It feels foolish to make any predictions at the moment. But barring an upset of Leicester-winning-the-league proportions, Theresa May will be our next Prime Minister. Regardless of your politics, certainty is a scarce and valuable commodity right now, so it’s good to know who will lead the country through the unpredictable times ahead.
The only other predication I feel comfortable making is that the uncertainty isn’t going to go away any time soon. The immediate economic consequences will become clearer in the coming months. But the long-term depends on a complex negotiation with the European Union and our other big trading partners.
That has two big implications.
First, the domestic agenda can’t wait for the negotiations to play out. The risk of distraction is huge. Political time and attention is inevitably going to be drawn towards the European questions and civil service talent is already being drawn into the Brexit unit in the Cabinet Office. But we can’t let the negotiations in Brussels slow down our efforts to improve hospitals in Birmingham or schools in Bromley.
Second, we need to protect people from the consequences of the wider uncertainty. Young people entering the labour market for the first time are at particular risk because at times of uncertainty, employers may adopt a ‘wait and see’ policy for new hires. In May our Youth Jobs Index showed that over a million young people spend more than six months NEET, with terrible consequences; time out of work or education when you are young can scar your progress and earnings for your whole career. If this number goes up, young people from disadvantaged backgrounds will be hit hardest.
Despite the chaos, last week we saw the green shoots of a smarter skills policy. Added to that, Theresa May has spoken about the importance of giving young people an equal chance in life. Bold policies to make sure young people are supported to get the jobs and skills they need would be a great way to start. We know what kind of things will work. It’s the kind of support that the charities we work with provide: high quality work experience and work placements, mentoring, employability and life skills like teamwork and communication, tutoring on maths and English. Government can’t do it alone – they’ll need to work with businesses and the third sector – but I believe with enough political will and investing in initiatives aimed at raising the skills level and employability of young people, it can be done.
Now that Theresa May’s new job is nearly sorted, I hope she can quickly turn her attention to sorting out the job prospects for our young people. She has called for unity and I’m sure all of us can unite behind that goal.