The birth of a lost generation

The Abbott government’s pre-election ‘Our Plan’ included a promise to help young people get jobs.  But by disembowelling the support services young people need to find suitable work they haven’t just broken yet another core promise:  they are creating a lost generation.

Firstly, the government would be well aware that a quarter of young Australians aged 17-24 are not in full-time study or work. That’s generally not due to any unwillingness to work or welfare mindset but simply because there has been a fall in full-time employment opportunities for young people.

Secondly, the government would know that after the global financial crisis 15-19 year-olds lost nearly 100,000 jobs, a matter which has not been adequately addressed or properly managed by any government since.

And finally, the government’s budgetary position assumes that the lives of young people are relatively secure because they can rely on family as a financial backstop, a proposition contradicted by the fact that the major cause of homelessness for young people in Australia is family conflict and breakdown.

The budgetary attacks on Australia’s young people mirrors the paternalistic brutishness of the ‘earn or learn’ welfare crackdown the UK Tory government introduced in October last year. Just like the US model for financing tertiary education, the Abbott government is effectively importing and implementing policies from countries whose income inequality is among the highest in the developed world.

The government also fails to understand that schools aren’t responsible for the transition of young people into work.  Their role is to provide education: curriculum delivery and academic outcomes. Successfully implementing programs in schools to develop employability skills in our young people – communication skills, personal presentation skills, the attitude to work, the ability to work as part of a team – requires good relationships and regular interaction between schools and local employers, facilitated by experienced local, independent intermediaries like the successful Partnership Brokership Program.  It too was overlooked in the recent budget.

The government’s excuse not to continue the Partnership Brokership Program may be the fact that it was implemented by the previous government, but they have failed to provide any policy direction that local, independent, intermediaries  continue to link schools with employers to assist with the transition of young people from education to work.  And their attack goes even further.

The budget states,  ‘The Government will achieve savings of $52.5 million over four years by limiting the number of times that volunteer job seekers can access Jobs Services Australia (JSA) to one occasion…’ In other words, young people who do not receive a Centrelink payment – which is most young people because of the level of their parents’ income – will be entitled to only one visit to a job service provider.  This is combined with the scrapping of important interactive online resources for young people like the My Future & Jobs Guide websites.  Achieving “savings” perhaps, but at what cost?

As one source in the youth employment sector puts it, “Anyone who works with young people knows that after six months a young person becomes disconnected from the workforce. Employers who see that a young person has been unemployed for six months will seldom give that young person a look in. The government is under the misapprehension that young people don’t want to work rather than recognising that they don’t have the tools or support to get employment.   Families will become more fractured. Young people will move into group housing with friends to share the cost which will create the inevitable social problems caused by a lack of adult supervision and guidance. Accessing support services – if they are aware of its existence – will become a hidden cost to families as the funding model for these organisations moves to a user pays system.”

The misdirected policies of the Abbott government are turning young people who need a little help from a long term asset into a current liability.   A disenfranchised generation provides easy pickings for extremist movements, parties and criminal organisations. They are unlikely to start a family or buy a house or even a car, and have little prospect of obtaining properly paid work and adding to a tax base which will be needed to fund an ageing population. They also tend not to be organised and have little political clout. Young people are now placed in the unenviable position of having to relying on the minor parties to reject the proposed changes, and on the financially strapped States to keep funding programs to help them transition from school to work.

Given the widespread popular discontent about the effects of the budget it’s unlikely that the plight of young people will be a significant focus of any attempts to mitigate its harshness.  All we can ask – probably over-optimistically in view of the Abbott government’s track record – is:  May common sense prevail.

Copyright Kellie Tranter 2014

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