In the ’80s and ’90s, I spent 10 years as a youth worker in youth co-operative project for unemployed young people. At that time, more than a quarter of young people were unemployed. They were a generation who had no jobs, no hope and no future. Some of those young people never recovered from that period. Some committed suicide; others turned to drugs and alcohol, or ended up with long-term mental health problems. Even when the economy started to recover, those young people who had spent many years unemployed found it incredibly difficult to get a job. Let us be honest, most employers would probably prefer to employ a 16-year-old fresh out of school than a 26-year-old who has spent most of the past 10 years unemployed, with nothing to get up for and nothing to do.
The youth co-operative tried to stop the cycle of despair for young people. It helped them to gain skills and set up their own businesses. It gave them driving lessons and taught them how to use computers. It built up their confidence and gave them a reason to get out of bed, and it was open 365 days a year. It was about more than skills education; it provided a support network, and it challenged attitudes. It helped people to believe in themselves and gave them practical help. We helped young people who were sleeping in cars and on friends’ floors to get rehoused. We then helped them to decorate their new homes and find second-hand furniture. We helped young people whose schools and colleges said that they were not good enough for university to get there and to complete their degrees, and we supported young people into work. Then we were closed by Tory cuts in the youth service.
The Labour Government came along and introduced the Connexions service, which offered careers advice-plus, in the form of straightforward careers advice for all young people and a dedicated support service for young people not in employment education or training, or those at risk of becoming NEETs. The service did many of the things that the youth co-operative did in the ’80s and ’90s. Now we have another Tory Government, and youth unemployment is at its highest since 1992. We are seeing the destruction of Connexions and the youth service, and all support services are being slashed. It is back to the future again. Young people again feel that they have no jobs, no hope and no future.
We can argue about the effectiveness of the Connexions service. The Government like to use the result of an online survey of 510 respondents who said that they were unhappy with the service, rather than the survey of 5,000 young people carried out by the then Department for Education and Skills, which found that over 90% were satisfied with the service that they had received. Surely no one can argue that online advice is a substitute for face-to-face advice. Like my hon. Friend Mrs Chapman and, I suspect, many other Members, I did not get good careers advice—[ Laughter. ]