A Tory minister has been caught up in a storm of protest after accusing young unemployed people of lacking ‘grit’ and ‘self control’ and being inarticulate.
Nick Hurd, the minister for civil society, was responding to figures showing that the number of young people not in employment, education or training – the so-called NEET group – rose to 1.09 million between January and March this year.
This was a rise of 21,000 compared to the previous three months, following a jump in recent unemployment for young people as the government’s youth contract has been failing to help them into work or training.
An early NEET period can harm the rest of a career, showing how vital this measure is.
The minister appeared to blame young people themselves for their plight, saying: "What we see in survey after survey is employers saying qualifications are important, but that just as important to us are so-called soft skills, character skills, the ability to get on with different people, to articulate yourself clearly, confidence, grit, self-control, these kind of qualifications and they are saying we are not seeing enough of them in kids coming out of schools.”
The comments come from a Daily Mail report which places the fact that there are 529,000 vacancies alongside the fact that 640,000 NEETs have never worked, implying that most of them could find jobs if they wanted even though they compete for vacancies alongside experienced workers and unemployed people.
Critics have rounded on the minister, asking whether his background as an Old Etonian and son of Tory party grandee Douglas Hurd – who server as home secretary and foreign secretary in Margaret Thatcher’s governments – has left him unable to understand the issues regular people face.
Lord Hunt, Labour’s deputy leader in the House of Lords, tweeted that the comments showed the “arrogance and ignorance” of the Conservatives, while Independent and New Statesman journalist Danny Blanchflower described them as “totally ridiculous”, pointing out that youth unemployment is not voluntary.
The government is also unlikely to welcome further publicity being given to the Bullingdon Club, the elite Oxford dining society which Hurd belonged to along with prominent Tories including David Cameron, George Osborne and Boris Johnson, and which appears to have been a breeding ground for high-handed behaviour.
While the minister laid some blame at the door of educators, saying “social skills and discipline are every bit as essential for success as qualifcations – yet they are not being taught in schools", the description of failings of “character” made clear that he believed young people themselves should shoulder much of the blame.
Hurd admitted that the figures were “horrible” but made no additional policy announcements aimed at tackling the problem.