Prime Minister David Cameron has been given an open invite to visit the region’s young unemployed to stop him labelling them benefits scroungers.
The Tory leader announced plans to ‘combat’ youth unemployment by stopping benefits after six months for those aged 18 to 21 to wean them off a life of ‘dependency’.
While it played well to the gallery at the Conservative party conference, it left young people at the sharp end angry at how it seems to portray them.
Katie McLaren, 21, graduated with a degree in Performing Arts three months ago from Northumbria University and has still to find work.
“I’m trying to get on the employment ladder, be an adult, but there aren’t a lot of work opportunities out there,” she said. “Believe me I’m trying.
“Why doesn’t he speak to the young unemployed to find out what the situation is like? I think there’s a lack of understanding between the south and the north as well as politicians with the people they are supposed to represent. If he wants to come up here he is more than welcome.”
The region has one of the worst jobless rates for young people in the UK, running at 25% or about one in four.
And the figure for all ages in the North East is about 10%, the worst in the UK by a considerable margin.
Neil Burke of Youth Focus North East, a charity which aims to improve the life of young people across the region, said: “There might be lots of jobs in London but there aren’t loads of jobs up here, as the figures show.”
Speaking about Mr Cameron’s proposal, he said: “What about young people who have come from vulnerable circumstances?
“They can be socially isolated and getting them out of the house to train them can take four months which could be great work. And then have them find work in two months?
“It’s a one-size fits all policy. Many might have been let down by the education system and haven’t left school with the skills to get a job and sometimes it can take more than six months to get them ready for work. It seems to me the six month figure has just been plucked out of the air.”
Under the plan, unemployed 18 to 21 year olds will be given six months to find work or training before their jobseekers allowance (JSA) is withdrawn, and replaced with a ‘Youth Allowance’ which would be set at the same level as JSA, £57.35.
This would be time-limited of six months, after which young people will have to take an apprenticeship, a traineeship or do community work – such as cleaning up local parks – to earn their benefits.
Young mum Amy Ormston, 22, from Gateshead dropped out of college to have daughter Mya. She is now training to become cabin crew.
She said: “I don’t agree with the plans to cut benefits at all. If it happened to me how would I be able to feed Mya?
“There aren’t jobs but there is plenty of voluntary work going round - how many of those lead to a permanent job?
“He is tarring young people with the same brush. Stigmatising them as if all we want to do is just to be on benefits.”
Lizzie Crowley of the Work Foundation, a not-for-profit organisation providing research on work, said similar schemes have been introduced in the US and Australia and have not been successful - unless the intention was to save money on benefits payments.
She said: “People have just left the system before the time period is up. It can lead to homelessness or relying on your parents even more. That’s people who have stable family relations.”
Katie said she has family to go back to in Hartlepool. However she added: “I don’t think that would be fair on them and I’d feel a failure if I had to.”