UK Patriotism in the 21st century

I probably shouldn’t blog when I’m cross, but I am, and it relieves my frustration.

At the Conservative conference today (5th of October 2016), the prime minister Theresa May just said “Just listen to the way a lot of politicians and commentators talk about the public. They find their patriotism distasteful, their concerns about immigration parochial, their views about crime illiberal, their attachment to their job security inconvenient. They find the fact that more than 17 million people voted to leave the European Union simply bewildering.”

Rather than argue (as Samuel Johnson famously did in 1775) that “Patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel” I take a pragmatic position.  The UK electorate’s vote to give up shared sovereignty over the entire EU, in the hope of increased sovereignty over the tiny UK, is (in my opinion) clearly against the national interest, and thus by definition unpatriotic.

The economic consequences of that decision will hammer the UK economy, and reduce our diplomatic influence across the world.  As a result of the economic damage the UK will also have less money to spend on national defence, such as providing aircraft for those useless aircraft-less carriers.  Both a weakening of the UK economy, and a reduction in our influence abroad would clearly be against the national interest, and thus (to me) unpatriotic.

Another consequence of leaving the EU will be the weakening of one of our major political and economic allies against Russian expansionism, the EU.  If Vladimir Putin approves of Brexit, then it can hardly be patriotic.

Ah, I feel better for having got that off my chest!

What is the function of democracy?

Until 2014 the majority of the UK electorate supported the re-introduction of the death penalty.  Only in 2014 did they turn against it in the annual British Social Attitudes Survey (run since 1983), and only by a very narrow margin.

Mainstream political parties (run by an enlightened liberal elite) have conspired to keep this issue off the agenda since capital punishment was suspended in 1965.  That suspension was unpopular at the time, and has probably remained so until recently (even longer than I’ve been a member of Amnesty).

The issue of the death penalty has been highlighted recently, because voters for Brexit were more likely to support hanging than they were to be members of UKIP.  If liberal democracy does not (usually) give an apparently illiberal electorate the brutal and self-harming policies that they say they want, then what is it for?

One could try to argue that democracy is a way of taking decisions that are popular, even if they are bad ones.  However the Brexit referendum result has highlighted the weaknesses of that argument.

Direct democracy (referenda for example) often lacks a deliberative element.  Some people decided how to vote in the recent referendum based on what they saw on Facebook, or in the tabloid press.  They didn’t really think for themselves about the issues, they didn’t read serious newspapers, nor watch/hear TV/radio documentaries.  It would have been preferable to have unbiased expert advice put to a citizens panel, and their conclusions included on the ballot paper.

According to the Venice Commission code of practice for referendums in Europe, a majority of 50% +1 person should be enough to win a referendum, even if this leaves an electorate deeply divided.

Even representative democracy can still be very divisive.  The last coalition government was the result of an election in which no party had an overall majority in parliament.  Nobody voted for the compromise programme of legislation that they enacted.  I’m not saying that all of it was bad, merely that it lacked legitimacy.

A significant minority are either unable, or unwilling, to vote.  This is true even in referenda, where the issues are clear, and every vote counts.

A tiny majority in a referendum, or a coalition of minority parties at a national election, or even a low election turn-out can all reduce the perceived legitimacy of the outcome.

Regardless of the issue of legitimacy, any group is more likely to make bad decisions than an individual.
“Democracy and the Wisdom of Crowds”, “The Human Zoo”, Series 8, Episode 5 of 8

According to this documentary, had the electorate been asked a simple numerical question, such as guessing the number of jelly beans in the jar, then we might have had a better collective decision than an individual one.  More complex value judgements often tend to come out wrong when a crowd is making the decision.

Unfortunately, the alternatives to democracy are even worse.  I think the best thing we can hope for to help democracy to work better is that basic economics is made compulsory in schools.

“Many forms of Government have been tried and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.”

Winston Churchill, Speech in the House of Commons (11 November 1947).

