End long-term youth unemployment to improve social mobility, says Milburn

17 Oct 13
The social mobility watchdog has urged the government to adopt a target to end long-term youth unemployment.

By Richard Johnstone | 17 October 2013 

The social mobility watchdog has urged the government to adopt a target to end long-term youth unemployment.

Unemployed youth

Today’s State of the nation report from the Commission on Social Mobility and Child Poverty also warned that the legally binding goal to end child poverty by 2020 would be missed by a ‘considerable’ margin.

Commission chair, former Labour minister Alan Milburn, said there was much to welcome in the government’s efforts to improve social mobility, such as the reforms being made to schools. However, he added that the child poverty target would be missed by a large amount and more needed to be done to ensure Britain become a ‘low poverty, high mobility society’.

The economic recovery was unlikely to halt the stagnation of low wages, he said.

‘If that happens social inequality will widen and the rungs of the social ladder will grow further apart.

‘We see a danger that social mobility – having risen in the middle of the last century then flat-lined towards the end – could go into reverse in the first part of this century.’

The commission made a number of recommendations to government to avert this, including an aim to end long-term youth unemployment. This could be done by increasing learning and earning opportunities for young people, who should be expected to take use these or face possible benefit cuts.

More should also be done to tackle in-work poverty by increasing the National Minimum Wage, the commission concluded.

It noted that the UK has one of the highest rates of low pay in the developed world. Around 5 million workers earn less than the Living Wage, Milburn said. ‘These are the people that heed the urgings of politicians of all hues to do the right thing, to stand on their own two feet, to strive not shirk. They desperately need a new deal.

‘A far bigger national effort will be needed if progress is to be made on reducing poverty and improving mobility. That will require leadership at every level. Government cannot do it alone, but it does have a special role to play in setting the framework for policy and mobilising the country to action.’

Paul Cleal, a commission member and partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers, added that the slow return to growth in the economy had complicated social mobility and child poverty issues in the UK.

‘The economics of one in six children being classified as poor, and two-thirds of children in poverty being in working families, is unacceptable and simply doesn’t add up in the long term. It not only cheats young people of their chances in life, but our wider society of their contribution to work, families and communities.’

Responding to the report, the Child Poverty Action Group said it was now clear child poverty was on the rise.

Chief executive Alison Garnham added: ‘We always put our children’s needs first in family life, but the commission finds the government isn’t putting children first when it comes to the big decisions. Instead it is making poorer families with children bear the brunt of austerity. We welcome the commission’s call for the nation’s children to be better protected in decision-making.

‘We need firm action to help families suffering problems like low pay, lack of full-time work and job insecurity. The government should start by taking up the commission’s recommendation to increase the National Minimum Wage and to give all low earner families a higher level of childcare support under Universal Credit.’


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