It’s an old story, but it appears that they’re remaking it again. No, it’s not the BBC dramatisation of Dracula. It’s rising unemployment.
Youth unemployment is particularly troubling. In November this year 11,200 young people had been claiming benefits for more than a year. Youth unemployment is now worse than it was when Labour came to power. Figures from the Office of National Statistics are instructive:
1997 2006 Change
16 – 24 year olds unemployed 665,000 702,000 + 37,000
16 – 24 unemployment rate 14.4% 14.5% + 0.1%
16 – 24 unemployment rate – London 22.5% 42.9% + 20.4%
Labour MPs are rushing to blame the usual suspects – immigrants. With simple but flawed logic they suggest that hundreds of thousands of East Europeans have flooded in and taken jobs that might otherwise be filled by British workers. However, if this were the case, why was it that two thirds of a million 16 – 24 year olds were unemployed before the East Europeans arrived? How has Britain managed to absorb hundreds of thousands of East European workers when unemployment has only risen by tens of thousands?
This scapegoating of hard working, tax paying immigrants is a sordid attempt to shift attention from the real culprits: the Labour government. Youth unemployment is on the rise because Labour has strangled business with masses of extra regulation and rising taxation. It is rising because our schools are still failing to teach basic skills to far too many of our children; a quarter are functionally illiterate, innumerate and leave school at 16 with no qualifications worth speaking of. And it is rising because the government’s New Deal is a disaster, costing more and proving less effective than similar schemes in comparable countries, while massaging the jobless statistics by placing young people in jobs that last less than 13 weeks, so that returning jobless do not appear to be long-term unemployed.
In 1997 Gordon Brown described the levels of youth unemployment that Labour inherited from the Conservatives as “sickening”, a “human tragedy”, “an economic disaster”. After nine years of his chancellorship, it is now worse. It is an old Labour story, and each time we read it we feel the same despair. Labour isn’t working.