So, this is what it has come to – boot camps for the young unemployed. Matt Hancock, the Minister for the Cabinet Office and Paymaster General, has announced ‘a government plan to send young unemployed people to boot camps to prepare them for work.’ To be honest, I have just heard the news and am trying to digest it. That young people are going to be punished in such an awful way is barely credible. Previous to the election I had written that workfare was bad enough, but boot camps? Yet again we have young people, many of whom will be vulnerable, many of whom will have issues that they require support with which will come before their employment status, many of whom will desperately require support and understanding will instead be getting sent on some sort of hyped-up work programme. I have to admit I am incredulous at this latest development.
As we know, young people are desperate to work, research consistently shows this. But instead we hear the same old tired rhetoric from Hancock, that there exists a “welfare culture that is embedded in some of Britain’s most vulnerable communities.” There is no evidence for this, and indeed studies which have tried to find evidence for this have been unable to do so. Young people are again suffering for their lack of political participation. Instead of trying to embrace young people and send a message of understanding which could assist their political inclusion, measures like these will simply further embed resentment.
The bottom line in all this of course, is quite simple. There is a dearth of job opportunities for young people leaving school with few qualifications. And boot camps will not create jobs. Yet again we have a government taking an individualised approach to the issue of employment. Instead of looking at the structural issues which impede working opportunities for young people, the Tories are looking to play the blame game – and so we hear the familiar rhetoric of feckless idleness and cultures of welfare dependency. We also had a window into this way of thinking last year, when Lord Tebbit suggested that ‘young unemployed people should be made to pull up ragwort from roadside verges in return for benefits.’ Schemes like this are not about stimulating opportunity, as there is no evidence that they do so. They’re a form of punishment designed to discourage young people from claiming benefits in the first place.
We know that young people’s entry into the world of work is bounded by and hindered by many factors, including, amongst others, poverty, family disadvantage, localised unemployment, disability, discrimination and not least – a genuine shortage of opportunities which welcome young entrants into the labour market. Not to mention the evidence which shows that an increasingly common experience for many young people is moving in and out of temporary, part-time or zero hours ‘McJobs’ and/or moving in and out of training and employment schemes or short term educational courses. Again, it is worth repeating, the evidence tells us young people *want* to work. What is needed is not a bigger stick, but genuine help for young people struggling in an increasingly fragmented and flexiblised employment market. Unfortunately that seems a million miles away when we hear of boot camps.
Boot camps? Can it get any worse?