Tuesday, 5 April 2011

What future for our youth?

Youth unemployment rates are shocking. UK-wide, 18-24 year olds make up one fifth of all unemployed. However, in the valleys of South Wales, they make up a third of all job seekers' claimants.

According to the ONS, there are a total of 2470 people claiming out-of-work benefits in the Rhondda, 960 of whom are under 24, as of April 5th 2011. The youth unemployment levels as a percentage of the total figure for the Rhondda is 38.8%, while in the Cynon Valley it is 37.4%, Neath 36.3% and Caerffili, 35.7%. The number of job vacancies in those constituencies varies from 151 in the Rhondda to 264 in Caerffili.

The chances of current incapacity claimants finding work in the valleys are not high.

In remarks reminicient of 'unemployment is a price worth paying', Tory Energy Minister Greg Barker gives the ideological game away by telling a US audience that his government is "making cuts which I think that Margaret Thatcher back in the 1980s could only have dreamt of.”

This is not a new problem - youth unemployment rates for the valleys were shocking under the Labour UK government too.

It is safe to assume that these areas in Wales which have deep, structural and long-term economic problems are unlikely to receive any special attention from London. As the late DJ Davies, one of the founders of Plaid Cymru said in 1931, "Let us cease looking to others, or to Westminster either for help. It is Wales alone that can lift Wales from the dust."

The aim of the Valleys Greenprint is to put DJ's words into action. It is the beginnings of what I hope will be an action-based plan to create jobs, opportunities and an economic future for the valleys, by doing things for ourselves.

A willing Welsh government could help by making sure public sector purchasing power is used to help create local jobs and train people. It could bring together the various players to make finance available for people to take out no-up-front-cost loans to maximise their home energy efficiency and invest in micro-generation which would significantly reduce home heating bills and help to create more work. Government could make public land available and it could provide practical support for people to set up and run the businesses to undertake the work that needs doing. And it could make sure that the training courses are available to ensure that people have the right skills.

But a plan like this can only work if people want it to. Can we rekindle the famous community spirit and the self-belief, self-confidence and self-determination of our mining forefathers who built the institutions that were the backbone of the valleys before the days of the welfare state? Welfare halls, schools, libraries, hospitals were all built using collective resources. In previous recessions, the miners could not afford to hope that Westminster would bail them out. And neither can we.

I have already received expressions of interest from business people interested in the ideas and I have set up a facebook group for anyone who is interested in registering to help develop the job creation ideas in the Valleys Greenprint. Do you want to help turn around the economy, fortunes and future of our valleys? Why not sign up?

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