The only way out?

9th March 2012 at 00:00
The government's work programme has been plagued by controversy in recent weeks. Joseph Lee asks whether following the Dutch model of paying maintenance for young people to attend compulsory education could wipe out youth unemployment another way

Before he lost his job, Eugene Tutty was not short of confidence. As a 19-year-old, he came across a mugger trying to steal a mobile phone from a group of girls. When the mugger turned on Tutty and his friend, they managed to restrain him despite being threatened with a knife, and called the police, earning themselves a commendation from the judge at Reading Crown Court.

When Tutty was made redundant at the age of 23, however, he found that applying for up to five jobs a day - hundreds in total as the months passed by - without ever hearing back, completely undermined his sense of self-worth. "You find a job online or in the paper and you apply, and they don't even phone you back to say it's filled," he says. "When you apply for 10 jobs and you don't get a reply from one person, you get in the mindset of `What's the point?'"

With seemingly little chance of work, Tutty turned to a local college, Berkshire College of Agriculture, where he hoped to develop his interest in football coaching with a level 2 qualification in sports, something that would also make up for his lack of five good GCSEs. But when he informed Jobcentre Plus, staff told him that they would have to end his Jobseeker's Allowance because the full-time course meant that he would not be available for work. Tutty's mother is a full-time carer for his disabled father and money is tight at home: he simply could not afford to lose his benefits.

"It's a choice between going to college and having no money or not going to college and having money. I didn't understand it at all," he says. "You're trying to do something with your life, but you won't be able to afford to get there or to buy your lunch. It was gutting, but there was nothing else I could do."

If Tutty had been living in Rotterdam instead of Reading, things would have been very different. While our Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) effectively pays over-18s to stay out of college to ensure that they are available if a job vacancy comes up, the Dutch offer financial support to all young people under 27. The difference is that if they do not find work, there are no benefits - only payments to support them during education and training.

So when the economic downturn caused job vacancies to dry up, the government increased the opportunities for full-time education instead. "It is absolutely unacceptable to have our young people just sitting at home," the Dutch employment minister Paul de Krom says. "Education is always better than doing nothing."

The result is that the negligible unemployment for under-25s in the Netherlands has seen only a small rise since the financial crisis at the end of 2007 and remains the lowest in the European Union, at less than half the rate of the UK.

You can read the full article in the March 9 issue of TES

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