The Creative Society is an arts employment charity that helps young people into jobs in the creative and cultural industries.
The number of 18-24 year olds out of work has risen to 973,000, not far short of a million. Unemployment among this age group is increasing at a faster rate than for any other group. Young people now account for more than one in three of all unemployed people. If the Opposition wanted to reproduce the 1979 Tory campaign poster of a line of out-of-work people, the age profile would make it look remarkably like the Friday night queue outside a popular music venue.
The latest official employment statistics (published 14 September 2011) cover the three months to end July 2011and reveal that the total of those seeking work in Britain is now 2.51 million. But, so far less commented on, is that the situation for young people is deteriorating at a much faster rate than for other groups. In the three months to June, 80,000 more people became unemployed. But here’s the disturbing figure: 78,000 of these new unemployed were aged 18-24. The political mud-slinging on this increase has concentrated on the poor performance of both parties in getting the figures down. The Coalition claims that Labour presided over a bigger increase; Labour claims that at least the figures were, as they left office, on the downturn. The truth is, though, that neither party has acted with sufficient focus on how to prevent young people taking the full force of the economic downturn.
Both sides appear to hope that a rising tide will eventually lift all boats. But this may not be true for these young people: if they fail to acquire skills by doing some kind of job while young, this group of young people may become unemployable even as the economy improves. The possibilities of a “lost generation” become stronger the longer recession lasts.
Nor is the kind of work being created necessarily of the type that provides skills and training for the young. There was much celebration in the London Borough of Newham, one of the poorest in the country when the day before the official unemployment figures were released; a large shopping mall opened offering 2,000 new jobs. It is certainly good news for those 2,000 people, but overall the private sector is not taking up the slack of lost public sector jobs as George Osborne confidently asserted would happen when he announced public sector cuts. Compensating for the 111,000 state jobs lost in this period (many of the kind which would have provided training and skills development for those starting careers) have been replaced with only 41,000 new private sector jobs.
If this Government remains steadfast in its plans to cut public spending and reluctant to stimulate the economy – which seems to remain the case – where will the new work come from?
Throughout 2010 New Deal of the Mind undertook research into ways in which young creative people could create their own work by finding cheap studio space, working for and alongside other creative people. It became clear that very small government interventions – business training, mentoring, cheap office or workshop space – could make enormous differences to the prospects of young creatives. They could, in effect, get small ventures going for themselves. Sadly, some of these interventions have been axed.
The day that Government released its depressing figures, the chairman of the Royal Society of Arts and top entrepreneur, Luke Johnson, wrote in the Financial Times of the difficulties 20-30 year-olds around the world were having in getting going on their careers. Opportunities in the advanced economies have become so limited for members of this “Generation Limbo” that they will, Johnson suggested, have to create their own opportunities by becoming entrepreneurs.
Johnson has behind him many successful launches of his own, including Pizza Express, and he has also written extensively about starting small business. Nonetheless, he still believes government has an important role to play.
“If someone aged 25 loses hope, they will not invest in a career, a home or a family – let alone a business,” he writes. “And if whole generations take that attitude, it becomes a form of collective suicide,” Johnson wrote. His column calls on political leaders to raise the spirits of the twenty-somethings and break down obstacles to their getting decent housing and to encourage business start-ups.
“Such initiatives will boost morale, and might counter a national mood of slow-motion self-destruction,” he writes.
New Deal of the Mind started life as an organisation dedicated to finding innovative ways of finding work for young creative people and of lobbying governments to tailor their good intentions to practical solutions. It has also worked with a wide range of creative organisations and others to create paid opportunities for young people on the dole to work in arts organisations. During 2010-11 we found six-month placements around the UK for more than 800 young people. It is often the first step to more permanent work.
We can be pretty sure that there will be no immediate economic policy U-turns from this government. But there does need to be some change of emphasis and a squaring up to the particular problem of this vulnerable age group. The chancellor could do worse than follow the advice of a top entrepreneur and find ways to encourage 20-somethings to invent their own jobs. And he might wish to read New Deal of the Mind’s 2010 report Make a job, don’t take a job on how best to encourage young people to get things moving for themselves.
Barbara Gunnell 16 September