Anti-Social Policy: Governing Youth Unemployment in the UK

Tuesday, 12 July 2016
Location: Hörsaal II (Neues Institutsgebäude (NIG))
Distributed Paper
Ross FERGUSSON, The Open University, United Kingdom
Drawing on extended empirical and theoretical analyses developed in a recently-published monograph by the author, this paper considers the impact of extended mass youth unemployment in relation to two connectable aspects of the harms suffered by young people who experience it in the UK.

The first concerns the labour-market dynamics of perpetual downward pressures on bottom-end pay rates for under-25s, in the context of deficits in the demand for their labour and the surplus of well-qualified young workers entering the workforce. Here, the continued application of the ‘less eligibility’ principle in welfare constructs financially unsustainable spaces which young people are driven to occupy, between enforced participation in workfare and work for sub-poverty wages.

The second aspect concerns long-standing highly-contested analyses of the supposed relationship between unemployment and crime, and the discursive and material criminalisation of young unemployed people. Here, stigmatisation associates non-participation in some form of pseudo-employment with petty crime, while homelessness and destitution foster survival crime at the interstices of vagrancy, begging and law-breaking. 

These harms reflect the ways in which institutions and social and public policies mediate the labour market and wider social integration of young people. Policies conducive to the criminalisation of economically marginalised young people have begun to interact with the ‘less eligibility’ welfare principle, creating new conditions of uncertainty, precarity and exclusion. Understanding the dynamics of uncertainty and precarity requires an integrated analysis of the ‘anti-social’ policy interplays between the policy spheres of education, labour market, welfare and criminal justice that this paper outlines.