Do wrongs make a riot - part 2

In this and other ways, income inequality and educational inequality reinforce each other in an endless generational feedback loop, leading to an increasingly ossified society.

Inevitably and depressingly the long-term implications of the riots have polarised political opinions, and been exploited for point-scoring in Parliament. The Prime Minister has spoken in terms of a moral crusade, wanting to mend poor parenting and a society of broken values. The Labour leader has sought instead to stress the inequalities in circumstances and lack of opportunities experienced by the people who took to the streets.

Shorn of political rhetoric, both of these insights could, and are likely, to have some truth to them. While family resources are important to future life prospects, it is often the things that cost nothing – support, aspirations, drive – that are found to make the difference to the development of young children. Whatever the answers, one point from Young's book is irrefutable: failure to solve one generation's problems will simply store up even greater problems for future generations. We reap what we sow.

Mark TaylorLow wage or no wage

Dr Mark Taylor, Director of Research, Institute for Social and Economic Research (ISER)

As the British economy struggles to emerge from its first recession in almost 20 years, and the worst recession since the Second World War in terms of loss of output, the unemployment rate has remained lower than at the same stage in previous recessions. Thus far, it has peaked at less than nine per cent, compared with ten per cent at the same stage in the recessions of the 1980s and 1990s. Falls in the employment rate have also been modest compared with previous recessions.

Taken at face value, these facts suggest that the labour market has remained relatively strong. But what if we dig a bit deeper? The employment prospects of particular population subgroups have been affected more than others by the recession, and those of young people in particular. Unemployment rates among 16-24 year olds doubled between 2008 and 2010 to almost 20 per cent, and were even higher among those with low educational achievement. In contrast, unemployment rates among 25-49 year olds remained below seven per cent. Although young people are always more adversely affected by economic downturns, they have been affected much more by the recent recession than previous recessions relative to older workers. Perhaps more worryingly, unemployment among young people started to rise in the years prior to the financial crisis and subsequent recession – it has been rising since 2004 – suggesting that other factors lay behind the rise in unemployment among young people.

There is also evidence that an increasing proportion of jobs are of low quality – yielding low wages, poor promotion prospects and contributing little to the wellbeing of those employed in them. There is a large proportion of the UK working population in peripheral or unstable jobs faced with low pay and short-term contractual arrangements.

Furthermore wage inequality has increased substantially over the previous 30 years with the wages of people in low-skilled, low-quality jobs falling further behind those of people in more highly skilled jobs. One consequence of these trends is an increase in working poverty as employment has become a less secure means of escaping financial hardship. This polarisation in the labour market raises the possibility of less skilled workers becoming trapped in low wage jobs and unable to progress into 'good' jobs unless firms provide career ladders or suitable training opportunities to make such jobs accessible to those in 'bad' jobs.

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