‘Unemployment is a price worth paying’ were the words that showed millions of Britons what the Tories really know about ordinary people. As unemployment rises again, and youth unemployment in particular is about to hit 1 million, my belief is that the people, and the Big Society, are better off when we are in work. It is especially important for young people to get a foothold in work and is certainly in the interest of both society, and HM Treasury to ensure that as many young people as possible can get work, or continue in further education.
There is a fundamental contradiction in Tory rhetoric about worklessness. At once they are carving a deep wound in our public services, and ‘cutting’ the jobs, and therefore the lives, of thousands of public sector workers. They cut the Future Jobs Fund, a vital programme which provided 18-24 year olds who had been out of work for six months with temporary employment. They abolished Education Maintenance Allowance, which provided thousands of less well off children the chance to afford further qualifications to help them compete in the labour market. And they quashed the opportunity for 10,000 young people to go to university this year. At the same time the benefit budget is slashed and the coalition promise to get people off benefits and back into work. Where will these jobs come from? And what do those unable to find work, or unable to work at all, do when their benefits are reduced?
The Tories believe the private sector will provide these jobs, that private businesses will create well over 2 million jobs in the next few years. When the private sector created little more than 300,000 jobs between 1993 and 1999, I think everybody can see this for the nonsense it is.
But what would Labour do? The pathetic Tory response to all the criticism has been to point at the lack of concrete policy detail from Labour. They might say that this was a tactic we used while in Government. The fundamental difference is that Labour showed the Tory manifesto up for what it was. Lies, dishonesty, manipulation and branding with barely a sniff of the horror that a Tory government would really unleash. Labour were right.
This is what Labour would have done. We would have kept Education Maintenance Allowance, as Michael Gove promised before the election, thereby helping thousands of young people stay in education and encouraging aspiration. We would have given those 10,000 young people the chance to go to university, the chance to better themselves and more than pay off the cost of their education to the tax payer. And we would have protected the Future Jobs Fund, a scheme which helped 50% of young claimants move off benefits after their placement, and which the coalition advisor Frank Field called “one of the most precious things the last government was involved in, a lifeline that no amount of ‘New Deal’ rhetoric ever offered the unemployed”.
The Tories don’t understand people. They don’t care about people. Otherwise they would realise that every job cut is an assault on a family, every child that has to drop out of college is a slammed door on the future of this country, and every moment a person spends fearful of their prospects will eat away at our ‘big society’.