The recent local council results made for good reading for Labour politicians, supporters and activists.
It was great to see so much hard work rewarded, and I am pleased that Labour has decisively maintained control in battleground seats such as Glasgow and North Lanarkshire, and retained a substantial controlling presence in South Lanarkshire and Falkirk. And it would be remiss to omit the power sharing arrangement between Labour and the SNP in Edinburgh; a good example of politicians putting rivalries aside and the people first.
Whatever the SNP now claim, they will undoubtedly be disappointed with how things went. That they believed they could take Glasgow, North Lanarkshire, and a host of other councils was an open secret; but, in the event, Labour’s simple message of more jobs and better local services resounded with the electorate.
The week before the election I observed that the SNP was becoming complacent, a view perhaps shared by some voters. It is essential that, having made good progress, Labour does not fall into the same trap.
We must deliver on our election promises, and continue to listen to, and learn from, the electorate.
I was very concerned at recent figures revealing a massive rise in the levels of long term youth unemployment over the past 4 years. Figures compiled by the STUC show that the incidence of 16-24 year-olds claiming Jobseekers’ Allowance escalated by over 1000% between March 2008 and March 2012, a rise in excess of that in both England and Wales.
Further analysis of the data reveals an even more worrying picture, with the rise in rates of long term youth unemployment even higher within certain local authority areas.
For example, in North Lanarkshire the percentage of 16-24 year-olds claiming JSA for more than a year rose by over 3000% between March 2008 and March 2012, whilst figures for South Lanarkshire show a percentage increase of over 2500% over the same period.
Youth unemployment is rapidly becoming the major crisis of our times. Despite some excellent work at local authority level, with both North and South Lanarkshire Council’s investing significant funds to help young people into work, there has been a marked lack of leadership from Central Government, and it is this failure of leadership that is fuelling the rise in long term youth unemployment.
It is time for Mr Salmond and his SNP Govermment colleagues to stop hiding behind the claims of “25,000 modern apprenticeships”, and “guaranteed places in education or training for 16-19 year-olds” and take responsibility for the reality on the ground.
On Thursday I spoke in a Scottish Government debate on the Youth Employment Strategy.
I was very glad to have the opportunity to speak on what is becoming a crisis issue. The rate of youth unemployment in Scotland has now crept above the UK average, and the problem is especially acute in areas of Central Scotland.
Whilst I believe that the Government’s strategy contains some positive initiatives, such as Community Jobs Scotland, it is generally short on detail. That is why I was keen to emphasize the many positive schemes being funded and administered by local councils.
Falkirk, North and South Lanarkshire Councils have worked hard to address the problem of youth unemployment, and their schemes have all enjoyed considerable success. I believe that the Government should learn from these examples.
I also believe that some provision for young people on the autistic spectrum, and indeed those with other disabilities, should form a part of any future strategy. There is currently very little in the way of employment and educational opportunities for autistic school leavers; this situation has been ongoing for some time, and is simply unacceptable.
A Youth Employment Strategy should be comprehensive – it should include everyone, and leave no one behind. Everyone deserves the chance to work.
I recently spoke in a debate on housing in the Scottish Parliament. There are currently about 56,000 homeless people in Scotland, 10,000 more than in the mid 1990’s, whilst 36% of homeless households include people under the age of 24.
The problem is especially acute in West and Central Scotland: figures for 2009/10 show that, of Scotland’s 32 local authorities, South Lanarkshire had the 4th most homeless applications, with 3,054. North Lanarkshire was 5th, with 2,975, and Falkirk 7th, with 2,378. Meanwhile, over 169,000 Scottish households are on council house waiting lists, and 53% of social housing in Scotland is situated in the 15% most deprived areas.
Under the terms of the “2012 Commitment” all homelessness applications must be assessed as priority. In effect, this means all homeless applicants must be housed. Depending on which document you read, the SNP Government has either pledged to build 6000 socially rented homes or 6000 “affordable” homes in each year of the Scottish Parliament. However, SNP spending plans reveal that only 1550 socially rented homes will be built this year, along with 1000 for owner occupiers. This leaves a shortfall of over 3000. It is difficult to see how councils will clear their council house waiting lists, let alone meet the 2012 commitment.
I recently visited Barnado’s Youth Housing Support Service in North Lanarkshire, which provides crisis intervention and group work support to young people aged between 16-24 years. Many of these young people have suffered physical abuse, and problems with drug and alcohol addiction. Their need for a stable and supportive home cannot be overstated.
During the debate I called on the Scottish Government to reform the Community Care Grant to ensure that it is consistently and correctly applied across the country, and that everything is done to help vulnerable young people secure long term homes that are safe, warm, and fully furnished. I am pleased to report that Alex Neil, Cabinet Secretary for Capital Investment and Infrastructure, has pledged to ‘look seriously at these suggestions to see whether we can take them forward.’