“The best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter”

Attribution debunked in Langworth’s ‘Churchill by Himself’. First known appearance is in a 1992 Usenet post.

The ironies of Brexit

In my previous post earlier today (I know, I should get a life) I described how authoritarian people (who value order and national power) voted for Brexit on 23 June.  This set of values is very ironic in the light of the consequences of the Brexit vote.

Brexit has directly caused a significant period of political, and criminal disorder.  We’ve lost the prime minister David Cameron, and almost all of his cabinet.  The Brexit referendum outcome has also triggered a melt-down in the main opposition party.  The spike in hate crime shows no sign of lessening, although that could be just increased awareness and reporting.

Confirmation by the new PM of the UK’s decision to leave the EU has already cost us good will, and political influence, in Europe.  Brexit will embolden an expansionist Russia, particularly if a newly enfeebled EU decides to drop sanctions against the illegal seizure of Crimea.  Presumably such sanctions are something that the smaller group of NATO nations cannot do effectively?

A period of short-term economic turmoil was expected by both Brexiteers and Remainers.  This has now happened, and the value of the pound has still not fully recovered a month later.  That will make exports cheaper, but will also push up the prices of critical imports, such as oil and food.  The price of oil will of course push up the price of everything else.


So much for “order”, but what about national power?  

The longer term economic impact of Brexit will not be clear for many months, or years.  Most comentators expect it to be bad.  Predictions by various bodies independent of UK government suggest that the loss of national economic power will be much worse than any  terrorist attack could have achieved without serious weapons of mass destruction. The IMF The IFS

Loss of economic power leads to loss of military power.  The decades of failure of any party in government to regulate the banks properly led to the UK not having the money to commission aircraft carriers after the crash of 2008.

“The taking back of control” after Brexit is partly an illusion.  

Gain in power at Westminster is at least balanced by loss of power in Brussels.  After Brexit is complete we will no longer have a say in legislation across the EU.  We will become able to pass our own legislation on air pollution and fisheries within the UK, but those pesky fish and chunks of air will still keep moving around Europe!  We will still need international cooperation on many issues, both at EU level, and more widely.  The kind of “control” that we are taking back will end at the UK’s borders.

Before the EU referendum, we already had control of non-EU migration, and yet Theresa May allowed such immigration to the UK to continue at the same average level while she was Home Secretary, because the economy needed those migrants.  The economic benefit of inward migration will not go away, however much some Brexiteers might wish it to.  Again, “taking back control” is an illusion here as well.

(see page 13)

We will still import large numbers of students and tourists, yet we will still have no national ID card to prevent them from overstaying and working illegally.  The amount of “control” of migration being taken back has been oversold.

The Psychology & Sociology of Brexit


Despite the 2:1 majority vote to remain in 1975,,_1975

according to 2 Sociologists  James Dennison and Noah Carl

The ultimate causes of Brexit: history, culture, and geography

“the UK has been the least well-integrated EU member state, and so the closer the EU was moving toward political union, the more likely Brexit was becoming.”

People in the UK were the least likely member state citizens to identify themselves as “European”.  They are amongst the most distrustful of the EU, and the least likely to live in other EU counties.

The UK trades less with other EU countries than most other EU members trade with each other, and has less investment to, or from, most of the other EU countries than they have with each other.

They claim that the reasons for this are:

o “Britain is the only allied European power not to have been occupied during the Second World War.”  But, unoccupied neutral European powers now inside the EU include: Spain, Portugal, and Sweden.  Of these only the Iberian pair suffer from Euroscepticism, due perhaps to the Eurozone economic problems.

o Geography – the UK is relatively isolated (checking other EU islands for myself, Cyprus comes out with similar figures, but curiously not Eire)

o The English legal tradition.  This is completely different from the Code Napoleon basis of most of the continent.  However, I must point out that Scotland has a hybrid system closer to the European ones.

o An established national church.  This would not apply to secular France, but they do not mention that other smaller EU members also have national churches.  I’m not convinced this difference from continental Europe is relevant here.

