Running from the riots up a down-escalator in the middle of a class structure gone pear-shaped

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Contribution to ‘The Riots One Year On, A One Day Conference’ 28th September, London South Bank University


Patrick Ainley and Martin Allen


This paper updates one presented to the British Sociological Association Youth Study Group in autumn last year. Like other commentators, we point out that the majority of youth did not riot and focus instead upon young people in the new working-middle class who are running up a downwards escalator of devalued qualifications to avoid falling into the so-called ‘underclass’ that has been widely blamed for the riots. This only intensifies national hysteria about education as the Coalition’s reception of Browne’s Review restricts HE entry to those who can afford tripled fees, while relegating those who cannot to ‘Apprenticeships Without Jobs’ (cf. Finn 1987) in FE and private providers. With reference to Ainley and Allen (2010), this paper speculates as to the likely outcome of this generational crisis, while reviewing available evidence after the fact as well predictions before it of last summer’s riots – from Owen Jones’ Chavs to Guy Standing’s Precariat and drawing upon our own Lost Generation?


A tweet with a national twist typifies the contrast but also the implied connection between the riots and the Olympics one year later: ‘The riots made me ashamed to be English; the Olympics make me proud to be British’. That so much commentary found it hard to comprehend and to accommodate these events perhaps indicates that some turning point was marked by one or other or both of these events. In this respect, they are similar to other manifestations of a strange modernity, beginning perhaps with public reaction to the death of Lady Diana (but see Tom Nairn’s latest 2011 edition of The Enchanted Glass, Britain and its Monarchy). Certainly, ‘The conditions that gave rise to citizens taking to the streets and capable of the scenes we witnessed’ have still not received the explanation which Professor Gus John demanded in an Open Letter to Prime Minister Cameron in August 2011. While so little have conditions changed that it is widely anticipated the riots will recur, some even predicting them as an annual summer event. Rather than embrace a Baumann-like ‘fluidity’, in our account below, these latest in a long series of insurrections (see Pitts 2011), as well perhaps as the contrasting Olympic cohesion, mark the crystallization of an on-going process of class reformation. Our starting point therefore is the importance of class, but in particular, the recomposition of the class structure and the occupational order it supports.

The return of ‘class’

Seeking to put ‘class’ back at the forefront, after over a decade of Blairite ‘classlessness’, Owen Jones (2011) in his influential and widely read Chavs saw changes imposed as part of a deliberate political strategy of successive Conservative/ Coalition and New Labour governments as attempting to ‘chavify’ the entire working class, recasting it ‘From salt of the earth to scum of the earth’ (p.72). ‘What the Tories are [now] doing is placing the chav myth at the heart of British politics, so as to entrench the idea that there are entire communities around Britain crawling with feckless, delinquent, violent and sexually debauched no-hopers’ (p.80). This follows from ‘Thatcher’s ruinous class war’ in which ‘those working-class communities that suffered most were… herded into an “underclass” whose poverty was supposedly self-inflicted’ (p.67). However, where New Labour redefined poverty as social exclusion to focus on a minority blamed for their own ‘unemployability’, Jones quotes polls showing half the population still describe themselves as working class, a constant figure since the 1960s (p.33) because ‘In today’s Britain the number of people employed in blue-collar manual and white-collar routine clerical jobs represents over half the workforce, more than 28m workers’ (p.33). The demonization of this majority is ‘the flagrant triumphalism of the rich who, no longer challenged by those below them, instead point and laugh at them’ (p.269).

Unlike Jones’ ‘pyramid’ model, Guy Standing (2011) not only argues that ‘globalisation has resulted in a fragmentation of national class structures’ (7), but that increasingly large numbers of people are being pushed into a new and insecure ‘precariat’. Drawn from different sections of society, this new, growing and mainly youthful class is also ‘dangerous’ because it may be hostile to the privileges it sees enjoyed by labourism’s dwindling core. ‘First used by French sociologists in the 1980s, to describe temporary or seasonal workers’, in Italy precariati implies ‘a precarious existence as a normal state of living’, though it is not Hardt and Negri’s Multitude. In Germany ‘the term has been used to describe not only temporary workers but also the jobless who have no hope of social integration’ (13). This is not, however, a recreation of Marx’s lumpenproletariat, ‘that passively rotting social scum’ – far from it. Standing’s precariat is much larger and politically more explosive: ‘It was not a proletariat being formed but a temporary precarious labour force’ that, though it includes millions of migrants in developing countries, stretches well beyond the ‘working poor’ (9) and is far from homogeneous. So ‘The teenager who flits in and out of the internet cafe while surviving on fleeting jobs’ (13) shares a general feeling of economic insecurity experienced by the precariat as the ‘four As – anger, anomie, anxiety and alienation’, the result of blocked avenues for advancement (19).
Stuck in the middle with who?

