Students have suffered enough: Labour shouldn't axe benefits for the under-25s

Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary Rachel Reeves is "considering" cutting youth benefits
  • @mikesegalov

Last night, it emerged that the Labour party is considering proposals that would mean people under the age of 25 would be barred from claiming unemployment benefits. This comes just weeks after David Cameron announced that this was practically his plan too, suggesting that under 25s would not be eligible for state benefits unless working, earing or in training.

While the immediate backlash to the Labour idea seems to have ensured their press team are now calling the story “overblown”, the worrying part is that after two decades of New Labour, the story was all too believable.

The political narrative of effectively blaming young people, and other minority groups in society needs to end.

For young people in and looking to enter higher education, prospects have never looked bleaker. With fees already set at a staggering £9,000 for undergraduate courses, alongside huge living costs, the NUS revealed last month that students face a funding shortfall of £7,654 inside London and £7,693 outside the capital. This is taking into account all possible loans and bursaries that a student may be eligible for.

In essence, entering higher education is becoming more and more an opportunity reserved for the privileged. But oh well, it’s not like our university leaders are talking of trying to raise fees again, to say, £16,000? £20,000?

And it’s hardly like graduates are finding themselves in a position where they can support themselves, what with student and private sector debts, salaries for graduates down 12 per cent between 2007 and 2011, and half of graduates unable to find graduate-level jobs.

If university now seems like an unrealistic prospect, which to many it will be, with debts increasing and shortfalls on the rise, it’ll be so much worse if young people are expected to find work or be in training just to be eligible for state support. In July to September 2013, 965,000 16-24 year olds were unemployed, or 21 per cent. This statistic is not one that suggests young people are failing to find work, but that there is a systematic and societal problem where young people simply haven’t got jobs to fill.

Current Government policy sees some young people forced to work for free under “workfare” to ensure benefit payments are made, and it’s policy like this, alongside the growth of unpaid internships and the UK’s continual failure to invest sustainably and tax fairly, that perpetuate young people’s lack of opportunity and ensure they remain ostracised from society .

Before politicians begin to throw the blame for our current state of misery, we should all be analysing the propositions they are making with a keen eye. Young people are by no means alone as scapegoats, with attacks being made on the disabled, asylum seekers, immigrants, prisoners and pretty much anyone else who’s already suffering from the economic and political crisis we appear to be entrenched in. However, the supposed opportunities that young people have are by no means accessible to all.