Birmingham is “drifting towards disaster” by failing to tackle soaring youth unemployment, a city MP and shadow cabinet member has warned.
Liam Byrne (Lab Hodge Hill), Labour’s Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary, is to meet voluntary organisations, business leaders and firms employed to help young people into work, in an effort to find solutions to Birmingham’s youth unemployment “crisis”.
The aim is to bring employers, politicians and other organisations together to find jobs for young people.
Lessons learnt in Birmingham will also be used to help Labour develop policies for tackling youth unemployment nationally.
Mr Byrne said he was prompted to act after a breakdown of official figures, prepared for him by the House of Commons library, showed the number of young people stuck in long-term unemployment had shot up by more than 50 per cent since January.
The statistics show that 4,775 people aged 18 to 24 have been unemployed for six months or longer in Birmingham.
This is up from 3,105 at the start of the year, an increase of 53 per cent.
Mr Byrne said: “What is happening in Birmingham is really disturbing.
He added: “What we know about youth unemployment is that if young people are left on the dole for a long time, they are much more likely to be unemployed again and again over the course of their lifetimes.
“They are much more likely to be low paid and they are much more likely to fall into health problems.
“There is a bucket of evidence that says you’ve really got to work hard to get young people back to work.
“So the fact that city-wide long term youth unemployment rate has gone up at this rate is I think a crisis for the city, and the city needs to pull together to do something about it. We can’t just drift on as we are at the moment.”
In Mr Byrne’s Hodge Hill constituency, long-term youth unemployment has risen from 620 to 865 people, an increase of 39.5 per cent. But the statistics show that young people in wealthier areas of the city are also beginning to face the prospect of life in the dole in significant numbers.
In Sutton Coldfield, the number of young people in long-term unemployment has more than doubled, from 65 to 140, since January.
And in Edgbaston, the figure has very nearly doubled, rising from 195 to 385 people.
Mr Byrne plans to hold a series of meetings with employers, voluntary groups and firms involved in the Government’s Work Programme, which is designed to help the unemployed into jobs.
This will include inviting former Foreign Secretary and Labour leadership contender David Miliband to Birmingham, in his new role as chair of a taskforce on youth unemployment set up by the Association of Chief Executives of Voluntary Organisations (ACEVO).
The Work Programme is a new approach to support for unemployed people. Private businesses and other organisations are hired to provide tailored help and advice to jobseekers, and paid partly on how successful they are at getting people into work.
“Over the next few months I’m going to start convening a number of city-wide summits to try to get some real action to get young people back to work.
“The first three meetings include one for charities like the Prince’s Trust and others, and the ACEVO taskforce chaired by David Miliband. Secondly, we want to talk to business leaders in the city.
“And the third one will be with the work programme providers, to find out what they are doing to get young people back to work.”
He added: “Overall it’s a grim picture, and I think the choice for the city is do we just drift on like this or do we work together to do something about it?”
Ministers last week launched a new campaign to cut youth unemployment by creating hundreds of thousands of work placements for young people.
Nick Clegg, the Deputy Prime Minister and leader of the Liberal Democrat, announced the creation of a £1 billion Youth Contract aimed at helping jobless young people get back into work or education.
At least 410,000 work places will be found for 18 to 24-year-old over a three-year period, he said.
This includes wage subsidies worth £2,275 handed to employers to take on 160,000 18 to 24-year-olds.
Each of these “wage incentives” is worth half of the youth national minimum wage and last for six months.
They will be available for those youngsters that need the most help after three months, and all of those who have been on Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA) for nine months.
Mr Clegg also said the contract would offer a work experience placement of up to eight weeks for every unemployed 18 to 24-year-old that wants one.
A further programme will help 16 and 17 year olds who are not in employment, education or training (NEETs).