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We will not be the lost generation
Trade unions must step up fight against youth unemployment
Alex Hutchinson, Hull Socialist Party
Recent figures reveal the devastating impact the Covid-19 pandemic is having on youth in Britain. Young workers below the age of 25 have accounted for two-thirds of all job losses over the past 12 months.
The sectors of employment hit the hardest by the pandemic tend to be dominated by a younger workforce. The hotel and bar industry has seen 368,000 jobs disappear, while a further 123,000 shopping and retail jobs have been lost through this crisis. As a result, there are now 437,000 fewer 16-24 year olds in paid employment than there were 12 months ago.
All of this, coupled with ten years of austerity, cuts to services, lack of opportunities and an increasingly competitive job market, amount to a bleak future for young people in Britain.
Last Autumn, Rishi Sunak and the Tories hailed their Kickstarter scheme as a great boost for youth. It was supposed to encourage more employers to hire young workers through temporary, six-month placements. Yet a few months on, it is evident that the scheme was a mere plaster over the gaping wound of youth unemployment.
At the current rates of job losses, it is estimated that by October 2021, a year since the scheme was announced, the number of 16-24 year olds out of work could reach one million. At the same time, the furlough scheme, which has thus far offset the unemployment figures, is coming to an end in September.
Yet the unemployment figures alone do not paint the full picture. Millions of young workers in employment are still struggling to make ends meet. The unfair laws around minimum wage that allow employers to exploit the labour of younger workers mean that most people below the age of 25 are earning less than the measly national 'living wage' of £8.72 an hour.
Quite often the only jobs available are insecure, part-time, temporary contracts or precarious employment of the Deliveroo and Uber companies. As a result, millions of young people are becoming a lost generation, unable to become independent from their parents due to unaffordable housing and a lack of prospects.
Young people need a fightback and a programme to end their plight. This must include immediate investment into decent jobs and support services for young workers; an end to the bogus apprenticeships and schemes which aim to exploit the labour of young people and undercut wages of older workers; an end to the unfair pay for under-25s with an immediate increase of the minimum wage to £12 an hour for all as a step towards a real living wage of £15 an hour.
These demands must be taken up by the trade union movement. We have already seen the beginnings of this taking place. The GMB union recently announced a historic court victory where Uber drivers were declared workers, not self-employed, and must now be given rights and protection.
Unite the Union is ramping up its campaign to organise workers in Amazon. The Bakers' Union has already had successes in organising young people with campaigns like the McStrikers, which was aimed at fighting for the rights of fast-food workers.
In the aftermath of Covid-19, it is evident that the Tories will attempt to make the working class pay for the cost of the pandemic. Those disproportionately affected by cuts and job losses will be young people. Now, more than ever, the trade union movement must organise a fightback and bring young workers into their ranks.
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