What the manifestos mean to graduates

On your marks. Get set. GO.

This week saw the publication of each of the three main political party’s manifestos, in their separate bids to win the nation’s hearts and minds. Doused in a wash of hyperbole, the resounding words that rang out in all policies were ‘fair’, ‘change’ and ‘trust’, all of which carry relatively little weight in terms of tangible differences. Revealed with much pomp and regalia, they respectively staked their claim to raise the UK from the ashes of recession with inevitable public spending cuts stealing the limelight.  However, very few column inches have been dedicated to their stances on graduate unemployment, or education for that matter. Here is a summery of the Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrat plans for employment, higher education and the youth generation.

Labour

“We will open up opportunity for people from families on low incomes to enter professions like the media and law, expanding paid internships for students.” Disregarding the poor phrasing on show here from Labour, this is the only mention of the word ‘internship’ in any of the three parties’ manifestos. That said, it is phrased in a vague and alluding manner. There are no tangible goals or objectives in this promise to “expand” and could mean a number of things. It is positive progression and could potentially benefit a lot of graduates. Aside from that, the manifesto focuses primarily on getting more people into higher education with little regard for what they should do after. This has been a policy of Labour’s from the offset and there is no surprise that the level of graduate unemployment is so high currently, with the incunbent government having shown such little appetite for expanding the options available when finishing university.

Conservative

“We will reduce youth unemployment.” This pledge appears early on in the manuscript and marks the Tories’ intent in the matter. Very noble, I’m sure, but there is a lack of clarity in how this will be achieved. One major issue that is immediately apparent is their inability to differentiate between graduates and those without a degree. Their proposed system is one in which those claiming Job Seeker’s allowance MUST be prepared to take job offers after two years on unemployment benefits, or must ‘work for the dole’. This includes community work which would surely distract attention from searching for job? Graduates looking for employment in a sector which benefits from and utilises their experience and skills may be forced to take any job irrespectively. Whilst proactive in cutting down unemployment, it perhaps seems brazen in its attempts to meet targets and unfortunate graduates may pay the price.

There is also a mention of rewarding SME’s with £2000 for taking on apprentices. The issue here is with the definition of ‘apprentice’. Its connotation is one of a vocational position such as skilled labourer, but if it further encompasses internships, or fields such as media or marketing for example, it may provide encouragement for smaller companies to take on graduates. Let’s hope that the definition is up for discussion as this could prove to be a positive step.

Lastly they propose to offer graduates incentives to pay off their student loans early, on a voluntary basis. This will no doubt only be achievable by postgraduates from a privileged background as they can rely on parental help to ultimately save them money. Students from underprivileged backgrounds struggle to afford payments already, hence the current system (no payments until earning over £15k), and this new plan completely undermines that.

Liberal Democrats

“We will create hundreds of thousands of opportunities for young people affected by the recession.” One of the key policies of the Lib Dems, and has been for eons, is to scrap tuition fees for students. A huge pledge that could save students in excess of £10,000 over the course of three years, which would also see funding for universities become the second highest public expenditure. Although they claim they will scrap the proposed 50% target for young people following on to higher education, I would imagine that even more will take up this new opportunity. Herein lies the problem again. Graduates with nowhere to go.

They do mention a work placement scheme which will last three months and where the participant will be paid £55 a week. Averaging at slightly more than Job Seeker’s Allowance, it still falls vastly under the minimum wage. As with the Conservatives, the definition of work placement is a broad one, in which I fear will focus on vocational sectors.

In all, none of the parties in question are tackling the issue of widespread graduate unemployment head on. The misconception that bundling unwitting A Level alumni into higher education will improve the state of the country is frankly farcical. Plenty of steps are being taken to lower youth unemployment on a wider scale but Job Centre Plus is ill-equipped to help with graduate job searching, especially in relatively new fields such as new media. More must be done to help this disillusioned generation and stop them from falling through the cracks.

We at Inspiring Interns are in the process of compiling a manifesto of our own. One in which we lay down the provisions that the government should be taking to help graduates on to internships and placements, and therefore onto the career ladder. We mark the steps that must be implemented to help fund unpaid positions and nurture graduate talent. Watch this space.

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