Progress | Centre-left Labour politics

Fighting youth unemployment locally

Over the last two days two reports have highlighted the dramatic scale of the growing youth jobs crisis. Both the ACEVO Commission on Youth Unemployment launched by David Miliband, and the London Citizens inquiry into the Tottenham riots have demanded action on the issue.

In Haringey we have long worried about the impact the coalition would have on unemployment levels, particularly given our high dependence on public sector jobs. This is why very early on in the term, even when the size of our cuts became clear, we pursued a fiscal strategy that would free up resources to tackle the crisis head on.

This week I was pleased to see that strategy come to fruition, when the cabinet passed our annual budget with £3.5m allocation for our own locally led job creation programme. The money will be used for direct intervention to create an intermediate labour market. While the details are to be finalised over the coming weeks, at core the fund will provide a direct subsidy to businesses who take on young unemployed people from Haringey.

If the coalition had wanted to take action on youth unemployment it could hardly have done more in Haringey to shift the gearstick into reverse:

– scrapping the full educational maintenance allowance (of which we had over 3,700 people on full EMA);
– abolishing the Future Jobs Fund;
– decimating the Decent Homes Programme where we had secured a youth apprentice for every £1m worth of procurement;
– cutting feed-in tariffs which decimated a £15.8m solar panel programme that had secured an apprentice for every £100,000 we spent;
– whacking up tuition fees to £9k …

It is hard to imagine a more lethal cocktail of failed economic strategy and policy to attack aspiration among the young and create misery for thousands.

The results have been horrific in a borough that is said to be the most unequal in Britain. In Tottenham, we have witnessed among the fastest rise in unemployment in London, growing at 8.6 per cent year on year, and standing at 8.5 per cent of the population. Northumberland Park ward – home to Spurs – has the highest level of JSA claimants in London (1,076, 12.4 per cent). Women have been among the hardest hit with a 21.2 per cent rise in claimant levels across this borough, and of the ten and a half thousand borough-wide claimants, 2,235 are youths and 815 of these young people are from ethnic minorities.

David Miliband highlighted the need for action, with the ACEVO report identifying the cost of the youth jobs crisis over the next 10 years to be a staggering £28bn. However, of more concern to Labour councils should be the identified fact that youth unemployment ‘exacerbates inequalities and stifles social mobility.’ We know this only too well and while worklessness during the Labour government was half that of the 1980s, we are determined to ensure that we do not see another lost generation in Tottenham.

There can be no question that the seismic cuts to local budgets are horrific, particularly in our most deprived communities. A recent report by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation identifies how the government have systemically undermined the spending power of such councils as Haringey’s. But the emergency that this creates should not lead us to abdicate responsibility but to use what powers we have to forge a real alternative from the local level up.

In Haringey, tackling inequality is our number one core strategic objective (there is no number two). But objectives are nothing but dogma without action. So, while it is right to expose government error, people will not thank us for surrendering to the coalition’s agenda. It is not good enough to say that the work programme isn’t working. We must also show what will. There is no bigger issue right now than the immediate jobs crisis, and if we stand for anything, our councils, as the frontline of Labour, must show they can imagine different solutions like a £3.5m local jobs scheme and take the action to deliver and create the kind of society and economy in which we believe.

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Joe Goldberg is cabinet member for finance on Haringey council and tweets @joedgoldberg

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Joe Goldberg

is a Labour councillor for Seven Sisters ward in Haringey

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