Today's youth unemployment figures are out. The UK now has 1.016 million young people unable to find work. I look at the bright eager (sometimes) faces in my classes and wonder what's going to happen to them. Some are optimistic - and some watch the news.
It's so utterly depressing, and yet the political discourse seems so hostile. I watched Newsnight's discussion of this last night. A Tory minister sat there and told them all about temporary schemes, while the CEO of a profit-making 'training company' lectured them about polishing up CVs and making themselves employable.
She would, of course, suggest that the problem is something she's got rich fixing, but it's a lie. My students are employable. They're bright, thoughtful and desperate. The failing isn't some internal quality: it's structural. We've built an economy on low wages for jobs which tax-evading corporations can shift abroad at the drop of a subsidy. With 2.5m people unemployed, what chance will an inexperiences 21-year old have? The stories the studio guests told were so familiar from my own desultory attempts to find a job in the mid-90s. No experience, no job - but nobody is willing to give you experience. These kids were used to never receiving even an acknowledgement that an application has been received: news to the politicians, not to anybody else.
David Cameron's first job was in the Conservative Party's research department, secured after a phone call from someone in Buckingham Palace. After that, it was off to the PR department of Carlton Communications, a very poor TV company with a reputation for hiring well-connected Tories. Nice life for some…
One of the most pernicious schemes promoted by government is internships: working for free for a period to gain experience. Sounds nice, doesn't it? But internships are acquired through contacts, which gives an advantage to well-connected middle-class people, and working-class kids can't afford to do them, because months of unpaid labour means parental support for travel, food, accommodation, clothes and all the other things paid work usually provides - it's a scam to maintain inequality.
The other rip-off is the apprenticeship scheme: minimal wages while you learn a trade. Again, it's a great idea, and one of the backbones of vanished industrial life. But look closely, and we discover that supermarkets are rebranding shelf-stacking as 'apprenticeships', as a way to reduce the wages of the very poorest, while failing to pass on any meaningful skills. That strikes me as the very worst sort of cynicism.
I wish I could sound more optimistic. Yes, some people are doing degrees that may not add to the sum of human knowledge. Some don't work very hard. Some are unrealistic. But from what I see, most of my students are more aware of the challenges facing them than I was when I graduated. We need to find meaningful, lucrative work for everybody - not just the graduates but the millions who don't - or can't - go to university. Capitalism, based on the transfer of wealth from the poorest to the richest, just won't do it.