In November of 2011 record-breaking statistics for youth unemployment were splashed across headlines in the UK, with 21% of all 16 to 24-year-olds being unemployed, out of education or training. In December the records were broken all over again with youth unemployment reaching 1.027 million– equating to 22% of all 16 to 24-year-olds.
While a single percent may seem meagre at first glance, it is important to reiterate this has risen within the space of a month, despite floundering attempts by the coalition government to invest in jobs and other employment initiatives for young people. And this ‘record-breaking’ figure will no doubt be broken again and again as months go by throughout the New Year, especially when these employment initiatives prove themselves unfruitful and emasculating.
Speaking to friends and acquaintances both inside and outside of full-time education (some of which have received numerous A grade A-levels in September last year), it has become clear that of the hundreds of CVs that some have sent out in the months since September, it is extremely common that only one or two job interviews will be offered, and even those have been reportedly misleading or outright scams.
One particular young woman aged 18 received several A-levels of the outstanding A* grade, and having applied and been deemed successful for a job in journalism, she reported that her interviewer made it “the last thing he mentioned” that the job itself was actually completely unpaid! Even without advertising the initial vacancy as an ‘unpaid internship’ some companies were only releasing hints about their masquerading slave labour after the young person had accepted the job. She then went on to tell me that it was completely common that “advertisements don’t actually specify ‘paid’ or not” and explained to me: “I think if you look specifically into journalism and marketing there’s a lot of kids wanting to be writers and they use that [to take advantage of them]”.
But the truth of the matter is that this practice among employers is not confined to marketing and journalism but is becoming increasingly common among companies in all fields; enabling them to misinform, manipulate and bully unemployed and desperate workers into accepting utterly illegal employment contracts on the false pretences that “six months of unpaid internship with our company will guarantee you a paid job with us in the future”. Even in simply trawling employment agency websites (Gumtree, Monster etc.), it is clear that companies are becoming increasingly ambiguous about wages, encouraging hopefuls to contact first and apply initially before such information is provided. In some instances, even upon learning that the jobs applied for are unpaid, some young people accept the jobs anyway purely out of feelings of obligation, or sheer bewilderment.
These instances of first-world slavery are not improved by the coalition government’s new bureaucratic measures and pressures on job agencies either. The government’s Work Programme has tightened up the Welfare and Pensions Department and scrutinised receivers of unemployment benefits and Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA) which, in a bid to get more people into work, is only serving to catalyse and endorse the aforementioned examples of exploitation. In order to help people find jobs they attempt to help them gain ‘workplace experience’, yet this actually involves forcing people into unpaid jobs with the threat of withdrawing unemployment benefits should they refuse. One such incident was recently reported in the Daily Mail (12th Jan 2012) in which a young post-graduate was forced into accepting two-weeks of unpaid work at Poundland or risk having her unemployment benefits of almost £60 per week withdrawn. This wasn’t merely a cruel-to-be-kind persuasion to gain her some ‘work experience’ for her own good; the young woman was already devoting her time to volunteering in a museum! Ms Reilly has now taken legal action against the UK government since it was their desperate employment initiatives and red-tape which has led to such a breach of the Human Rights Act.
The old Blairite concept of a ‘classless’ society or purely ‘middle-class’ nation has clearly collapsed; the distinction between the wealthy and the disenfranchised is becoming ever more apparent due to the economic conditions in the UK today, and worldwide, which have forced desperate governments to enforce agendas of public sector cuts and austerity measures. The increase in university tuition fees and cuts to EMA has already marked the return of education to a commodity status, reserved only for those who are able to afford it. But even more paradoxically, employment seems to be only accessible for those who can afford it as well! Internships and volunteer work seems to be the ‘foot-in-the-door’ for young people to gain access to full-time employment opportunities, and yet internships and volunteering remains only available to those who are already receiving some form of financial support already.
Having cut youth services, EMA, university funding and young people’s health clinics, it isn’t surprising that we’ve already seen mass student protests and outbreaks of rioting in the last year: Statistics of youth unemployment in the UK coincide with the areas worst affected by the riots. Tower Hamlets was the borough with the highest number of benefit claimants in October 2011, with 3,430 claiming jobseeker's allowance (10% of its young people), Newham having 3,300 claimants, Croydon with 2,935, Enfield - 2,860, Waltham Forest - 2,780, and Southwark - 2,700.(BBC, Oct 2011) With the ‘green shoots’ of economic recovery now having disappeared from casual mention in the news, we are faced with the sinister prospect of a steady growth in unemployment over 2012.
The same outpouring of destruction, disregard and inarticulate frustration observed in the August riots will affect more and more young people if we do not fight for an alternative government and alternative economic system.