Despite wanting to restore the importance of class conflict and class struggle, Jones insufficiently differentiates ‘the middle class’ from ‘the rich’. So when he writes, ‘the myth of the classless society gained ground just as society became more rigged in favour of the middle class’ (167) and ‘The result is a society run by the middle class for the middle class’ (182), though this is well put, typically of most class analysis, it leaves out the upper class. In contrast, Roberts (2011) devotes a whole chapter of his Class in Contemporary Britain to this ‘clearest of all class divisions’, which splits ‘a tiny minority (less than one per cent) on one side, from the great mass of the people on the other’. This is, he says, ‘the best example of a well formed class’ (p160) and (in his earlier Class in Modern Britain, 161-92) ‘the smallest… best organized… and most class conscious class’.

Similarly, Standing sees ‘an “elite”, consisting of a tiny number of absurdly rich global citizens lording it over the universe… Below that elite comes the “salariat”, still in stable full-time employment, some hoping to move into the elite, the majority just enjoying the trappings of their kind, with their pensions, paid holidays and enterprise benefits…’ (104). Like Roberts above, Standing sees ‘no fence’ – as Roberts puts it – between these managers and professionals and the upper or ruling class to whom they accept ‘a service relationship’; but Standing describes a ‘proficiens’ – another portmanteau word combining professionals and technicians and including self-employed contractors – alongside this traditional (upper) middle class. Jones though, recognises ‘Most middle-class people cannot afford to go private, and want good properly funded local schools and hospitals’ (268) and he adds ‘middle-level occupations… are shrinking’ (152) as ‘More and more university graduates are forced to take relatively humble jobs’ (176). This indicates a move towards a polarising class structure - rather than the persistence of the old pyramid with the bottom half recast as ‘chavs’.
As Jones confirms, Mrs Thatcher’s ‘right to buy’ sell off of council housing, ‘drove a wedge through working-class Britain, creating a divide between homeowners and council tenants’ (61). In reality it is only the formerly unskilled, ‘rough’ and ‘unrespectable’ section of the traditionally manually working class that has been ‘demonized’, leaving a new ‘respectable’ working-middle/ middle-working class between the snobs and the yobs, as has been said. These ‘hard working families’ are the target of politicians’ blandishments as they scramble desperately to run up a down escalator, contributing to the hysteria surrounding selection to education, for instance. This is another bubble about to burst, so that, as Jones rightly says, ‘at the centre of a new political agenda must be a total redefinition of aspiration’ (258).
Our own interest concerns the recomposition of this ‘middle’, rather than the creation of Standing’s mass precariat. It is not the case that the professional and managerial ‘middle’ is expanding in the way that, for example, Alan Milburn argued in his 2012 report on social mobility. Just as Tony Blair and Gordon Brown argued that there was ‘more room at the top’, Milburn claims that 80% of new jobs being created will be professional. There may well be increase in these opportunities (UKCES in Wolf 2011) but this is comparatively modest – at least compared to the number of people who want them.
According to Roberts (2011), using the terminology of Goos and Manning (2003), as many ‘lousy jobs’ – hospital porters, bar staff and shelf-fillers – have been created as higher paid ‘lovely jobs’. This should not be taken to imply the class structure now represents an ‘hour glass’ – as a result of what is seen as the ‘hollowing out of the middle’ (Lansley 2012). An array of ‘associate’ or ‘para-professional’ occupations like teaching support staff and healthcare assistants, occupations that are experiencing the strongest growth (UKCES ibid) but receive much lower financial remuneration, means it is becoming ‘pear shaped’. Rather than a ‘professionalization of the proletariat’ promised through widening participation to higher education for instance, there has been a proletarianisation of the professions.
In our own immediate reaction to the riots ( also on Guardian on-line same date), we pointed out that even if this was the second confrontation with the police following the winter 2010 student protests, ‘the number of young people who have taken to the streets still remains comparatively small. Most haven’t!’ Also, even if it’s tempting to lump them all together as ‘angry youth’ (for Standing, young people form a major constituency of the precariat), the student protestors represent a very different constituency:

‘the student protestors can be defined as middle- or “aspirational” working- class. They’ve played by the rules and worked hard at school but quickly became politicised in response to the way university is being put beyond their reach and that of their younger brothers and sisters. Despite government and opposition promises, they realise their generation will be the first to be worse off than their parents. Even if many will eventually find work, in many cases it will not be anywhere near commensurate with their hard earned qualifications.

