The unemployment statistics, and particularly the figures for young people, are truly dreadful. The evidence that people who are out of work for an extended period in their younger years are more likely to be vulnerable to unemployment throughout the rest of their life makes an important point: While the Government may say its strategy is putting long term stability ahead of short term demands, the social impact of today’s slump will itself be long term.
I will leave others to comment on the Coalitions’ line that the UK’s current problems can be laid at the door of the Eurozone crisis. It is worth noting that both economic growth and unemployment are worse in the UK than many Eurozone countries.
The point is that something has to be done. Here is my suggestion. I’m sure it is full of holes but maybe they can be filled by people cleverer than me.
The Government should create a ‘bond for hope’. This would be a five year bond earning say 1% tax free interest (so, below inflation but above what banks are offering). To reduce the worry that this is more Government debt liability, investors would have to carry the risk of Government taking up an option to roll the bond redemption date on by a further five years.
The bond would aim to make £2 billion pounds available immediately to fund roughly a quarter of a million one year jobs for young people costing £150 a week (say £125 weekly allowance and £25 employer admin fee). The bond fund would be financed equally by a direct grant from Government, by 100 companies with the largest current capital reserves, who would be asked publicly to sign up or explain why not (after all, it would cost them less than £7 million each), and a public subscription made up of 660,000 individual investments of £1,000. The public bond would be targeted at particular groups, for example well off pensioners. Those who bought the bond would receive a certificate and other forms of public recognition. The bond would be overseen by an independent body of senior respected figures who would be charged with championing it among corporates and the public.
Crucially the jobs created by the bond would be in areas where young people could make a clear contribution to improving society. I have three initial ideas:
Primary schools – in my experience many teenagers are very good with young children. If every primary school in England took on two young people to help out in a range of functions from reading with children in class, to manual work, to offering additional activities such as drama or football coaching this would create 40,000 jobs and bring real benefits to the schools
Old people’s homes and other facilities – this sector is in crisis. Local authority funding for homes has fallen by an average of 4% in the last two years and recent report from the Care Commission found terrible examples of negligence in hospital settings. Again many young people are very good with older folks and there is a range of activities which they could undertake to improve the quality of life of frail older people, most of all simply offering more companionship.
Public space – from increasing the frequency of street cleaning, to tidying up and maintaining parks to helping reclaim derelict spaces, every local authority, neighbourhood council or community association could take on a group of young people. Their tasks and goals would be published on line so the public could help monitor, encourage and support them in making places cleaner and nicer
Running alongside these jobs the Government would create an on-line learning resource so that every young person could pursue a qualification related to their activities, with a part of their accreditation being work based. The public could also be asked to offer mentoring support to students. Employers would be encouraged to earmark entry level jobs and apprenticeships for people who had successfully completed a ‘bond for hope’ placement. And, of course, young people would be expected to take up any reasonable offer.
The ‘bond for hope’ would give young people a job and a basic income, it would improve the opportunities of young children in school, the quality of life of older frail people and the quality of public spaces. Most important of all it would give those of us who have some money a chance to help and be seen to help together. We tend to assume that it is hope that leads to action. In my experience it is the reverse; action leads to hope. So let’s act.
This may seem like a simplistic idea; perhaps there is a killer argument to show it is impractical. But if it – or something like it – happens, I hereby pledge to be one of the first ‘bond for hope’ investors.