Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Boot camps: Not just nasty, but ineffective too

In an attempt to prove they are not the Nasty Party any longer, the Tories have decided that they want to introduce 'boot camps' for unemployed young people. With a Conservative Government, unemployed young people who don't find a job within three months will be referred automatically to a specialist employment provider, where they will be expected to take part in an intensive programme of work-related activity, so they say. The Tories pretty much invented youth unemployment, so it's always worth having a careful look at what they are up to when they talk about this issue.

Over 200,000 young people are out of work, but just 30,700 for more than six months and 6,000 have been out of work for more than a year. So paying 'specialist employment providers' to make sure young people get jobs, even though something like 90% of them would have got jobs anyway, is a waste of money. James Purnell pointed this out and is right to do so. The Tory vision for the future of the welfare state seems to involve expanding the number of companies which become dependent on government handouts to do things which would happen anyway even without the handouts.

These community work programmes will mean people doing the same things as other people are paid to do, but instead of getting a proper wage, getting less than £50/week. That's about £1.50/hour. The Tories claim to have accepted that there should be a minimum wage in this country, but this will directly undercut that. It's especially cruel when on the one hand they are pretending that it is people's own fault if they are unemployed and at the same time any Tory economist would argue that a healthy economy requires that there are a certain number of people out of work.

But even on its own terms, the Tory proposals are really stupid. There have been masses and masses of programmes in the UK and other countries aimed at getting young people off benefit and into work. One key part of all of the successful ones is that the people who take part actually wanted to be there. One key reason why many programmes have failed is because they have lots of people who don't want to be there and have only turned up because they were forced to. Here's just one example to demonstrate the point.

Anyone who's, say, ever been to school or done a job where there were a mix of people who wanted to be there and ones who didn't will know exactly what the problem is. And these specialist providers aren't going to be getting paid for providing interesting and meaningful programmes which are tailored to the needs of each individual, because those are very expensive. Instead the contracts will go to large firms with experience of writing bids and meeting statistical targets for the lowest cost possible.

And what about the young people who don't take part in these programmes? Apparently they will have their benefits stopped. Again, it doesn't take a genius what this will mean. Some will supplement their income with more drug dealing or burglary, while others who are vulnerable or victims of administrative errors will end up trying to cope with nothing at all. There was at least one case in Germany where a young man with mental health problems starved to death after his benefits were stopped. A decade after the welfare reforms in the USA which time limited benefits there, more than 1 out of every 100 Americans is in prison.

That's even before we get to their idea that these boot camps are going to make employers hire the young people who have been out of work rather than migrant workers. I thought that the Tories used to be in touch with the business community - there's nothing about how any of this will make someone who runs a small business choose to hire someone who is likely to have fewer skills.

Reading through the Tory spokesman's speech, he appears to have a utopian belief in the power of the government to pay private companies to run programmes which will solve serious and deep rooted social problems with 100% success and without any of the problems which these sorts of schemes have encountered in the past. Either that, or this is a load of cynical spin designed to grab a few headlines and sound tough but not actually achieve anything.


At 4:33 pm , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have to say the Tory Shadow Minister had a wretched time trying to defend this idea and the term "boot camp" on Richard Bacon's radio 5 phone in earlier in the week.He all but disowned the use of the term 'boot camp' at one stage...


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