Youth anger at Cameron benefits threat

(Originally Published by Equal Times)
Translations: Español | Francais 

Young people in the UK have reacted angrily to Prime Minister David Cameron’s proposals to cut benefits for jobseekers under the age of 25. 

Photo by UK Department for International Development (DFID)
Speaking at the Conservative party conference on Wednesday Cameron said: “…we should give young people a clear, positive choice: Go to school. Go to college. Do an apprenticeship. Get a job…But just choose the dole? We've got to offer them something better than that.” 

Tory officials subsequently confirmed that young people could lose an automatic right to claim Housing Benefit and Jobseeker’s Allowance if they refused to accept job offers, in the next round of Conservative welfare reforms. 

But with the latest figures from the Department of Work and Pensions revealing a total of 1.09 million “Neets” – young people not in education, employment or training – Equal Times gathered the views of under 25s struggling to break into the UK labour market.   

Heyder Rashid, 23, from Warrington, is currently on an apprenticeship but was until recently claiming Job Seeker’s Allowance. “These cuts should not be a priority. The government should be concentrating more on helping young people find jobs”, he said. “Most young people come out of University at the age of 23 with an undergraduate degree and still have problems finding a job, how will they survive if the benefits are cut further?” 

Rashid’s sentiment was echoed by 17 year old Liam Blakesley from Rochdale who has never been in full-time employment and is completing a work placement as an office receptionist while living with his family: “The idea is stupid. There are no jobs going, so it isn’t fair to hit people when they are trying so hard to get a job.”  

Other views were more nuanced.  Georgina Douglas, 18, from Coventry, is also doing an apprenticeship but argues the government needs to strike the right balance: 

“I think in some ways it is fair and but also in some ways it can be cruel. It is fair because young people could get into the habit of always relying on benefits and this could lead them to not try and get work or even further education – this could lead them into staying in the benefits system for a long time. However cutting their benefits could lead them into a job that they don’t enjoy or a job where they have nowhere to go on to.” 

But Sarah Morris, 19, who recently moved out of her family home in Manchester, fears such a move would further limit the ability of young people to live independently. “Young people want to get out of their parents’ clutches and live their own life with independence. But cutting housing benefits is going to make this impossible for them – which could lead to more young people becoming homeless,” she warned.

The Liberal Democrats have previously blocked plans by Tory ministers to reduce Housing Benefits for people under-25, meaning that the latest proposals are unlikely to be introduced before the 2015 election. 

Earlier this year a report revealed Britain has the third highest rate of youth unemployment in the OECD. The coalition government subsequently launched a ‘workfare’ scheme whereby unemployed young people are given a choice between working for free and sacrificing their benefit payments. In April, Paul Fletcher, Director of the UK youth charity Rathbone, told Equal Times the government wasn’t doing enough to create work opportunities for the young. 

“Employers are not taking on young people because they haven’t got demand for their services. I think we need a job creation scheme for young people. The key is they need to last at least a year so they have sufficient time to gain skills that allow them to then enter the labour market. The young people actually get paid a wage and retain a key ingredient called dignity.”