How many headlines have we had about people who were too poor to give their children proper breakfast or evening meal? Too many for me to link to. but here is one. (Here is a link to a blog on the subject but Mum in the Madhouse, which is a great title, does also mention that "£646m is spend [sic] by children on the way to school on snacks and fizzy drinks". Clearly there are no proof readers in the madhouse. And here is a link to a charity that comes up with the usual stuff about pockets of deprivation. As ever, this charity sounds more like an NGO, given their list of supporters.)
What none of those hacks, not even Bee Wilson in the link above, bothers to do is tell us just how much those families get either in earned income or unearned by way of welfare benefits or what the money that comes into the family goes on. Until we know those answers we cannot decide exactly why children go without meals. (And if they simply do not have lavish meals and eat meat maybe only once a week, that is not real poverty.)
For the last couple of days we had other shock-horror headlines. Record numbers of young people are unemployed. The Guardian says: "Unemployment figures show more than one in five young people out of work"; the Daily Wail is also upset:"Record 20% of young people are now unemployed"; the Financial Times concentrates on the figures in London where youth unemployment is supposed to have shot up. We get the usual rent-a-quotes:
Youth unemployment rose by 66,000 to 965,000, its highest since records began in 1992. The jobless rate is now 7.9 per cent, with the rate for the young jobless running at 20.5 per cent.And, hilariously, Richard Littlejohn's somewhat different take on the subject.
Martina Milburn, chief executive of youth charity The Prince’s Trust, warned: ‘If we fail to help them into work, it will have a devastating impact on young people, their families and the economy.’
Brian Johnson, of insolvency firm HW Fisher, said it was ‘a modern-day tragedy’ which will have a ‘ripple effect’ for many years to come.
Getting away from Littlejohn, I think some questions need to be asked. For years now we have been told that young people in this country are experiencing difficulties in finding jobs (though the real difficulties are experienced by people who are in their forties, fifties and sixties who have lost their jobs mostly through no fault of their own and who are deemed to be "too old" by most employers) because those nasty, pushy,
enterprising East Europeans grab them. Why is there a sudden upsurge in youth unemployment or, to be precise, in the number of young people who register for unemployment benefits for how else are these figures obtained?
Somebody suggested to me that the upsurge is because fewer places take interns who cannot sign up because they are not considered to be unemployed. There are problems, I replied, with the internship system, not least in the political and think-tank world where that kind of cheeseparing results in shoddy research and no incentive to improve matters, but the numbers are not high enough.
Cuts in the public sector are blamed. Were all those youngsters who could get jobs last year but not this year going to be employed in the non-productive public sector? Hardly a good idea for the future. Or did these cuts finally get rid of the phony three- and six-monthly training schemes that amounted to little more than keeping youngsters occupied? I recall having arguments about this when I was working in the Great Glass Egg a.k.a. London Assembly.
What, I asked in connection with a report on projects funded by the London Development Agency, was the point of some ridiculous dance training or drama scheme that lasted three months, taught the youngsters very little and gave them the idea that it was easy to break into dance or drama? Well, I was told, it's better than nothing. Really? Possibly, some of the youngsters who would have been off the list of unemployed because they were doing their third meaningless training scheme (and I am not referring here to real training or apprenticeship) are now on that list and that pushes the numbers up. If so, confronting reality as a result of this development might not be a bad thing. I fear, however, that the knee-jerk reaction of "we must help our young people, no matter what it takes" is not going to solve any problems.