MP WRITES: More must be done for young jobless

If you are a young person, the end of July often constitutes the end of an era.

In the Wright household, my little girl has just finished her primary school education at Fens School and will be going up to the big school at Manor in September.

Every parent will feel pangs of emotion at this: seeing her in her new secondary school uniform, she at once still seems like my little girl but is now looking very grown up in her new uniform.

If you are older than 11, the end of July really can feel like the end of an era. Young people are leaving school or college, awaiting exam results and contemplating what they are going to do for a career or their next step, whether that is further education, an apprenticeship or training place or university.

What sort of world of work and training are the young people of the town setting out into?

I have to say that in many respects the situation seems grim. 1,255 people aged between 18 and 24 are unemployed in the town – a rate of 15 per cent. That is almost three times the national average of youth unemployment.

The number of young people in the town in work actually fell in the last period.

These statistics are something which are deeply concerning, both for the short term prospects of those young people finding work and the long term health of the Hartlepool economy in the decades to come.

There are two long-term consequences for the economy with these statistics, both of which I saw when growing up in the town in the 1980s.

The first is that many people, young and older people, feel that there is no prospect of a meaningful career in the town and move away, often permanently.

This reduces the skills base of the town, meaning that our economic potential to grow and thrive shrivels.

That doesn’t help the potential we have in a whole range of industries like energy and high value manufacturing.

The second consequence is that young people fail to fulfil their potential.

I am acutely aware of the chicken and egg situation that young people find themselves in – they are looking for work but can’t find anything because they haven’t got any experience, but can’t get experience because they don’t have employment.

I have said on repeated occasions that I think unemployment is the single biggest economic and social factor facing the town, and the inability of young people to find meaningful employment is a long-term scar which affects Hartlepool’s prospects for years to come.

I have spoken in Parliament about this matter and will continue to do so.

What can Government do about this problem?

It can certainly provide the broad economic framework that gives firms the confidence to invest in new facilities and training opportunities.

But it can intervene more explicitly than that to break that chicken and egg situation I described earlier: it can work more closely with employers to provide opportunities for young people.

That is why the ending of the Future Jobs Fund and the cancellation of the Education Maintenance Allowance were disgraceful – those two initiatives gave young people the means to find work experience and the funds to stay on in college.

The current Work Programme is not finding any work for young people in Hartlepool and must be considered to be a failure.

I hope young people enjoy the summer and feel that they have a meaningful and successful next step to look forward to. I want them to feel that they have a great future in Hartlepool.

That will mean thinking about training and opportunities in the town and the Government recognising that it has to intervene more directly to give those young people a better future.