‘On the other hand, the urban rioters – The Guardian (12/08/12) estimating that almost 80% of those up in court were under 25, the “criminals who shame the nation” as The Telegraph called them (10/8/11) – have become marginal to society. Failed by an academic education system, without work and without hope, they no longer play by any rules. Not having any commitment to “fairness” or any faith in “social justice”, they were referred to by the New Labour acronym of NEET (Not in Employment Education or Training). They have become youth’s new “underclass”. Not “political” compared to the students, according to some Manchester youngsters interviewed by BBC News (11/08/11) – though not we assume, charged with any of the violence – the riots were “the best protest ever” against a system that denied them access to the consumer goods they see flaunted around them.

‘There have been opportunities for these two groups to come together – working-class FE students joined the student protests against fees and to demand the restoration of Educational Maintenance Allowances – but it’s difficult to imagine them ever being united. Even though they often live next door in the same neighbourhoods, ducking and diving at the same part-time McJobs – if they are lucky and despite recession certainly worsening the situation of all youth.’

In emphasising that most ‘ordinary kids’ (Brown 1987) did not riot we also wondered whether

‘without economic policies that ensure reasonable employment prospects and at least a sniff of prosperity, will they continue to cram for exams when they have little chance of getting into the top universities? Or will they be tempted by cut-price “apprentice-degrees” in FE or dodgier training agencies? Maybe the riots will tip them towards the worst of both worlds – getting even more into debt (“a small mortgage”, as the new NUS President described degrees estimated at £60,000) in desperate hopes of a secure job in three or four years, “when the economy has picked up”. Thus, they may continue to scramble up the down-escalator of devalued qualifications so as not to fall into the “underclass” beneath; but they may not be so far from them as their parents think!’

The Making of an English ‘Underclass’

The danger in accepting such a class reformation in the ‘working-middle’ of the post-war tripartite social pyramid is that it accepts the reality of an ‘underclass’ beneath, tainted as this notion is by the racist eugenics of Murray et al. Kirk Mann’s 1991 book The Making of an English ‘Underclass’ began by observing that sociologists who advanced the theory of a new class division in society separating ‘the underclass’ from the rest were given publicity not usually granted to anyone claiming to prove the existence of other class divisions. Charles Murray’s 1990 polemic The Emerging British UNDERCLASS (with no inverted commas but capitalized in its original publication), was featured in a special issue of The Sunday Times magazine (26/11/89), Murray’s ‘research’ in the UK having been sponsored by Rupert Murdoch’s News International.

As Mann points out, this merely follows ‘a long tradition of commentators who have observed a stratum of hopeless degenerates’ (2) at the bottom of society. The names for this section of society have varied down the years:

‘excluded groups, marginalized groups, underclass, residuum, the poor, reserve army of labour, housing and social security classes, stagnant reserve army, relative surplus population and the lumpen proletariat are all terms that have been used to describe a layer within, or beneath, the working class.’ (160)

Mann even added his own contribution to the list – ‘lapilli’, meaning ‘small fragments of lava ejected from a volcano’ (ibid) and, presumably, melting back into the molten flow when the temperature rises again. For,

‘while each generation has seen a sub-stratum within the working class, each period has also witnessed the rehabilitation of that sub-stratum. The Victorian residuum appears to have evaporated in the heat of the First World War. Likewise, the class of unemployables of the inter-war period failed to survive the Second World War.’ (107)
Where, asked Mann, did this leave the theory that the underclass reproduced itself through a culture of poverty transmitted down the generations? Especially as, as Mann also acknowledged, the ‘underclass’ – unlike Thompson’s working class – did not make itself. It is, as Bell and Blanchflower point out, ‘a conscript not a volunteer army’ (in Melrose 2012, who adds that – as many have pointed out – ‘benefit claimants aspire to the same goals, and share the same values, as everyone else… and many are desperate to work’).
Young people – a ‘reserve army’ or a non-class?

Andrew Gamble’s 2009 book The Spectre at the Feast follows Marx in seeing ‘One of the key functions of economic crisis is to reconstitute the reserve army of labour by making thousands of workers unemployed again’ (47-48). With the end of the post-war expansion in the 1970s, large sections of potentially unemployed working class young people were removed from the labour market – relegated to youth training schemes – described by Finn (1987) as Training without Jobs. The role of the state in the current reconstitution of the RAL has now gone much further than in the 1970s and implicates education rather than training to an extent it has not done before. What we called ‘Education without jobs’ (Ainley and Allen 2010, 13) has involved creating a new generation of ‘students’ – currently almost a third of all 18-24 year olds, some three million are recorded as full-time students (ONS Labour market statistics July 2012). If 16/17 year olds are included, the figure is over 40%.

