Martin Bright

The Lost Generation

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I always get it in the neck here when I quote Polly Toynbee. But maybe I will get away with quoting her quoting Professor Danny Blanchflower, who, like me, is warning against losing a generation to the recession.

Here's the relevant passage from Polly's column in today's Guardian:

"The man now on a mission to persuade Nos 10 and 11 to move fast is the only monetary policy committee member who saw the coming crash. Ministers are listening as Professor David Blanchflower urges emergency spending to prevent mass youth unemployment. With 800,000 under-25s out of work and another 600,000 leaving school this summer, he wants the budget to borrow £90bn to rescue them. He wants them kept in education, raising the leaving age to 18 this September, with 100,000 more university places this year for all with two A-levels who won't find a place, plus more further education places and apprenticeships to keep as many as possible out of the labour market and still learning. Thousands of graduates would be employed teaching them.

That adds around a net 2% to the national debt, deducting the cost of keeping them out of work. What it saves is the lifetime cost of a lost generation, saving benefits, a spike in crime, rough sleeping, mental illness and all that befell the school-leavers of the early 1980s. That generation, tracked by Professor Danny Dorling, still fares worse than those five years older and five years younger. That too is a high cost to pass to the next generation, if we are counting the future cost of national debt.

So if Gordon Brown believes in a new world order with new rules, here's his first test. If he can't do this here, then his global rhetoric will look thin indeed - and it's no use announcing some piffling sum and pretending it will do. If he dares borrow serious money to make a difference, expect a howl from Conservatives and their press. But it would pose a dilemma for them. Could Cameron oppose saving hundreds of thousands of young people? He would say, with some reason, that Britain shouldn't be in such debt anyway - but surely he'd have to support a new deal for the young."

I think Blanchflower is right in his analysis, but think his solution is a cop-out. Simply shovelling the potentially unemployed into more education is probably not the answer and certainly not the only one.