged between 16 and 24 and not in full-time education was 19% — 664,000 people, many of whom would still be looking for their first job.
Although slightly lower than the figure for the preceding quarter, this was still a higher figure, by around 16,000, than a year ago.
Well over a third of them, 282,000, had been unemployed for 12 months or more. This was 7,000 more than in the previous quarter, and 15,000 more than a year ago.
Including youth in full-time education who had looked for work in the last four weeks, and were available to start work within two weeks, the unemployment rate for 16 to 24-year-olds was slightly higher than a year earlier: 21%, over 958,000 people.
The current figure for NEETs (“not in employment, education, or training”) in the same age bracket, which includes those who are unemployed but not in receipt of benefits, is 1.09 million. And in the 18 to 24 age bracket, 115,000 have been unemployed for two years or more.
Despite the fact that most people under the age of 18 are not entitled to any benefits, and those in the 18-24 age bracket receive a lower rate of benefits, youth unemployment cost the government £4.8 billion in 2012. This was more than the entire budget for further education for 16 to 19-year-olds in England.
High levels of youth unemployment are not confined to the UK. They exist throughout Europe, and in some countries are even higher. Youth unemployment in Spain is 56%, and nearly 65% in Greece (over 75% in some regions).
What are now classified as “low” rates of youth unemployment would have previously been classified as unacceptable: one young person in 13 in Germany, one young person in 11 in Austria, and one young person in nine in the Netherlands are unemployed.
Throughout the European Union as a whole, nearly 25% of people under the age of 25 are unemployed, as against an overall unemployment rate of about 12%. By contrast, in the Great Depression of the 1930s, it was mainly middle-aged males who could not find work.
But in the UK, and the rest of Europe, current levels of youth unemployment are not simply a reflection of the generally high levels of unemployment. Patterns of youth unemployment diverge radically from patterns of “adult” unemployment.
Unemployment amongst under-24s is 3.74 times higher than among over-24s. A year ago it was “only” 3.5 times higher. While unemployment rates for the over-24s fell by 0.2% during the past twelve months, youth unemployment (i.e., including those in education but also seeking work) increased by 0.5% to 21%.
Similarly, over the same period the number of people in work among 25 to 64-year-olds increased by 0.4%, while the number of under-25s in work declined by 1.1%.
In fact, patterns of youth unemployment had already begun to diverge from those of “adult” unemployment even before the recession of 2008. Whereas in 1989 youth unemployment in UK was 1.5 times higher than its “adult” equivalent, over the next 25 years it increased to being 3.5 times higher. The same trend is at work in other European countries, albeit not as pronounced as in the UK.
The disproportionate growth of youth unemployment is not the result of there being “too many” young people. In 1990 56 million Europeans were in the 20 to 24 age bracket. Today, there are 48 million people in the European Union’s 1990 borders in that age bracket.
The right wing has two simple answers to the problem of youth unemployment. One is to scrap benefits for the under-25s, just as the last Tory government scrapped benefits for the under-18s. There would still be just as many unemployed young people, but they would not show up in government statistics. Any young person who could not live with their parents would be potentially destitute.
At this year’s Tory conference Cameron claimed that it was “still possible to leave school, sign on, find a flat, start claiming Housing Benefit, and opt for a life on benefit.”
That speech was a “softening up” exercise. He went on to say the Tories would consider whether “that option should exist at all” as they draw up their manifesto for the next general election.
On 19 November, the Daily Telegraph claimed that Labour would adopt the same policy of scrapping benefits for the under-25s. But this was denied by Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary Rachel Reeves: “This is not and will not be our policy.”
The other right-wing “answer” to youth unemployment is to attack employment rights. They claim that employers are reluctant to take on new employees because employment law supposedly gives them too many rights, and it would therefore be too difficult to sack them should employers wish to do so.
The Tories have steadily whittled away employment rights since they returned to power in 2010. The result: over the same period youth unemployment has not only increased in absolute terms but also increased at a faster rate than “adult” unemployment.
In any case, fewer rights for workers do not mean more chances of work for young people. They mean a greater chance of being sacked unfairly for young and old alike.
In the face of the evidence of failure with capitalist schemes to reduced youth unemployment, we have to conclude the capitalists and the Tories do not really want to reduce it.
The socialist answer to youth unemployment is a cut in the working week with no loss of pay, full employment rights from day one, and an end to the use of zero hours contracts and other forms of casualised labour. Fight this conspiracy against youth!
Life after university
Nearly one in ten students who graduated from a British university in 2012 were still unemployed six months later, according to a report published by the Higher Education Statistics Agency in June of this year.
Of those who were working, over a third were working in jobs that did not require a degree.
The report also found that students who had graduated in 2009 were a third more likely to be unemployed after three and a half years than were students who graduated in 2005 (3.2%, compared with 2.6%).
The number of graduates who could not find a job or could only find work which did not require a degree is all the more damning given that the number of jobs in the UK requiring a degree (26%) is now greater than the number of jobs for which no qualification at all is required (23%).
According to a study carried out by the Financial Times, starting salaries for students who graduated in 2012 were 12% less on average than students who graduated prior to the 2008 recession. The 2012 students owe 60% more in student debt.
A report published by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) last month shows that 47% of students who graduated in the past five years are working in jobs such as sales assistants and care workers, an increase of 8% since 2008, and of 10% since 2001. This is despite the fact that over a million new jobs have been created since early 2010.
After students with degrees in medicine or dentistry, it was students who had graduated in media and information studies who had the highest employment rate (93%). But they also have the lowest rate of pay (£21,000 a year) of any student category.
Although the level of unemployment among graduates (9%) is lower than it is for those in the same age cohort who have lower or no educational qualifications, it has increased by over 10% since a year ago (8%) and by 80% compared with early 2008 (5%).
The findings of the ONS report contradict claims put forward in May of this year by Information Data Services (IDS), which claimed that it would be easier for graduates to find work in the coming months.
In fact, between October 2012 and October 2013 graduate vacancies fell by 19%, and there are now 50 graduates competing for every entry-level post —an increase of 7% compared with 2012.
Even if the IDS research had been proved correct, it would have been of only limited consolation to graduates. The IDS found that 70% of employers planned to freeze pay for graduates.
But, in fact, employers did not freeze pay for graduates. They cut it. Between September last year and September this year, advertised graduate salaries fell by 3.4%.
While job prospects and rates of pay for graduates continue to decline, the debts with which they are burdened at the time of graduation continue to increase.
Graduates from England are now likely to owe £43,500 in tuition fee loans and maintenance loans by the time they finish university. Students from Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales who study in their home country are likely to owe around £23,500.
Students from England are also less likely to receive maintenance grants, and receive lower grants if eligible at all.
The current total debt of students at British universities is £20 billion —£3 billion owed to friends and family, and the remainder to the Student Loans Company.
For students from outside of Scotland —where there are no tuition fees —debts outstanding at the time of graduation are increasing as a result of the increase in tuition fees to up to £9,000, and also because of the more punitive way in which interest is calculated on the debt.
Under the system for new students, interest is charged at inflation plus 3%. And this interest is charged not just after students complete their studies, but even while students are still in Higher Education.
Overall, students leaving university are now less likely to find work, less likely to find a job which matches their degree, more likely to end up low-paid work. They will be saddled with bigger debts for longer periods of time and at higher rates of interest.