Their conclusion: “Britain is the least well-integrated EU member state” and “as the EU moved closer toward political union, the UK’s fundamentally less European character meant that Brexit was increasingly likely”.  Obviously (as the authors admit) other factors provided the immediate trigger for Brexit.


There is an underlying variable behind the apparent statistics on what sort of people voted for Brexit, in my previous posting.  According to Eric Kaufmann (Professor of Politics at Birkbeck College):

It’s NOT the economy, stupid: Brexit as a story of personal values

the underlying variable is authoritarianism.  “For me, what really stands out about [the British Election Study 2015] is the importance of support for the death penalty [in predicting Brexit voting intention].”  It outweighs all demographic data and party loyalties.  “… 71 percent of those most in favour of the death penalty indicated in 2015 that they would vote to leave the EU.”

According to Stian Westlake, Head of Research at the think tank Nesta “If you look at attitudes to questions such as, ‘Do you think criminals should be publicly whipped?’ or ‘Are you in favour of the death penalty?’ – those things are much better predictors [of Brexit voting intention], and you get over 70% accuracy,”.

As Ben Shimshon of Britain Thinks (which advises businesses and political parties on how to communicate with the public), broadly agrees with Westlake. What united Leave voters in focus groups in the run-up to the referendum, he says, was support for a whole set of “traditional” values.

“They tended to value things like order, stability and safety against things like openness, modernity and other social-liberal values that were more popular among Remain voters. Often it’s about harking back to the past – sometimes a feeling that they don’t belong to the present.”

Which previous demographic findings does this explain?  Young people are generally less authoritarian, and were thus less likely to vote for Brexit.  The same applies to people with experience of higher education, who were also much less likely to vote for Brexit.  Authoritarians may tend to be concerned about national identity, and less accepting of transnational bodies like the EU.  They may also be more prone to “aggression towards sanctioned targeted minority groups”.

According to Lord Ashcroft Polls

How the United Kingdom voted on Thursday… and why

“By large majorities, voters who saw multiculturalism, feminism, the Green movement, globalisation and immigration as forces for good voted to remain in the EU; those who saw them as a force for ill voted by even larger majorities to leave.”  These too seems consistent with underlying authoritarianism.

According to “30 years of British Social Attitudes self-reported racial prejudice data”

there has always been much more low-level racial predjudice in the UK than I would ever have imagined.  This is apparently similar in other EU countries.

The EU referendum was like turning over a stone.  Some very unpleasant things were revealed lurking underneath.

The People have spoken – Heaven help us!

As you may have gathered, I am not happy about the referendum result.  The Leave majority was only 2% of the electorate (1.3M), with almost 30% not voting.  (I admit that the lack of any turnout threshold, or of any majority threshold, is in line with The Venice Commission guidelines on European referenda.

There was no need to hold a referendum.  It was cynically called by Cameron, for purely “party political advantage”, which showed “poor judgement” (as former *Conservative* cabinet minister Michael Portillo said on BBC TV

Referenda are a poor way to make decisions on complex political and economic issues:

Unlike the most recent referendum in any part of the UK (Scottish independence in 2014), no vote was given to 1.5M largely pro-Remain 16-17 year olds.  Exactly like the 2011 UK Alternative Voting system referendum, the public debate was “bad-tempered and ill-informed” (  At the start of the campaign even I did not understand all the issues properly, yet I have 2 degrees and once published a magazine article critical of the Common Agricultural Policy.  So, I have few illusions about the EU.

o How many voters actually know how the EU’s democracy works?  None of the ones I spoke to, nor the ones I saw interviewed on TV.

o How many people know whether the UK will be forced to accept freedom of movement of EU citizens, in return for access to the EU single market?  Absolutely nobody, because that can only be decided by negotiation, after leaving the EU.  I have to say this is not looking promising, and even some leading Brexiteers (Ms Leadsom) concede that it may not be possible.

