Listening to David Cameron’s speech at the end of the Conservative Party Conference, I was struck by the manner in which he was prepared to challenge the culture of dependency that grew up during Labour’s years in Government.
The more he talked about aspiration, the more relevant his words became – and that is because I see the effects of dependency on benefits and the sheer lack of recognition by people stuck on welfare that they can break free and become economically independent.
I spend most of my time helping unemployed people get back to work. After years in the doldrums, the construction sector is growing once again and there are plenty of opportunities for skilled workers.
The challenge, of course, is where people lack skills and this is not just the ability to lay bricks or plaster walls, but to have the personal skills that must underpin someone’s worth as an employee.
When I speak to employers about taking on Apprentices, the most important issue is always the attitude of the individual concerned. People who run businesses need employees who turn up on time, for whom every week contains five working days, who will be polite, who can read, write and do sums – the list could go on.
Yet the fact is that many unemployed young people simply lack these basic skills. The youngsters who attend our Employability Skills programme have left school and gone straight onto the dole – where they will stay unless and until they gain the ability to persuade an employer to invest time and attention in making them a worthwhile part of their workforce.
The lack of educational achievement – and especially the lack of personal skills – tend (from my experience dealing with these young people) to be rooted at home and this feeds into their time at school. Non attendance; Disruptive behaviour; Keeping quiet so you’re not noticed. These are the three favourite routes for avoiding the challenge that sitting in a class can bring. It’s no surprise the young people we train don’t lack intellect – they’ve just not achieved anything with it. Arguably, they have used it to develop a series of avoidance techniques.
Look into the background and find the broken homes, the complex parental relationships, passing of children from one relative to another, the simple lack of care that every child needs. Parents who have grown to anticipate the state will provide, no matter about their lack of acceptance of personal responsibility for themselves, their circumstances and most importantly, their children.
That’s why we need to put a stop to the “welfare cycle”. We cannot permit a new crop of claimants to emerge every year as they leave school. We must destroy the culture of dependency where it doesn’t matter whether you have contributed, you get a handout just the same. This culture has created an acceptance that after school is over, you don’t have to have a job.
By stopping school leavers feeding in to the so-called NEET group (youngsters not in education, employment or training) by saying you either work or learn, we will change the culture. By getting older people off benefits and into work, we will change the culture. By giving people a hand up from benefits and into a job, we will change the culture.
I know the Government is investing in the training that unemployed people need – that’s what SuperSkills does. I also know they buy training that most fits in with what the local economy wants – we are judged by how many people we train get jobs.
So when those who created the problem criticize the Prime Minister for saying that young people must be “earning or learning”, I disagree. Hardworking people who want to get on and who do the right thing have every right to say they want their taxes to be used to benefit the country, rather than fund a lifetime on handouts.
What the young people I train want is a hand up – the skills to get a job. They want to make things, to earn money, to have a car, to buy a house. All they need is someone to show them how.
So those who say this is about “workfare”, who denigrate the jobs that young people will do, who see it as an affront to liberty that people who want to benefit from the welfare state should contribute first, or give their time in return, are wrong.
To change the “dependency culture” we must challenge it. Getting young people off benefits and into training or work is the right approach.