Increasing the number of students has clearly mediated, but it has not been enough to cover-up the extent of young people’s disengagement from the labour market. This continues to be illustrated in monthly unemployment figures from the Office for National Statistics. There are still 1.02m unemployed 16-24 year olds, equal to 20% of 18-24 year olds (48% of Black British 16-24 year-old young men, according to the IPPR in 2010: If figures are based on those ‘not in full-time education’ (excluding students who are also looking for work), 17% of 16-24 year olds are unemployed, accounting for three quarters of the rise in unemployment as a whole. Adding this to the number of ‘economically inactive’ young people not in full-time education gives an unemployment rate of one in three for 18-24 year olds not in full-time learning. Responding to the riots, the TUC produced data showing high rates of youth unemployment in affected areas (for example Hackney 34%, Wolverhampton 32.7%:

The ‘reserve army’ thesis assumes a ‘cyclical’ process – its members return to employment when the recession ends and remain there until the next crisis. However, youth unemployment, though like all unemployment affected by changes in the business cycle, has since the 1980s become increasingly ‘structural’ and permanent, being exacerbated by the decline of manufacturing employment and its accompanying ‘time serving’ apprenticeship system. At the same time, the service economy which has increasingly replaced manufacturing has not generated ‘youth jobs’ in the way the traditional industrial sector did, as employers have been able to draw upon new types of labour; even more so when the labour market continues to be ‘slack’. Thus, rates of youth unemployment compared with total unemployment are shown below:
16-64 18-24

2002 FEB 5.2 10.8

2003 FEB 5.2 11.1

2004 FEB 4.9 10.2

2005 FEB 4.8 10.4

2006 FEB 5.3 11.7

2007 FEB 5.6 12.5

2008 FEB 5.3 12.2

2009 FEB 7.2 16.2

2010 FEB 8.1 18.0

2011 FEB 7.9 17.7

2012 FEB 8.4 19.8 (complied by the TUC, based on LFS data)
Linked to this is a further, disturbing feature of youth unemployment which is its increasingly long-term nature. TUC figures show that since 2000 the number of young people out of work for between 6 months and a year has risen by 152% ( At the same time, the numbers claiming Job Seekers Allowances (JSA) have rocketed, particularly in some areas. The Guardian (17/11/11) reported over 13% of 16-24 year olds in Hartlepool claiming JSA and 12.9% in Sandwell.
Overqualified and underemployed

Gorz (1980) refers to a permanent ‘non-class’ within post-industrial capitalist economies – the result of increases in the technological capacity of capitalism:

