The Creative Society is an arts employment charity that helps young people into jobs in the creative and cultural industries.
Some commentators are finding comfort in the fact that the latest unemployment figures did not break through the 2.5 million barrier. Others that the levelling out of the number of those seeking work hints at recovery in the economy. Lord Mandelson managed to find cheer in the fact that unemployment among the young had not yet reached a million. It was only 943,000.
But if you’re aged between 16 and 24 the job market could hardly be chillier: 19.8 per cent – almost one in five – of this age group is actively seeking work. (In the days of Margaret Thatcher UB40 sang “I am the one in ten. A number on a list”). In fact, it’s worse than the figures suggest since many more graduates are signing up for second degrees to delay their own day of joining the dole queue. Unemployment creates poverty and misery at any age and it’s tempting to think that at least the young have fewer dependants and will eventually benefit from economic recovery. But all the evidence suggests that a protracted period of unemployment after school or university has a long-term impact on a person’s life chances. Their careers simply never catch up. The economy suffers, too, since the talents and energy of an entire generation are lost. New Deal of the Mind has focused on the cultural and creative sector. We have always argued that since this sector is a major driver of the economy, if we waste the creativity of a generation of young graduates, we will all be the losers.
The one in five need action fast, as much in the cultural and creative sector as in the rest of the economy. Lord Mandelson’s Skills for Growth package announced in the Lords on the same day as the unemployment figures, should have been the place to launch that action. But instead of defending what our economy is really based on, Mandelson’s talk is all of “high-tech” “laboratories” and “computer facilities”. We have to train a “new modern class of technicians”, he says.
His opening remarks makes clear the emphasis:
“An active government approach to equipping this country for globalisation means making sure that we have the skills that underwrite the industries and jobs of the future. That means skills for the high-tech, low-carbon, more high-value-added sectors that drive the growth that underwrites everything else we want to achieve as a society. These skills are becoming more sophisticated and even more vital.”
It could have been Harold Wilson on the “white heat of technology”. When Baroness Sharp, for the Lib Dems, gently reminded Mandelson that the cultural and creative sector accounted for 11 per cent of GDP and that its growth rate is now 9 per cent, Mandelson could only reply that support for that sector would depend on “employers’ and businesses’ demands for skills”.
We must wait to learn what the skills minister means by funding the new commitments by refocusing money from “lower priorities”. And what he intends when he says he will clear “the cluttered landscape of public bodies that are responsible for delivering our skills.” But unless the cultural sector shouts now, it seems unlikely that it will be sharing in any of Lord Mandelson’s job creation plans.