The young don’t need a socialist youth service, Jeremy – just give them a job instead

The serious answer to kids messing about with knives and moped muggings isn’t to pack them off to sing Hamas protest songs around the camp fire at a Seamas Milne Maoist Summer School. No. The answer is more capitalism, not less

Sean O'Grady@_seanogrady
Tuesday 31 July 2018 10:51
There’s a better way to tackle youth unemployment, and there’s a clue right there in the word ‘unemployment’
There’s a better way to tackle youth unemployment, and there’s a clue right there in the word ‘unemployment’

It sounds a bit sinister, doesn’t it? Labour’s SYS – Statutory Youth Service. According to the official press release, this is what it’s all about: “The next Labour government would mandate a national body with dedicated ring-fenced funding to oversee youth service provision across England. This national body would work with local youth partnerships in every local area to support service delivery across the country.” The Corbyn Youth movement is about to be launched, then.

Typical Corbyn-speak in other words, and I am surprised that Sadiq Khan, the intelligent and grown-up Mayor of London has got roped into the project, along with Cat Smith, the Shadow Minister for Voter Engagement and Youth Affairs (aged 33 and currently on her own, parliamentary, apprenticeship). Maybe he wants to show he is “doing something” about knife crime.

It’s so waffly that the SYS could be almost anything. Some might envisage it as a modern day version of the Komsomol, the Soviet Union’s youth body. In the USSR, where of course there was no unemployment, the All-Union Leninist Young Communist League, to give it its formal title, was concerned with initiating the kids into the disciplines of socialism and democratic centralism, imbuing them with the spirit of class consciousness and banning them from drinking, smoking (tobacco), and religion. Much like Momentum in today’s Labour Party, I guess, and obviously ripe for a roll-out into the wider UK community. Compulsory re-education classes for Young Conservatives cannot be far away.

Britain in 2028: You’re unfortunate enough to have your brat come home from college one day with a Corbyn badge and a red scarf topping off the new SYS uniform. You fear the juvenile nark will snitch on you if it catches you doing anything remotely incorrect, like enjoying a crafty Silk Cut behind the potting shed, or smuggling a copy of the Daily Mail into the house. Corbyn's baby spies will be everywhere.

The serious answer to kids messing about with knives, moped muggings and drug dealing excursions to Norfolk isn’t to pack them off to get the harvest in and watch ballet in the evenings, or sing Hamas protest songs around the camp fire at a Seamas Milne Maoist Summer School or be press ganged into the First Barry Gardiner Red Flag Co-operative Tractor Factory. No. The answer is more capitalism, not less.

Seriously, if I may, the SYS follows a long history of hopeless initiatives by politicians from all the major parties confronted with a “crisis” in youth unemployment. When joblessness among school leavers started to take off in the 1970s and 1980s, Labour and Tory governments alike invented “make work” schemes such as the Youth Training Scheme (YTS) and the Youth Opportunities Programme (YOPS, or YOBS as it was popularly known). The unemployment stats were shaming, and they needed massaging, so the adolescents had to be shifted off the rolls, and officialdom wasn’t too fussy about how. I witnessed some of the effects of these schemes at first hand and they were embarrassing – at best subsidised cheap labour for employers, at worst the institutionalisation of boredom. Later on, governments cynically shovelled some into higher education, hoping for the best and making the youngsters pay for more of the gamble that their degree will boost their earnings sufficiently to pay back the investment.

Well, there’s a better way to tackle youth unemployment, and there’s a clue right there in the word “unemployment”. The way to reduce youth unemployment is to increase youth employment. The way to do that, sorry to report, is to build a competitive economy – post-Brexit it’ll be needed more than ever. You don’t achieve that through creating pretend training programmes or bogus college courses, or subsidising uncompetitive industries and then using them to mop up kids on the dole (aka Labour’s Build It In Britain programme).

Sooner or later you will discover that the answer is to create private sector jobs at the right (market) level of wages, not arbitrary “living” or “minimum” rates, with inward investment and entrepreneurs encouraged to make businesses grow, which means lower taxes and looser regulation. Inside or outside the EU, that is the only way it has ever been done the world over. All that does need to be underpinned by excellent state schools – on that I would agree with Labour. Everything else is a fairy tale, and our young people are too old to be patronised with such fantasies.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

View comments