Forget Generation Y – the future of UK business hinges on the “Jeremy Kyle generation”, according to shadow work and pensions secretary Chris Grayling.
In a controversial speech earlier this year, Grayling said a lack of role models was causing young men to become increasingly alienated, leading to worklessness and the type of behaviour seen on controversial daytime programme The Jeremy Kyle Show.
But with the economy slowing daily, Grayling said it would take this generation to get the UK through, by filling skills shortages in vital areas.
“Right now, employers need access to more employable people,” he said. “One of our greatest challenges is this disaffected generation of young men.
“To get people who can fill the employment needs in this country, we have to tackle the family breakdown, change the benefits system, and provide better role-models.”
Grayling held up Liverpool and England footballer Steven Gerrard as a shining example of a hard-working family man who should inspire young people.
On the sort of welfare reforms he would like to see, Grayling said: “We don’t have much experience to work with, but it does appear that a comprehensive welfare-to-work programme that tailors people’s skills to the opportunities there are in the marketplace, and looks at where people can best find a niche for themselves, is a better way than we have at the moment of getting people back into work quickly.”
He added: “The experience in the US in the recession at end of the 1990s was that the presence of welfare reform of the kind we’re advocating in this country reduced the upward pressure on unemployment numbers.”
Former Labour employment minister Stephen Timms previously assured Personnel Today that under the Local Employment Partnership scheme, which encourages private sector firms to hire the long-term unemployed, individuals supplied would be ‘work ready’.
But Grayling said the process still needed work.
“We need some really proper professional specialist support working with some of the people who have sat on benefits for a long time,” he said.
He also wants to see the money saved on benefits given to employers to use with training.
“Right now you can’t use the money saved getting someone off benefits to pay for the programme that gets them off benefits and into work. There are people there who can fill employment needs in this country who don’t have the confidence or courage to do it by themselves,” he said.
Grayling was born in London in 1962, but grew up outside the city in Buckinghamshire. He attended both state and private schools in his youth, shunning sports and music to focus on academic achievements. He was an active chess and bridge player, eventually turning to golf after a summer job at a local golf club.
But Grayling always knew he’d get into politics.
“You would find me at age 11 saying I wanted to be a politician, for reasons I can’t explain. I only became seriously involved in politics when I was nearly 30, but it was something that always interested me, and I couldn’t put a tangible reason on why,” he said.
Prior to attending the University of Cambridge to study modern political and economic history, he took a gap year, travelling and working in North America and France, and joining an Army cadet scheme for a brief period before deciding it wasn’t for him.
After a stint at the BBC and a move to Channel 4 as editor of its Business Daily programme in 1988, Grayling eventually ran a series of small television production companies, which struggled during the 1990s downturn.
“My non-political career has been very haphazard, unplanned and disorganised, having been involved in running businesses at extremely difficult times in our economic calendar, but combined with my journalistic career, it’s been really valuable experience for an MP,” Grayling said.
He has worked his way through various portfolios as an MP, from environment to health to education and skills.
He was instrumental in the former work and pensions secretary David Blunkett’s 2005 resignation, when it emerged that Blunkett had broken the ministerial code of conduct over paid work he took while out of the cabinet.
Grayling won an award from Channel 4 for his campaign, which led to the intense media pressure that eventually persuaded Blunkett to quit.
Barely two months after Grayling’s maiden speech as an MP to parliament in June 2001, hijacked planes struck the World Trade Centre in New York and a new era of politics unfolded.
“It brought home very quickly the nature of the job we did, because out of the blue came a situation out of the pages of a Tom Clancy novel, and from that flowed all of the issues on terrorism that we now know, and have experienced to an extent,” Grayling said.
Now politicians face a new global challenge with the deepening credit crunch. But welfare reform remains firmly on Grayling’s mind.
“It doesn’t solve the situation, but it can [remove] some of the pressures,” he said.