A completely unstable job market … house deposit increases of 2000% and the lowest real wages in ten years … not an ideal situation for young people, to say the least.

In a country with record-low unemployment, one could easily argue that the economy under Conservative leadership is not benefiting all. The next generation being no exception. Do a little digging, and you can see that the situation is less than perfect.

At the Conservative Party Conference 2018, up in Birmingham, UK Youth took this subject head-on in a groundbreaking event at the conference’s youth zone. Chaired by Fraser Nelson, from The Spectator, the panel aimed to look at the economy and the issues the next generation face.

CEO of UK Youth, Anna Smee, kicked off the panel discussion by painting an all-too-real picture of life for young people … ‘the pattern of work is more challenging’, Anna mentions in reference to the growing uncertainty and lack of security in modern jobs. This can be seen with more and more young people working on zero-hour contracts — and some even working three such contracts just to make sure they cover enough hours to get by.

She also explained that 30 per cent of young people will not be able to pay off their university debt. Which isn’t too surprising considering that, while the government mentions the fact that employment is down, they fail to add that the average real wage is lower now than it was ten years ago.

The ‘real value’ of your wage depends on two things. First, the money in your pay packet. Second, the price of things you need to buy. If prices rise faster than your pay packet then you won’t be able to buy as much. There might be more coins in your pocket, but the ‘real’ value of your wage will have fallen.

That’s what happened after the recession in 2008. Consumer prices rose faster than the average wage, so its real value fell. This has continued until 2014, which shows that the average worker is now poorer in real terms than before 2008, as each £1 buys less. A circumstance, that affects young people at the start of their career more.

However, the most shocking statistic to come out of the panel was around housing. Specifically, that the required deposit to buy a house has increased by 2000 per cent since the previous generation. Now let us consider this situation for a minute; a completely unstable job market … deposit increases of 2000% and the lowest real wages in ten years … not an ideal situation for young people, to say the least.

Not an easy subject for a Monday morning, yet the panel took it head-on with a plethora of experience from industry leaders to young people themselves. Laura from PwC stated that the business has started working with social entrepreneurs, launched five tech degree apprenticeships and argued that, ‘business has a duty to break down barriers to employment’.

Those barriers, however, often start in school with one panellist mentioning in his talk, ‘I was not taught how to run a business in school’ — meaning, financial literacy was never explained. This I can attest to personally. Listening to him gave me flashbacks of when I was first setting up Shout Out UK. When I had to create our first management accounts and balance sheet … I had no idea where to start, often relying on google for advice.

We have a clear lack of actual practical skills in schools, from financial literacy to political literacy. Our educational system doesn’t cater for the skills we need in the modern world. The situation is then made worse with the lack of school career advice. Indeed, the panel stated that we must remove the stigma of apprenticeships, a great, yet still scarce and often overlooked career path. A stigma that is very real, fuelled by our society’s obsession with academic prowess above all else. Yet, with all issues pointing to schools as being the focal point of change, how can any of them be meaningfully changed by schools if their budgets keep getting cut?

It is clear that business is aiming to create opportunities for employment, and more and more young people are putting their lives into their own hands via freelancing or entrepreneurship. However, if knowledge is power, we must review what we consider to be relevant on the curriculum, coupling this with good careers advice and a strong youth sector. This way, we can give the next generation the support they need during these harsh times.

However, both changes can only happen if the Government stops cutting school and youth service budgets and starts taking the education and up-skilling of the next generation seriously.

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