Budget 2011: Osborne’s contempt for the nation’s youth

James Mills, of the Save EMA campaign, on how George Osborne's Budget put profit before young people.

By James Mills of the Save EMA campaign

The chancellor’s key sound bite on Wednesday was that Britain will be “held aloft by the march of the makers”, but it will also be accompanied by the silent march to the job centre by the young jobless – especially those aged 16-19. No one seems to have noticed his budget was void of any substantial help for them.

Instead, he offered tax breaks for corporations, to help their profit margins; and even what scraps he did offer had nothing to alleviate the pressures faced by young people in this country today.

The government will say it is increasing apprenticeships by 12,500 a year, and although this is of course welcome, it will ultimately only be possible if there are jobs created.

More importantly, however, there are almost 200,000 young people doing NVQs, many of whom will be receiving EMA or will have to complete the course to be able to progress to an actual apprenticeship.

The budget did not have a single word to say to these young people. In fact, if anything George Osborne’s silence on this issue speaks volumes for this government’s commit to young people on the whole.

Take the news on stamp duty, the average age of a first time buyer is 30 and is expected by some to rise to 44. Or the raising of the personal allowance, this won’t help the almost 1 million young people unemployed in the country and as only 23% of 16-17 year olds were in employment in the last quarter of 2010, this is clearly not something the majority of young adolescents can benefit from.

Yet for the best example of how this budget was written without one iota given towards young people just look at the headline announcement – 1p off fuel duty whilst rail fares rise 6.2% on average; how will this help young people when a higher proportion of young people use public transport than even have a driving license.

Faced with such facts you would think the last thing a government who really had the interests of young people at heart would do is continue to scrap EMA, especially after our letter in the Guardian signed by leading UK economists last week. He might even have decided to look at his own budget, as on page 33 of the red book it even states that participation in learning by 16- to 18-year-olds has continued to rise.

So why did he not even have a single word to say on the replacement for EMA that was rumoured everywhere, widely believed to be over £200 million short of the minimum needed to provide for the poorest students? The simple answer is that it means no extra money will come from the Treasury for EMA’s replacement, meaning it will have to be found from within the Department for Education budget, meaning more education cuts.

There are strong rumours the extra funding will come from 16-19 years careers advice, an area heavily cut already. Only this week leading headteachers warned the government that closing the Connexions youth service and not even replacing it until April next year will risk almost 2 million young people having to enter the job market bereft of advice.

The English economic historian and advocate for further education, R.H. Tawney, wrote of education in England in the 1920s that the biggest obstacle it faced was that:

“The prevailing temper of Englishmen is to regard as most important that which is commercially profitable, and as only inferior importance that which is not.”

After George Osborne’s budget yesterday can this be disputed almost 90 years later?

Like this article? Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today.