o How many people understand why an unnecessary Brecession is so likely to follow Brexit?  Not many people understand even the basics about economics.  I understand little more than the basics myself.

o How many voters grasp how their lives have been improved by EU legislation?  Precious few, I can tell you, and I’ve argued with intelligent and educated Brexiteers.

o How many people understand the legal differences between an economic migrant, and a refugee?  Surprisingly few, on either side of the debate!

o Did any Brexiteer actually know that the net cost of EU membership was only half that of NATO membership last year?

o Do Brexiteers know where EU spending in the UK goes?  I doubt it, but Agriculture, Higher Education, and poor regions of the UK are likely to be hit hard by Brexit.

So, on the basis of lies and exaggerations we’ve voted to crash the economy, reduce the UK’s diplomatic influence, cut worker’s rights and environmental protection, and break up the UK.  Why did we do it?

Some have argued that the protest vote was justified:  I profoundly disagree.  The protest by the low-paid and unwaged is self-harming (putting the far right of the Conservative party into power), and incoherent (no specific issue is highlighted).

Voter demographics and social attitudes (Lord Ashcroft Polling

o The older the voters, the more likely they were to have voted to leave the EU (65+ – 60% leave).  I saw elderly women in Essex on C4 News saying that they voted to leave, and how great it was in the 1950’s before the EU.  Strangely they forgot to mention low wages, smog, rationing, conscription, the Suez crisis, and illegal back-street abortion.  If they think they can vote to go back to 1950 (as the negative view of multiculturalism, feminism & the Green movement held by leavers would suggest) they will be disappointed.

o The less education you had, the more likely you were to vote to leave (students 80% remain, graduates 57% remain, higher degree graduates 64% remain).  I think that tells you something about the quality of the debate.  Those who knew least voted to leave.  Yes, the UK has “had enough of experts” telling the unpalatable truth.

o The less income you had, the more likely you were to vote to leave.  The low-paid and unemployed who think they voted Leave for more jobs and higher wages are in for a shock.

o Just under half of voters “always knew” which way they would vote, so presumably did no time-consuming research before deciding.  (Sometimes I wish I had not wasted days on this.)

o Leavers claim that they voted (in order, most important first) on sovereignty, immigration, and lack of control over EU expansion.  Having spoken to Brexiteers I can confirm that they are very ill-informed on these topics, as are most people.  I can only conclude that they have been influenced to vote against their own interests by the tabloid press.

If Leavers think they can #takebackcontrol by throwing away our influence on EU legislation (which we would still have to conform to if we want access to the single market), reduce the number of people coming here to work (without trashing the economy still further), and block the (very distant) threat of Turkish accession from outside the EU, they will be sadly disappointed.

As a result of their vote Leavers will find agricultural production moving abroad, and rising food prices, because farmers cannot get access to cheap seasonal labour, also due to a decline in the value of the pound.  They will find future staff shortages in social care and the NHS.  The prospects of continuing Turkish help in managing Syrian refugees just became even more remote.

The control of huge trans-national issues (pollution, refugees, climate change etc) requires powerful trans-national institutions.  The 17th century nation state is unfit for purpose, we need a European super-state, just as much as we sometimes need migrant workers.

The Inequality Trust says that the protest vote was about low wages, which were not due to globalisation.

“By 1988 the UK had already become a deeply divided country with extremely high levels of inequality and this did not dramatically increase up to 2008.   As globalisation took off, it doesn’t appear to have caused further large increases of inequality in the UK. … People from areas with lower wages were more likely to vote to leave, whilst those with higher wages were more likely to vote remain.”  I believe that leading figures in the Leave campaign (such as Ian Duncan Smith) cared so much about low pay that they voted against the National Minimum Wage in Parliament.

