A very warm welcome to my first round-up of 2014. I hope everyone reading this had a peaceful festive period.
With the European Elections in May, this will be a year when Britain’s relationship with Europe goes under the microscope. The hysteria that was allowed to build before the predicted ‘influx’ of Romanian and Bulgarian workers after January 1st – and the thumping anti-climax when their arrival proved more a trickle than a tide – illustrates what a politicised issue Europe has become.
Rather than obsessing about migration we should look at the other challenges Britain and the EU face in 2014. The year began with a desperately sad Prince’s Trust report on youth unemployment. Their annual Youth Index showed that 40% of unemployed 16-25 year-olds now experience mental illness. It said 25% of those who were long-term unemployed tookor had taken anti-depressants – compared to 11% of those with jobs – and that nearly one in ten young people feel they have nothing to live for.
The figures led professionals to deem the problem a public health crisis. With around half of the 900,000 jobless young people in Britain long-term unemployed – and problems like self-harm and drug-use prevalent – The Royal Society for Public Health’s Shirley Cramer said it was “essential” that the issue moved up the agenda.
It is little wonder young people in Britain feel hopeless. As well as failing to address issues like low wages, unpaid internships and the cost of living, the Tory government have abolished EMA, trebled tuition fees and sought to remove benefits for under-25s. As David Cameron’s conference speech showed, their approach is to scapegoat rather than support youngsters.
Youth unemployment is not the result of idleness, but of too few opportunities. It is an area where we need more not less collaboration with Europe.
2013 saw the European Parliament vote through recommendations that member states prioritise the issue. And the European Commission’s Youth Guarantee Scheme called on domestic governments to provide jobs or further training for all young people within four months of leaving school. These measures are helping to create a Europe-wide consensus on youth unemployment, which looks to support member states and share good practice. They illustrate the value of cooperating with our neighbours rather than demonising them. Instead of being sidetracked by diversionary myths about EU migrants, we should focus on the real issues, and work with the rest of Europe to prevent a lost generation.
On a more positive note, it was good to see Japan this week announce a 2020 target of over 30% representation for women on boards. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe set out the requirements on Thursday, calling women the country’s “most underused resource”. At present women hold just 1.6% of executive positions, and Japan ranks dismally compared to other developed countries. Some claim the economic boost created by having more women at the top could be as much as 15%.
Japan should be congratulated for setting such bold targets. Despite currently sitting a long way behind the UK for the number of women on boards, they are clearly intent on drawing level. Abe is no bleeding heart liberal, but he recognises the business case for diversity. Rather than being content with Lord Davies’ 30% target for 2020, the UK should be as ambitious for itself as Japan obviously is, and endorse Viviane Reding’s 40% target. I hope that by this time next year we will have done so.