With millions unemployed, on benefits, with poor attitudes to work; Britain now has a secret weapon to compete with the likes of China, India and other economic powerhouses.
I am to economics what David Cameron is to multiculturalism. However, I was recently reminded of the study which said the UK and Ireland were the worst places to live in Europe for quality of life. So what is it about the UK that makes things so 'awkward'?
On the idiot box, Newsnight told me that our NEETs (young people not in education, employment or training) in England rose to 1,163,000 in 2010. A record 19.2%. In fact, only 4 out of 27 European countries have a worse standing that the UK. Speaking with a Director of Children's Services recently who has at his disposal a budget of over £900m, I became conscious that he was utterly out of touch on the causes of NEET. Yes, yes - on a quick reading of the MI, kids that read more at age five are more likely to do better at eighteen. He knew that. But it really is a damning indictment of the public sector mindset, that this was transliterated as focussing what meagre resources were available, solely on improving reading attainment at or before the age of five. Even the Institute of Education tells us that almost 40% of young people have classic characteristics of young people who are NEET:
"deprived backgrounds, no recent history of employment; low educational attainment; and very negative experiences of school, including a record of truanting in many cases."
Increasing reading to young children simply isn't going to cut it. Improving conditions and outcomes for young people on the ground in the UK, will take far more substantive programs of actions purely because it is a far more complex and granular picture. Positive role models, ambition, working or educated parents, stable families, socio-economic standing, average income, generational underachievement and benefit dependency, race and even religion are far more significant and deeper factors which go to the root cause of what causes social disenfranchisement. The Equality and Human Rights Commission don't disagree. Ugh, what a headache. It's far simpler to get kids to read more books, dole out book vouchers, or tell parents to read more. It's what the graph said, right? Well actually, no. Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman, the Israeli-American psychologist turned economist, says that our intuitive mind often overrules our considered mind - we like simplifying things - arguably seen in many situations from decisions about going to war; fear of 'outsiders' who are clearly responsible for everything from lawlessness, unemployment, sexual predation on young white girls, overcrowding and destroying Britishness; calling rioters lazy, criminal, benefit cheats; phone-hacking is the only embodiment of a lack of media ethics. Ad nauseam. You can only imagine what would happen to those figures if suddenly kids couldn't go to university because the course cost in excess of £50,000. Thank God that's not happening...
To consider what Britain needs to do to be increasingly competitive economically (the answer to all our problems) we do need some handle on those social ills to be addressed en-route. After all, this should be what successful governance is all about.
Lazy people are soon poor; hard workers get rich. Or so I read somewhere. I cant imagine Nike relocating a trainer factory from Vietnam or China to the UK. Nor seemingly, can Primark move operations from Indian sweatshops to Manchester without setting a new benchmark for all that is FUBAR. The fact remains that the numbers on benefits has never been higher - more than the entire population of Finland. We have by all accounts a crippling minimum wage and the reprehensible attitudes to work amongst many British people are well recorded. Not exactly a great advert for that multi-national who wants to open a football stitching factory.
All is not lost.
George Monbiot nailed it earlier this year when he, amongst others, described the biggest corporate tax swindle in history; effectively the single biggest shift of funds from those at the bottom tiers of the socio-economic ladder to those at the top.
"for example, Dirty Oil PLC pays 10% corporation tax on its profits in Oblivia, then shifts the money over here, it should pay a further 18% in the UK, to match the corporate tax rate of 28%. But under the new proposals, companies will pay nothing at all in this country on money made by their foreign branches"
Ok, so we become Switzerland, what of it? The economic model doesn't work without cheap labour. To be even vaguely competitive, we would need China to get fat and expensive and then for us to suddenly develop a ridiculously cheap (if not free) source of labour in the UK.
Well this unholy trinity may well be upon us. I'm telling you - the dirty little secret is out. The Corporation Tax Swindle is happening, you just haven't seen it, nor have you probably heard about it. China is, well quite frankly, going a little European when it comes to waistlines, diets, consumerism and living standards. And the final piece of this jigsaw puzzle: the Victorian workhouses are back. Rich estate owners all over the land chugg on their cigars in their smoking rooms, relax in their Chesterfields and swill Remy Martin XO around Normann Copenhagen cognac glasses with glee. And why the hell not. It's going to be a cracking few years. There's also feint hurrah in the distance for all those impoverished budding writers so disgracefully denied adequate angst and suffering. Don't worry, your time has come: some of you lucky ones will now get your chance to glamorize the misery by creating new Fagins and Bob Cratchits. Let's be frank - the Tories, if nothing else, do upstairs-downstairs well. We have the Bullingdon Club in residence, the proletariat are eating, nay shovelling, cake, 3D TVs and iPhones down their cake holes, and we are well on the way to creating ghettos and a new homeless underclass. Just look at the new housing policies which shift the poorest, BME communities, Muslims and anyone else with a big family, out of the vaguely posh areas and out-out-out with the rest of the undesirables on to the outskirts of our cities.
Swelling prison populations, disproportionate and ludicrous prison sentences, 90% of long term sickness benefit claimants being made fit for work and then being told to work for their benefits. It really doesn't take a nuclear physicist to join the dots. If only we had huge numbers of young people unemployed also looking for 'work experience' or 'internships'. Well we know that young people don't know their employment rights and even if they did, no one wants to be blacklisted so early in their careers. The cap on skilled non-EU migration is obviously one of the government's most controversial policies - we now know there will be exception processes for Australians, Americans and South Africans. Call it post-colonialism, call it racism.
As someone who has been working on financial inclusion, it's clear that child poverty set to rise dramatically over the coming years. One thing is certain, under the current policies for social engineering, prospects for young people are only going to get harder, not easier. Significantly.