‘This non-class encompasses all those who have been expelled from production... or whose capacities are under-employed as a result of the automation and computerisation of intellectual work. It includes all supernumeraries of present day social production, who are potentially or actually unemployed, whether permanently or temporarily, partially or completely.’ (Gorz 1980, 68)
The issue of ‘underemployment’ amongst young people is probably as significant as actual unemployment. Unsuprisingly, most of the data about this relates to graduates (Ainley and Allen 2010, Chapter 3; Allen and Ainley 2012). While recent High Flyers reports ( show starting salaries for graduates beginning to rise again, these figures are based on ‘top’ or traditional graduate employers. Higher Education Careers Service Unit surveys ( find average graduate starting salaries below £20,000 with under £15,000 common – the Association of Graduate Recruiter’s CEO told The Guardian (06/07/10) that graduates needed to be more ‘flexible’ and if necessary take jobs like ‘burger-flipping and shelf-stacking’ – and of course, differences in earnings between those from elite and ‘new’ universities should not be ignored.
According to The Financial Times (11/08/08), one in three graduates were not in ‘graduate jobs’ with 6 out of 10 art and design graduates overqualified for the posts they held. Since then, other data based on a breakdown of the employment destinations of 2009 graduates (, provides a similar picture: 8% in clerical and secretarial positions, 14% in retailing, catering or working as bar staff and 12% in ‘other’ non-professional occupations from security staff to traffic wardens. The Times Higher (29/3/12) also reported I in 3 graduates working in lower skilled jobs compared with 1 in 4 a year ago. HESA figures reported in The Independent (27/7/12) showed that six months after graduation of the 224,045 2011 graduates, just over 140,000 were in full-time employment (far more women – 82,655, than men – 57,425), most in professional or managerial occupations but 11,475 in ‘elementary occupations’. A further 10,295 described themselves as in ‘personal service occupations’, including working in call centres. 4% of all in employment were voluntary or unpaid – a 23% increase on the previous year.
Contrary to popular perceptions, only about half of all science graduates find work that requires their scientific knowledge. According to researchers at Birmingham University, six months after leaving university, only 46% of engineering graduates and 55% of those from physics and chemistry backgrounds were in work that was related to their degrees. For Professor Emma Smith, one of the Birmingham researchers, ‘the shortage thesis is wrong - there are no jobs waiting’ (The Guardian 08/09/2011).
It is difficult to map skill requirements of occupations with what is accredited by particular qualifications. As employers recruit graduates for an increasing range of vacancies, eg. in retail, these jobs are likely to become ‘graduatised’. Nevertheless, increasing numbers of ‘Gringos’ (graduates in non-graduate occupations – Blenkinsop and Scurry 2007) means that other young people are ‘bumped down’ (Allen and Ainley 2012, 13) into still less remunerated and more insecure jobs. In other words, those who lose out the most are those at the other end of the jobs queue and it is this – rather than ‘lack of skills’ – that is, according to Brown, Lauder and Ashton (2011), why the 70% of the American workforce who do not have a degree have seen their entry level wage drop from $13 to $11 per hour between 1973 and 2005. Those without qualifications, for example, are four times as likely to be unemployed as those with degrees – those with only GCSEs half as likely (Allen and Ainley 2012, 14).
Though a recession undoubtedly makes it even harder for those without qualifications to find work, it is still the case that, even in relatively prosperous periods, those without qualification fare much less well. At the height of the Blair boom, data compiled by Danny Dorling for the Prince’s Trust showed that in 2002 unemployment amongst those without qualifications was twice that of those with them with 44.3% of those who left school at the end of Year 11 unable to find a job (
Young people are also working ‘for nothing’ in internships that are commonplace for graduates (Perlin 2011) and an increasingly necessary requirement for entering remaining ‘graduate jobs’. Meanwhile, at the other end of the labour market, it is clear that American style ‘workfare’ schemes, despite established employers distancing themselves because of the adverse publicity ( will continue to remain on the agenda. In addition, the reduced employment opportunities have created a ‘wages crisis’ for young people, with the under-30s suffering much deeper pay cuts than older workers. The under-30s were the first to ‘feel the pain’ of the recession – and may be the last to benefit when the economy recovers, (
Education in a declining economy – a crisis of legitimacy?

Thus, rather than ‘employer demand for skills’, it is the absence of work that has been the reason for young people staying in full-time education for longer and experiencing a more prolonged transition to adulthood – if they are able to make a transition at all. In the absence of work education has little economic rationality. It functions instead as the main means of social control over youth by enhancing existing divisions amongst young people and replacing the social control formerly exercised in the workplace by wages.

