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Lottie Dexter: Stop bickering about Europe. Start talking about what matters - such as the fact that one in five young people are unemployed

Dexter LottieLottie Dexter is Director of Million Jobs, a campaign to stand up for the young unemployed. Previously, she was Communications at the Centre for Social Justice think tank. Follow her and Million Jobs on Twitter.

The latest batch of labour market statistics, released today, show one in five young people are unemployed. The youth unemployment rate is double that of the workforce overall - and 958,000 16-24 year olds need a job.

What’s more, these statistics have remained unchanged for nearly four years. Our under 25s have been kept down and out for too long - and with devastating consequences. Youth unemployment tears our social fabric; it harms vulnerable young people, ruins families and causes communities to unravel. Having so many young people out-of-work costs the Exchequer more than £15 billion each year, and will do for years to come.  

It is a no brainer – we have to do something about youth unemployment. The independent Million Jobs Campaign, which I lead, stands up for the young unemployed and puts pressure on politicians to help them out. By 2015 we want youth unemployment at the top of the electoral agenda and we want all political parties committed to sensible solutions.

Yet the seriousness of this deep-seated social problem, and the political kudos that would amass from cracking it, appear to go largely unnoticed in the Conservative Party. ‘Youth unemployment’ did not make an appearance in the Queen’s Speech, nor was it mentioned in the Budget. That’s not to say that the Coalition are doing nothing: they are reforming the welfare system with purpose and vigour, and have a raft of pro-enterprise policies that will help young people out . But this only goes so far.

The solutions to youth unemployment are equalising opportunity, fuelling aspiration, encouraging hard work and empowering enterprise. These values are at the heart of conservatism, and they will stop one million bright young things slipping through the cracks. After all, the creation of Disraeli’s One Nation will only be achieved by paving the way for our vulnerable young adults to enter the workforce. Work is our greatest leveller and the best way to guarantee a fairer, better Britain.

Ed Milliband understands the social and economic value of getting to grips with youth unemployment, as well as the electoral merit. Despite overseeing a 40% rise in youth unemployment, New Labour won the 1997 general election on the platform of helping the young jobless - and One Nation Labour could do the same. In his response to the Queen's Speech, he accused the Government of ignoring the issues that really matter to people, and one million young people were given top priority. 

Unlike Westminster villagers, the majority of families do not talk about an EU Referendum as they unpack the weekly shop and make dinner. They worry about jobs, pay, food and fuel costs. The whole family is hit by youth unemployment, and parents often despair as much as the under 25s themselves. A recent Million Jobs/YouGov poll found that youth unemployment was ranked as the third most important issue facing the country – below the economy and immigration. Comparatively, Europe was listed as seventh – below crime and tax. For conservatism to survive it must be relevant to the lives of ordinary hard working people. It must focus on the things that matter to them. 

With two years until the general election there is time to win the trust of a nervous electorate. By championing dinner table topics and solving the problems that are hurting people across the country the Conservatives will make headway in 2015 - helping the next generation succeed should be top of the list.


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