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Young Persons' Rights

Volume 35: debated on Tuesday 18 January 1983

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4.29 pm

I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to entitle all sixteen to nineteen-year-old persons to work, education and training.
The Bill would give every person between the ages of 16 and 19 a comprehensive entitlement to work, education or training with an appropriate wage or allowance. It would place a duty on the Ministers with responsibility for education and employment in United Kingdom to provide such opportunities and to arrange the scheme in such a way as to ensure that as young people move in and out of employment their education and training would continue according to a planned provision.

Two items of some importance appeared in a Glasgow newspaper. While drawing attention to those I should say that my Bill, if accepted by the House, will apply to the United Kingdom. A Strathclyde teacher, Mr. Jack McLean, writing in the Glasgow Herald by way of an end of term report shortly after the start of the summer holidays, described a conversation with one of his pupils who was leaving school:
"'Got a job to go to, Billy?' I ask as I sign their School Leavers form. 'Naw' they say"—
which, of course, in Scotland means 'No'—
"I put the form back into their hands. It might as well be, it even could be in the future, a petrol bomb I'm putting there. 'Good luck anyway,' you say, 'hope you find something.' Dear God, you think, as you see these children go down the corridor and into the outside world, can we not do better than this?"
Mr. Maclean's fears were, alas, realised and expressed a few weeks later in a letter to the Glasgow Herald written by a young girl aged 17 from Ayrshire, Frances Trainer. She said:
"I left school in May 1982 with six O-grades and four Highers, expecting to have a better chance than most in the job stakes. Two months later I was at the end of my tether, desperate to work and to prove my worth to an employer. I wrote letters by the dozen, haunted the Job Centre and still nothing. Finally, I gave in and went to the Youth Opportunities—surely one of the worst schemes ever devised. I have worked a 40-hour week for £25 alongside people who earn three and four times that. Nine times out of 10 another person is needed but the employer is content to have free labour for six months, dump you and employ another gullible school leaver who thinks £25 is a great wage."
Those are the views of two people very much involved in the problems which I hope the House will consider seriously this afternoon. They are problems with which I hope the Bill will deal effectively.

Unemployment, overwhelming though we know it to be—in the region of 4 million—hits particularly hard at the 16 to 19-year-olds whom the Bill would cover. The recent report on social trends showed that youth unemployment in Britain had reached a staggering 25 per cent. The figures for Britain in October 1982—the latest available to me—showed that youth unemployment in Britain stood at 262,976. What was just as interesting and saddening was that those involved in activities that were relevant to the youth opportunities programme numbered 280,000. Therefore, in reality, over 500,000 young people in Britain are not in real jobs.

Those figures were reflected in my constituency and, I have no doubt, in other constituencies as well. In Coatbridge and Airdrie 972 young people were registered as unemployed but 977—almost exactly the same figure—were involved in the youth opportunities programme. The young people in the various youth training schemes, however adequate or inadequate they may be, are cloaking the real figures and the underlying frustrations and resentment among young people, which we as a society ignore at our peril.

For £25 a week many young people are in temporary jobs that are boring, repetitive, lacking in challenge, and offering no promotion prospects whatever. Travel costs of £4 a week cannot be reclaimed so they take home £21 a week. It is surely worth reflecting on the thought that if they were receiving supplementary benefit they would be getting £18·90 a week—a mere £2·10 less for not working at all. But, of course, they do want to work. My proposals to the House reflect the growing view of Britain's young people that we have not properly planned for changing employment patterns, for micro development, for the changing role of employment and its relationship to leisure.

There has been no obviously acceptable strategy for the social and educational fabric of our country. We have allowed cuts in local authority expenditure on education, industrial training boards have been axed, university places have disappeared. We have seen the collapse of apprenticeships, massive cuts in the Manpower Services Commission, a chaotic system of benefits, awards and bursaries for training and education, and, above all, as many of Britain's young people believe, an attack on the wage levels of our young workers.

The Bill would recognise that Britain now has both a training and a youth unemployment problem, for which responsibility should be placed on the appropriate Ministers. It will provide opportunities for positive and rewarding employment, education or training for every young person in Britain between the ages of 16 and 19. It will recognise that essential liberties can be maintained only if our young people are given such basic rights. The Bill also recognises that first-class proposals for education, jobs and training will show that the House does not regard the vast majority of Britain's young people as second-class citizens. Our young people represent not Britain's forgotten generation but our most precious asset for the future. We owe it to them to offer hope for the future in place of the despair of the past.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Tom Clarke, Mr. James Hamilton, Mr. Jim Craigen, Mr. David Marshall, Mr. Gareth Wardell, Mr. John Maxton, Mr. Michael Martin, Mr. David Lambie, Mr. Ron Lewis, Mr. William Hamilton, Mr. George Foulkes, and Mr. John Home Robertson.

Young Person's Rights

Mr. Tom Clarke accordingly presented a Bill to entitle all sixteen to nineteen-year-old persons to work, education and training: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time upon 22 April 1983. [Bill 56.]