Some Brexiteers have cited EU corruption, or onorous EU regulations, or lack of EU democracy as reasons to leave.  We also have some of the most blatant corruption in the world in Britain, you may recall the Hillsborough and Levison enquiries (read “How Corrupt is Britain” by David Whyte).  The reason we know so much about EU corruption is that the democratically elected and powerful EU Parliament became aware of corruption and forced the entire EU Commission to resign in 1999.  Obviously the job is not complete, and corruption remains an issue in the EU, just as it does here.

Similarly I can assure you from personal experience that the UK Civil Service can compete with any in the world in drafting “onorous” legislation, to protect workers, consumers, or the environment.  If we had passed more “onorous” legislation for the banking sector, we might have been spared the 2008 crash.

If you don’t know how the EU democracy works, do a bit of reading ( and  That criticism might have been justified years ago, but the power of the EU Commission has been much reduced.  As of 23/06/16, 29 EU laws out of about 400 laws (7%) were rejected (permanently vetoed) by the democratically elected EU parliament in the last 365 days.

Others have said that they don’t want to be ruled by “rich posh people in Brussels”.  I’m sure that Old Etonians David Cameron and Boris Johnson, and former banker Andrea Ledsome, would sympathise.  Indeed, many MPs are highly paid lawyers, from rich families.  The proportion of MPs who were manual workers has fallen to it’s lowest recorded level since 1979.

The referendum vote was an unnecessary act of economic and political self-harm, particularly harmful to the poor communities where the majority voted Leave.  If things go as badly as expected, then the next generation of pro-EU voters would have to apply to join the Eurozone, a worse position than we were in until 2016.  Given that 1.5M new pro-EU voters join the electorate every 2 years that is only a matter of time, unless of course life outside the EU really is as wonderful as Brexiteers believe.

What polices could mitigate/avoid income inequality?

In the UK the April 2010 Equality Act imposed a duty on Government Departments when drafting legislation to take into account any potential impact on inequality.  Great policy, it’s a shame that it took the Labour government so long to formulate!


Only month after this act was passed into law, the Labour government was replaced by the Con-Dem coalition.  That new government then scrapped the public sector equality duty component of the 2010 act, before it was intended to come into effect (in April 2011).


The Scottish government has stated that they plan to re-introduce this duty.


This of course is only one such possible policy measure.  The OECD outlines several possible policies:


Eliminate gender inequality in employment.

Promote good quality (permanent, full time) jobs with opportunities for staff development.

Reduce labour market segmentation (by improving the ability of workers to move between different occupations, different areas and different industries).

Provide training, and re-training, throughout the working life of the workforce.

Redistributive taxation and state benefit policies.


Who are the NEETs and why?

The NEET concept and definition is discussed here: “Knowledge of the word spread after it was used in a 1999 report by the Social Exclusion Unit (SEU”, so the term was less well known when the stretching of the UK’s national income distribution apparently became permanent around 1992.


Andy Furlong has written on Scottish NEETs, as a meaningless classification.

“Not a very NEET Solution: representing problematic labour market transitions among early school-leavers”

The abstract says “…it is an ill-considered concept that places an undue and often misleading emphasis on voluntarism.”


He also wrote this paper (which I was able to read in full for free):

Furlong, A. (2007) “Supporting the Transitions of Vulnerable Youth: UK Perspectives”, in The Japan Institute for Labor Policy Training Report No. 5.


“First, modern youth transitions take much longer to accomplish …” “… today many young people fail to get established in the labour market by their mid-20s …”


Guilty as charged, M’Lud!


“Second … transitions have become much more complex.” “… people move between education, training, unemployment and jobs. In this context the term ‘yo-yo’ has been used to describe modern youth transitions (EGRIS 2001).”


Been there, done that, got the T-shirt.


“Third, this complexity and unpredictability leads to a situation where young people can feel that they are constantly confronted by risk.” This perception may be incorrect, but can still cause anxiety.


