The Learn or Earn strategy to combat youth unemployment is the Governments latest attempt at promoting a “no excuses” culture for unemployed young people. According to the Collins English Dictionary the word ‘excuse’, in the context of the quote attributed to Matt Hancock, the paymaster general, means “to make allowances”. This new policy exempts vulnerable 16-24-year-olds, those who are unable to live with their parents and those who have worked for at least six months before filing for benefits. For everyone else no allowance will be made.
Understanding the language used in announcing this strategy is extremely important because it tells us a lot about the blame game that is being played out right in front of our very eyes. So, if you do not fit into one of the excluded groups and are not working the Government’s view is that you have no excuses for not having a job. No allowance is to be made for matters such as economic downturn, rising rate of unemployment, a more competitive job market, or the loss of jobs that traditionally employed 16 to 24-year-olds. Let us not even try to understand why the Paymaster General and a spokesperson for the Government chose expressions such as ‘crack down’ or ‘knuckle down’ when announcing this Government strategy.
This ‘Boot Camp’ strategy that aims ‘to crack down on youth unemployment’ and ensure that 16 to 24-year-olds ‘knuckle down’, has at its’ core a philosophy of blaming en masse the unemployed for being unemployed.
Assuming that choosing the term ‘Boot Camp’ was designed to grab the headlines, it was a master stroke because it conveys strength, discipline and rigor. Yes, it does, strength, discipline and rigor as practised by the military and youth offenders’ camp. At best one must conclude that, in this context, boot camp refers to an intensive training program for improving ones’ job search skills. It is therefore disappointing and so unfortunate that such an important message remains camouflaged in a cluster of ill-judged terms and, more than a whiff of blaming the 16 to 24-year-old jobless for not having a job. Surely whatever strategy is developed to tackle unemployment must include more than a passing acceptance of responsibility by whichever Government rules the day.
So what of the strategy? It is by no means novel or dynamic in nature. During the first three weeks of claiming out-of-work benefit the unemployed will be schooled, intensively or otherwise in the art of applying for a job; 70 hours of interview practice, learning job search skills and interview techniques. Incidentally 70 hours constitutes 14 five hour sessions or various such combinations, suggesting that job centres will have a small army of staff employed solely to interview the unemployed! Now the unemployed are well schooled in the necessary skills to apply for work. Unfortunately little in the announcement of this strategy tackles the issue of the jobs they will now be able to apply for.
Overall, it appears that a poorly conceived communication strategy has been used to announce a poorly thought out policy designed to tackle a very serious problem.