For many, particularly those in ‘the middle’, the education system is like running up a downwards escalator where you have to go faster and faster simply to stand still. Many have assumed that the raising of tuition fees to £9000 per annum in most cases will seriously dent the ability of many young people, particularly those towards the lower end of the working middle to participate in HE – the protests referred to earlier would appear to reflect this. Given the lack of alternatives however, not to mention the ‘bumping down’ noted earlier, it is no wonder, that – as UCAS statistics continue to show – so many 18 year old school and college leavers still apply to universities(
For those nearer the bottom, generally referred to as ‘NEETs’, the crisis takes on its own dimensions as in June 2012 the Department for Education (DfE 2012) showed a fall in the proportion of 16-18 year olds in England staying on in full-time education for the first time in ten years. The drop among 16-year-olds was 1.8%, leading to renewed calls for the restoration of the Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA) and the abolition of tuition fees. In fact, in a ‘declining economy’ where reliable employment opportunities are very limited, in many respects the importance of EMA as a carrot for staying in education, like the imposition of the tuition fees, may be over-exaggerated as the majority of young people can do very little else but stay in full-time education and do not receive full JSA or any housing benefits until they are 25 – the new age of majority. In other words, their ability to make serious choices about what they do, are greatly diminished.
Thus, the raising of the ‘participation age’ to 17 next year and 18 in 2015 is unlikely to be met with the level of hostility that resulted in response to RoSLA1 (raising the school leaving age to 16 in 1972) and, with schools and colleges now unable to threaten withdrawal of EMA payments for non-attendees, there are likely to be large numbers of students only nominally enrolled in any case. Large numbers will also continue to work part-time while they study – although evidence suggests that these sorts of opportunities are also drying up (
Nevertheless, despite these relatively high participation rates, with learning becoming ‘bite sized’ (see McArdle-Clinton 2008) and largely an instrumental activity, such is ‘the corrosion of learning’ that there is a growing ‘crisis of legitimacy’ for education as a way forward for young people’s lives. The long term viability of the current system is unsustainable and, as already argued, only delays rather than solves what remains an ongoing crisis for increasingly large numbers of young people. We need a different type of education. While for many education activists it is a full-time occupation simply ‘defending what we’ve got’, as Camila Vallejo, the Chilean student leader has said, ‘We want to improve the educational system but not this one. We must move towards a more inclusive, truly democratic and just system.’
Michael Gove has reopened the debate about the curriculum, promoting the virtues of a traditional, ‘unashamedly elitist’ curriculum as something that could be available to everybody – a return to the grammar school (Allen 2012). Gove has sought to ‘demote’ the status of vocational learning, removing qualifications like BTECs from school league tables and insisting that this sort of learning becomes more occupationally relevant (following Wolf 2011). If the Coalition has sought, maybe unsuccessfully, to reduce the number of university students, these calls for a new type of practical or ‘vocational’ type of learning will only have resonance with young people if such courses are seen to lead to sustainable employment. In the current climate, despite our criticism of the inability of education to provide economic prospects for young people, we have to remember that, for most young people, all education is considered ‘vocational’.
Teachers and educationalists like to talk about encouraging ‘a love of learning’, while universities defend ‘blue skies research’ as part of their academic freedom linked to ‘education for its own sake’, but anybody who works with young people in upper secondary, further or higher education will know that decisions students make – for example, about which course to study, are generally made on the basis of vocational aspirations. (Though Cheeseman 2011 details The pleasures of being a student at the University of Sheffield.)
We need a different education

As well as continuing to support young people’s individual aspirations, we need collective alternatives. Education could be important as a new type of collective agent bringing people together in an increasingly fractured society. Rather than churning out qualifications that are increasingly ‘worthless’ in a declining labour market, educational institutions could serve as places where, as part of a ‘good general education’, young people can develop critical awareness of the workplace – learning about work and not just learning to work.
With schools and colleges reporting a renewed interest in studying ‘economics’ for example, there is huge potential to develop a new ‘economic literacy’ (Ainley and Allen 2010, 136-140) and a new social understanding. This is also the end to which what Solomon and Palmieri called The New Student Rebellions have dedicated themselves, to show that ‘we are not the post-ideological, apathetic generation we have so often been labelled as’ (Casserly 2011, 74). Rather than being ‘left to the teachers’, the development of such a ‘really useful curriculum’ would have to be the product of much wider discussion across labour movement and progressive forces. With the assumed link between education and the economy weakening, it would seem essential that curriculum change takes place if education is to continue to be taken seriously by young people.
An alternative approach to learning that transcends traditional divisions between ‘academic’ and ‘vocational’ divisions is therefore urgently needed and also new relations between teachers and taught (Ainley and Allen 2010). New policies for education need to be part of wider policies for society as a whole – where education is about promoting social justice and personal development rather than the maintenance of social control (Allen and Ainley 2007). Fundamental to the success of this are economic changes of a scale not yet considered.
We need a different economy

The Coalition’s economic policies are not only increasingly discredited – while presiding over a larger deficit than the one inherited from the previous government, not to mention a double dip recession, George Osborne is taking the economy into a ‘disaster zone’ (Guardian 26/07/12). With output still 4.5% lower than before the recession started the UK economy continues to shrink at a faster rate than any other advanced economy. Consequently calls for a ‘Plan B’ now resonate from everywhere including some of those in the government.

