I note that employment and training opportunities for young people has been something of a theme of late on Comment with John Hayes MP and Robert Halfon MP contributing articles on the subject of apprenticeships. By coincidence, I have recently completed a survey in my constituency of 267 young people aged 16-24 to ascertain their perceptions of employment and welfare. I also wanted to better understand how we should communicate with young people about these issues, particularly in light of the changes that the Coalition is putting forward.
The abhorrent financial legacy that the Coalition inherited from the previous Government does in many respects, overshadow many of Labour’s other failures. The benefits system was a prime example of such a failure. Welfare reform was dodged at the same time as costs escalated and more people were trapped in a cycle of welfare dependency, poverty and worklessness. Despite their lofty rhetoric, Labour impoverished more of the very poorest people in our society, more children grow up in workless households than anywhere else in Europe and we have almost a million 16-24 year olds not in education or training. This is a shameful record. The welfare reforms being proposed by the Government are one of the most exciting aspects of the Coalition’s agenda. Restructuring the welfare system so that it is based on sound principles will have a profound impact on our ability to get people off benefits and into work. That is why I particularly welcome;
- The statement that people will always be better off in work than on benefits.
- The Universal Credit so transitions between welfare and work will be made simpler and fairer so people will no longer be trapped on benefits from fear of negotiating such complicated and bureaucratic system.
- The implementation of sensible marginal deduction rates to reward and incentivise people taking on more work whilst on benefits, rather than punishing them with de facto higher rates of taxation than top rate taxpayers.
My constituency of Hastings and Rye is a prime example of the sort of place that has been badly let down. Average wages in Hastings have fallen further behind the national average under Labour and the town is heavily reliant on the public sector providing employment for local people. I have always been convinced that if Hastings is to prosper, it is imperative that we encourage private sector investment into our local community and that we provide jobs and opportunities for people who live there.
It is especially important that we provide employment and training opportunities for young people if we are to break the intergenerational cycle of social problems that too many families are caught in today. Recently we received the positive news that SAGA will be opening a brand new office in Hastings creating over 800 new jobs but according to my survey, over 84% were either unsure what was happening or unaware that SAGA were even coming to the town.
The present system to help young people find work or find training opportunities simply isn’t adequate. Again my survey demonstrated that 65% of young people thought the existing setup was either not very good or was letting young people down badly and over 50% believed there were very few jobs available to them.
Iain Duncan Smith’s reforms will transform the benefits system for the better, but the success of this policy is dependent on engaging with young people appropriately. It is vital that we put information in the right places for young people. There was clear evidence from my survey that greater use of social networking would be a more effective way of communicating with young people. 65% said the use of Facebook or Twitter would be more effective than traditional methods.
We need only look around us to see how social media is changing the way we interact with each other. This profound shift should be recognised in the way Government and associated agencies communicate with this often difficult to reach group. At present, the DWP spends only £6,225 on electronic communications targeted at young people but whilst simultaneously spending over £211,000 on literature based campaigns. There needs to be greater equity between these two areas of spend if these reforms are to be a success. Chris Grayling, Minister for Employment has agreed to meet with me to hear the results and my suggestions. Yes, we need to change the welfare system and encourage people back to work, but we need to make sure we are heard by our target audience and that means rethinking communication with them.