Young people who are out of education and unemployed for six months will be forced to do unpaid community work to get benefits if the Conservatives win the election, the prime minister said today.
David Cameron said he wanted to abolish long-term youth unemployment by making sure that school and college leavers were either “earning or learning".
The scheme, which will affect some 50,000 18- to 21-year-olds classed as Neet (not in education, employment or training), will involve 30 hours a week of compulsory community work such as cooking for older people or working in a charity shop.
They would have to do this alongside 10 hours of job hunting in order to be paid the proposed new "youth allowance", equivalent to the current Jobseeker’s Allowance.
Mr Cameron said that society had been sending the “wrong messages” to young people, and that the “well-worn path” from school gate to job centre and on to a life on benefits had to be “rubbed away”.
“To achieve that we have set a bold expectation," he said. "When you leave college, you should either be earning or learning: doing an apprenticeship, studying at university or college, or doing a job. And the right incentives have got to be there to encourage this.”
The University and College Union said the plans exposed the Tories’ “lack of understanding” of the problems faced by young people and failed to deal with the reasons why so many end up Neet.
General secretary Sally Hunt said: “Talk about a well-worn path from school gate to job centre is as insulting as it is out of touch, and [Mr Cameron's] proposals are all about punishing young people rather than helping them.
“Polling shows that young people desperately want to work, but many fear they never will. What young people need are politicians who have a plan to help them, not subject them to scapegoating."
She added: “We need to give our young people a commitment of proper guidance and stable, properly rewarded jobs, or educational opportunities.”
Labour has said it will introduce a jobs guarantee scheme, under which 18- to 24-year-olds who are out of work for a year will be offered a taxpayer-funded job for six months. Those who refuse will lose benefits.
Yesterday, the party also guaranteed an apprenticeship place to every school-leaver with the right grades.
The Conservatives have also said they would introduce a benefits cap to fund 1 million extra apprenticeships.
Labour: every school leaver guaranteed an apprenticeship place – February 2015
Post-16 'drop-outs' cost £800m a year, analysis finds – February 2015
Government 'doesn't know if Neet policies are working' – January 2015