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“You could be working in Costa” – If only it were that simple

A few weeks ago the UK’s employment minister Esther McVey sent many an angry fist hurtling skyward with Esther McVeyher comments about the unemployed youth of today.

Immediately a media backlash began, with much paraphrasing and statements taken out of context – with some sailing perilously close to the wind of misquotation.

Don’t misunderstand me, I think that her comments are completely ludicrous and potentially quite dangerous, but what I am most concerned about is the level of delusional thinking present in the mind of the lady charged with sorting out the unemployment situation.

Her comment “You could be working in Costa” isn’t necessarily what is most offensive to me as a young person (24) – after all a job is a job and there’s nothing wrong with working in a coffee shop. I am more aggrieved that this statement was just one in a long line of sweeping generalisations made about the 16-24 year olds of this country who “need to learn the basics” and “don’t turn up on time”.

It’s frightening to think that someone in such high office could be so clueless about what the situation is like for unemployed people who desperately want to work. Despite having qualifications coming out of my ears, I knew that it wouldn’t be an easy journey to get the career that I wanted… all I ever needed was a belief in the possibility that if I worked hard it would happen. However, the experience of looking for work after university almost convinced me otherwise.  Comments such as these do little to instill confidence or resilience in young job seekers who are facing long term unemployment.

‘You could be working at Costa. But in a couple of years’ time you might say, “I’d like to manage the area”.  In fairness, this could be considered good advice for someone who actually wants to be an Area Manager for a coffee chain – but for the millions who don’t hold that aspiration she might as well have said “You could be working in Costa Rica”.

Her point was of course that young people must be prepared to begin at the bottom of the ladder… I’m afraid to say that in reality most young people I know (even the incredibly well educated ones) are painfully aware of this. I would have been delighted had I been able to get an entry level position in the industry I am trained for…but despite every possible effort on my part it simply wasn’t happening.

After several months of job hunting and getting absolutely nowhere, out of necessity I took an “entry level” position in a recruitment agency… a decision that helped to further cement my view that I was never going to get the career I wanted – my years of struggle as a student had all been for nothing and my ambitions would never come to anything.  I would suggest to Ms McVey that the problem is not that young people think they are too good to start on the bottom rung of the ladder, but that the bottom rung often simply isn’t there…

Having recently got a great job after 3 years of intermittent unemployment, temporary minimum wage admin jobs and a 6 month internship, I now realise again that the career I want is indeed possible. Whilst I feel belittled and insulted by comments such as these, for many not as fortunate as I, Esther McVey’s detached and misinformed generalisations are a much more serious issue.

It isn’t over dramatic to say that for some young people unemployment is a downward pit of despair – rejection follows rejection, disappointment is heaped upon disappointment and unhelpful negative opinions such as these only serve to further reinforce a sense of worthlessness…a belief that they are destined to be another statistic of the ‘lost generation’… and worst of all thats it’s their own fault.

There are over 900,000 unemployed young people in the UK, a great many of which would give anything to have a job…any job – to claim back a bit of life satisfaction and prove to themselves that they are more than just a statistic of a bad economy.  Don’t get me wrong, I know that there are lazy young people out there who are quite happy to spend their life on benefits (this is true of all age groups), but why tar the ones who are desperate to work with the same brush?

But it would be unfair not to pick up on one very positive thing she had to say about the youth of today ‘In the 18 to 24 year olds, more people are setting up businesses than ever before.’…  perhaps she should ask herself why that is….

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