“Fourth” the complexity and uniqueness of each young person’s transition from full-time compulsory education makes it hard to learn from others, and can lead to self-blame.


“Fifth ” despite all the changes in youth transitions and their apparent unpredictability, pre-existing “… patterns of inequality have been maintained.” So that would include any extra inequality created during the 1980’s. Inequality indirectly influences the outcome of the prolonged “yo-yo” transition from compulsory education, it’s not at the forefront of the minds of NEETs. The practical things that are salient to them are explained in the following study.


All the participants in the following study were born after the inequality boom of the 1980’s, and would have grown up with it. The small 2014 study of NEETS aged 18-20 tends to confirm that the emphasis on most NEETs having a choice to stay at home is indeed “misleading”.

As in recent media coverage (BBC Radio 4 “Woman’s Hour”), the majority of the 7 NEET (and 13 recently ex-NEET) interviewees were female.


Barriers to entering EET included:

  • physical/mental illness,
  • looking after for someone else,
  • lack of flexible working conditions,
  • family breakdown,
  • pregnancy,
  • distance to work/college (in a rural area),
  • college fees,
  • lack of practical support,
  • lack of careers advice,
  • indecision as to which way to go, and
  • poor school attainment (due to special educational needs, discipline problems, health issues, or bullying).


Those who had recently entered education, employment or training had often done so through considerable personal effort and initiative. The complex and prolonged transition from full-time compulsory education was also emphasised here.


Only one of the group had a graduate parent. More typical was the one leaving Local Authority care.

How bad is UK graduate unemployment and underemployment?

Graduate unemployment 3 years after graduating has been under 4% since 2006 (the class of 2003).


Graduate median salaries were £5,500 above the median for the working population in 2012-13.


Of those in employment, 80.5% were in professional jobs in November 2014.


In 2014 there were 5.1 graduates working full time for every one working part-time, a year after graduation.


So, there may be some underemployment in terms of occupations and working hours, but little unemployment.


“More UK graduates are in work than at any time since the recession, new figures suggest.


Researchers asked almost 82,000 people who graduated in 2011 about their occupations in November 2014.”


ie these figures relate to the 3-years after graduation follow-up study.


“The last time that graduate unemployment was this low was in 2008, among graduates who left university in 2005, according to the figures.


Graduate prospects were worst in the 2010 survey when only 86.4% of were in work, three years after leaving university in 2007.


A total of 3.5% of this group were unemployed.”


Survey date Degree finished In Work (FT or PT), +/-Study Further Study (FT or PT), +/-Work Unemployed Other eg travel
2014 2011 87.9% 6% 2.6% 3.5%
2012 2009 87.1% 6.7% 3.2% 3.0%
2010 2007 86.4% 6.5% 3.5% 3.6%
2008 2005 89.7% 5.5% 2.6% 2.2%
2006 2003 89.3% 4.9% 2.3% 3.4%

* In Work includes those starting work that month.

Work/Study: Those doing both designated one of them as primary.


“In November 2014 the median salary of those graduates in full-time work in the UK was £26,000 and of those in employment, 80.5% were in professional jobs.


More than three-quarters (76%) of the graduates said their course had prepared them well for their career and two-thirds (66%) said it had been good value for money – but this group were at university before fees trebled to £9,000 a year in 2012.”


Some more details on the 1-year follow-up study here:


“In 2013/14, there were 424,375 UK and EU leavers (398,105 UK, 26,270 EU) whose destinations were known (427,870 in 2012/13).


Over two-thirds, 71% (303,300) of leavers (both full-time (70%, 244,045) and part-time (76%, 59,255)) were working, either in the UK or overseas, a slight increase from 70% of leavers in 2012/13.


A further:

6% were working and studying,

12% were involved in further study,

6% (full-time 6%, part-time)

3% were unemployed (the same as in 2012/13) and the remaining

5% were involved in some other activity, such as taking time out to travel or something else”


So there were 5.1 full-time workers to every part-time worker.