It is over-optimistic however to believe that keeping public spending at existing levels, cancelling out the Coalition’s VAT rise and even keeping interest rates at rock-bottom, is going to be enough. And it is certainly not enough to argue, as Labour does, that the deficit should be reduced more slowly. Alternative economic policies must start with a Keynesian injection of ‘demand’ and a general increase in wage levels. Moreover, as we have argued (Allen and Ainley 2011), the UK economy continues to suffer from its own ‘supply side’ problems which are reflected in the decline of its manufacturing base. It is of course important to encourage investment in manufacturing, but the expansion of manufacturing and the huge productivity gains that would result from investing in the latest technology, would do little, at least immediately, to seriously reduce unemployment (Vince Cable please note!).
(Still) key to restoring the health of the economy is the expansion of the public sector through what ‘old-fashioned’ socialists used to describe as a ‘programme of public works’. Extending but also using public ownership of major parts of the financial sector will also ensure that credit flows are unlocked and that the self-employed, small-and medium-sized enterprises are able to borrow the money they need. With concern about the size of the pay-gap between rich and poor increasingly entering the public domain, a progressive redistributive fiscal policy well beyond the level of anything attempted before, must be a central ingredient of any alternative strategy.
Likewise, rather than the large bureaucratic national corporations of the post-war years, the local state can be used far more strategically. (See Latham 2011.) Providing local authorities are given the power and the financial resources to do so, they can work alongside local voluntary sector agencies to provide and support secure employment opportunities and high quality services. In addition to restoring housing, education and improving local infrastructure, local authorities can play a key role in the creation of new ‘green’ initiatives. (See in particular, The Campaign Against Climate Change’s One million climate jobs Now! 2009.) Here, even the Coalition’s privately financed Green Deal to make 14 million homes more energy efficient by 2020 and another 12 million by 2030 has the potential to create 250,000 green jobs (Guardian 16/11/11).

Within an alternative Plan C, there also have to be specific policies for young people. Paul Gregg and Richard Layard ( have demonstrated that the economic returns from creating employment for young people are greater than the cost of keeping them on the dole. The previous Labour government’s Future Jobs Fund (FJF) represented a step in the right direction, adopting the premise that if jobs were not available they would need to be created. Under the £1 billion scheme, local authorities and voluntary and private sector employers could be subsidised by up to £6,500 to take on a jobless young person. The 150,000 new jobs were to be ‘socially useful’ and 10,000 had to be ‘green’. FJF was not without its weaknesses. Jobs were only guaranteed for six months and were relatively low skilled and at the minimum wage. Nevertheless, FJF was described by the TUC Touch Stone website as ‘the most progressive employment programme for a generation’ ( and it did at least stabilise youth unemployment and was radical enough to be one of the first things abolished by the Coalition.

Denouncing FJF as expensive and ‘bureaucratic’, the Coalition’s ‘work programme’ was launched in July 2011. Essentially, an array of contractors including voluntary sector organisations are encouraged to find employment opportunities for individuals and ‘paid by results’; for example, they will receive £4,050 for finding a job for an 18-24 old who has been on Job Seekers’ Allowance. The reality will be that most payments will be much lower and that groups of people more difficult to help and with more complex needs may just be ‘parked’.
Local Authorities and local public/ voluntary sector alliances are crucial in generating real apprenticeships linked to real job opportunities, something for example Brighton’s new Green council initiated, before it was plunged into internal arguments about cuts. LAs can also play an increased role in developing other opportunities for young people; for example, by introducing quotas for employment as conditions of Council contracts, purchasing agreements, planning permission and grants. Finally, LAs can act as a network of local employment boards where employer vacancies can be matched to young people’s needs and where, to borrow language from the financial sector, local councils can act as a ‘provider of last resort’ for those young people still without employment.
The Coalition’s ‘Youth Contract’: too little, too late.

In response to accusations that youth unemployment was getting out of control, in November 2011 – barely a week after figures showing official youth unemployment over a million, Nick Clegg announced a new £1bn ‘youth contract’. At first sight, this appeared to represent a return to the ideas of the Future Jobs Fund, as it reintroduced the policy of subsidising employers to take on unemployed young workers. Employers will indeed receive £2,275 = half the minimum wage – though less than under FJF – to encourage them to take on 160,000 unemployed youngsters – but as Clegg made clear on BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme , the scheme is aimed not at public sector employers but at the private sector, where, despite being offered subsidies to take on apprentices, employers have repeatedly failed to do so.

Like the apprenticeship programmes, this is unlikely to happen while the economy remains ‘flat’. Like the Work Programme through which it will be delivered, without a huge increase in confidence shown by employers for taking on the unemployed, its success will be patchy and its take-up selective. As well as ‘more funding for apprenticeships’, 250,000 young people will also be offered unpaid work experience placements lasting up to eight weeks – but, as noted earlier, this practice already takes place and has been open to abuse. A further illustration of a hardening of attitudes by the Coalition towards the unemployed is that young people will lose their benefits if they volunteer for this work experience and do not complete it. Yet companies like Argos and Superdrug have now tried to distance themselves from the scheme, aware of the adverse publicity and Tesco have promised to pay participants and offer a job if a placement is successful (Guardian 22/02/12).
The economics of redistribution

The policies above obviously require funding. In previous times this has been financed by ‘growth’. While a plan for sustainable growth is essential, the assumption that the increases in taxation revenue necessary to allow some redistribution will be the result of economic expansion is no longer tenable in the way it used to be in the post-war years of the 20th century. There must be a move towards more direct distribution as it is now argued that the increased inequality between rich and poor impedes increased economic growth and output (Lansley 2012).