“The annual survey of the Association of Graduate Recruiters (AGR) indicates a 13.2% increase on 2014 in vacancies being offered by graduate recruiters.”


“The median starting salary for graduates in 2014-2015 was £28,000 – up from £27,000 in 2013-14 and a continuation of the steady increase from £25,000 in 2010-2011, £26,000 in 2011-2012 and £26,500 in 2012-2013.”


“The most recent SPI report (2012/13) gave annual median income as £21,000 before tax and £18,700 after tax.”




Does inequality deter young people from entering education or employment?

Apologies to young people if this seems like a stupid question. The more obvious brakes on entry to education/employment now could include:


From 1998, student loans for tuition fees

A continuing mismatch between the qualifications available and the needs of the job market

A continuing lack of vocational education (and funding for it)

A lack of employers willing to train new recruits (particularly public sector ones post-recession)

Lack of well paid and secure employment, due to cyclical/structural changes in the jobs market (structural= technology/globalisation/immigration?)

Not enough older workers retiring, or being laid off in the latest recession (the IFS says this relationship is a myth – “Releasing Jobs for the Young? Early Retirement and Youth Unemployment in the United Kingdom, James Banks, Richard Blundell, Antoine Bozio and Carl Emmerson, IFS, July 2008)

Job mobility issues, particularly relating to house prices in the SE


Due to lack of time, I’m going to skip research on this question for now [but see my next blog posting about the evidence] and use my own personal experience of 4 years of youth worklessness during the worst period for UK youth unemployment – the 1980’s. I don’t think that NEETs were/are really aware of the increase in inequality during the late 1970’s to early 1990’s. Like the proverbial frog in the pan of water, the heating was gradual and (unlike the frog) you got used to it.


Changes to higher education funding, and the removal of government subsidy for youth employment in times of recession have made things worse since the 1980’s. Had I not benefitted from a year of subsidised work, and 5 years of free university tuition (partly under the Scottish system), I might never have had a decent career.

How serious, and how recent, is the problem of youth worklessness?

As mentioned in yesterday’s posts, globalisation and technological change led to an increased demand for technological skills across the OECD nations in the period 1977-1991, which in turn led to higher incomes for a tiny elite and a lesser reduction in incomes for the lowest skilled. With other changes (demographic, taxation, etc), this led to a rise in overall OECD household income inequality (as measured by Gini coefficients, which are not very revealing, but widely used).


Turning now to young people not in Employment, Education, nor training (the “NEETs”, or “workless”), this is a serious issue because early unemployment can lead to a lasting damage to personal income, and wellbeing, even over 35 years later (Blanchflower and Bell 2011).


The best statistics we have on unemployment by age (the ONS Labour Force Survey) only go back to 1992. That data shows an initial rate of 11.9% unemployed and not in education in 1993, dropping to 6% in May 2004 and rising again to 10% in 2011. Those figures exclude those not actively seeking work and also not in education, which in 2011 took the total up to almost 20% (see next link).


A TUC pamphlet on this topic (“Touchstone Extras #7. Generation Lost: Youth unemployment and the youth labour market”) uses various proxy measures to get a rough figure for earlier rates:

The raw number of young unemployed (by different measures) started in 1969 very low by current standards (0.03M?), went up sharply between 1975-77 (0.3M), before the recession that started in 1979–80 saw it rise to 1.25 million. It then fell at the end of the 1980s, but remained above all pre-1979 figures. The 1991–3 recession saw a further rise, but did not have as bad an effect on youth unemployment as the earlier recession.


Over the same period (1969-2011), ONS data tells me that the proportion of the population aged 16-24 has changed relatively little (12.3% to 12.0%, ranging from 14.0% in 1981 down to 10.6% in 2002). I shall thus ignore population change and stick to raw numbers.


Youth unemployment (and thus presumably youth worklessness) is not new, and is better than it was in the early 1980’s (when I graduated for the first time).