Redistribution is much more a political challenge however, because it requires the transfer of resources – and as a result, the transfer of economic power - from one group to another. Redistribution should not be seen as redistribution from one generation to another (as by Willetts 2010) but should be a process of economic distribution financed by increases in the rate of income and corporation tax, increased land and estate duties. After the financial meltdown, hostility towards ‘the rich’ has reached its highest level – along with much greater social awareness about inequalities. So much so that even David Cameron has criticized Chief Executive bonus payments and all three major political parties compete to promote a ‘fairer’ or ‘more responsible’ capitalism.
The most important step for many young people would be a significant increase in the minimum wage and in levels of state benefits – as well as an increase in the minimum paid to apprentices, which is still only £2.60 an hour. All young people should also be eligible for a basic minimum income (NUT Conference motion 2011), although there needs to be much greater discussion about the exact form that this should take and under what sort of conditions it should be paid.
The concept of ‘redistribution’ can also be applied to work itself. Technological advances mean that an economy in which there are not enough secure, well paid and intrinsically satisfying jobs to go round and where a significant minority ‘overwork’ to the detriment of themselves and their families, while others are either ‘underemployed’, temporarily employed or not able to find work at all, can be replaced by one where ‘necessary’ work can be more easily distributed.
The redistribution of work was one of the central components of Gorz’s thesis. Utopian when first published. Gorz argued it was possible to reduce work to 1,000 hours a year without serious loss of income. In an age when there are simply not enough well paid and interesting jobs to go round, these arguments can only become more resonant. The case for a 21 hour working week has been taken up by the New Economics Foundation ( While the NEF argue that reducing the working week will reduce inequalities and promote social justice, it also cites ecological and sustainability issues. Many economists are now recognising we can and must have ‘prosperity without growth’ (Jackson 2011) but these arguments have yet to emerge in labour movement opposition to austerity.

The new social formation of a working-middle/ middle-working class in a class structure going pear-shaped potentially affords a basis for support of progressive and necessarily green policies. But, as ever, the insecurities of this precarious majority have been repeatedly directed by government and dominant media towards antagonism against the ‘new rough’ so-called ‘underclass’, presented as ‘undeserving poor’, immigrants etc. and blamed for their own situation. Reports and investigations of the riots (eg. by the LSE and Guardian) have focused exclusively on the three groups directly involved – the rioters themselves, their victims and the police. Although, a survey of 500 employers and 1000 employees conducted by human resource agency Adecco during July to September 2011 (reported in The Guardian 17/11/11), reflected that 53% of the former and 84% of the latter believed ‘a permanent underclass is emerging made unemployable by their education’ (need ref). Some sociologists, eg. Roberts 2001, have similarly recognised that if an ‘underclass’ as ‘a demographic entity with characteristic life chances‘ – ie. a class – has not yet emerged, then it soon will. There is also the widespread opinion to which we referred that the riots will recur, even if only because – as a survey of young people’s attitudes (need ref) recorded – the punishments inflicted on rioters by the courts had not been sufficiently severe!

The new class formation we have described puts in question the traditional Gramscian hegemony based upon a traditional working class and (at least according to Paul Mason) creates the possibility of resistance ‘kicking off everywhere’, stimulated and ‘organised’ by new media. How much the 2011 riots shared a direct political content however has been debated – indeed, Zizek (2011) saw their characteristic as being ‘non-ideological’. Certainly, the new generations have little chance to organise at their work, which is part-time and irregular at best, and the traditional political activities of their parents - like leafleting and public meetings are felt to be ineffective, largely irrelevant, or at least too long-term, such is the urgency of their and the world’s situation. However, in contrast to Standing who sees an almost inevitable conflict between the established and ‘privileged’ working class we argue (Allen and Ainley 2012) that a new politics will still need the old alliances and that it falls to labour movement organisations – not least because of their considerable resources and their continued ability to dislocate production – to move beyond simply defending members immediate interests and adopt and develop policies recognizing that the interests of their members and the majority of society are undermined by the latest developments of a capitalism that is wasting its human as well as its natural resources.


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