There has been some press coverage of my speech. You can read coverage from the Independent here, from the Evening Standard here, and a piece from me in LabourList here.
I am also delighted to say that the visit was covered by YourHarlow – here.
If you have felt exploited by a long unpaid internship then I want to hear from you.
Drop me a line with your story to firstname.lastname@example.org
Liam Byrne and Suzy Stride PPC outside Burnt Mill Academy with staff and pupils
Time to Start Backing and Stop Attacking Our Young People
Speech to Burnt Mill [Academy], Tuesday 16th December 2014
Rt Hon Liam Byrne MP
[Thank you very much.]
It’s a big relief to leave the turmoil of the capital and find the calm of your campus.
Back in Westminster, there’s so much doom and gloom it feels like the government wants us to live in some kind of Narnia: always winter and never Christmas.
Everywhere, there’s cynicism when we need a bit of idealism.
Too much fear, when we want hope.
That’s why it’s brilliant to be back in Burnt Mill, the place that set me on my road.
It’s been brilliant to watch your star shine in the years since I left
It’s been incredible to watch your turnaround under the amazing Helena Mills
It’s a really proud moment to speak here in what’s now an Outstanding School
That’s a testament to your hard work, your parents’ support and some amazing teachers.
But what I love about Ms Mills approach is this
She’s ambitious for you to be able to compete anywhere in the world: here in Britain, in Europe, in China, in America
I’m here to say that I think it was time politicians signed up to same ambitions as your teachers and parents – and stopped running you down and started backing you up.
It’s time for a government that stopped attacking you and started backing you.
Right now there’s just too many people who want to tell you that’s nothing possible, when you live in a world of possibility.
The truth is the future is going to be amazing.
But that future is going to be unlocked by you.
Your generation holds the key.
By the time you’re my age, you’ll have seen a revolution in artificial intelligence, robotics, mapping our own genome to personalise our healthcare, generating energy, storing it. They’ll even invent smart-phones that don’t run out of battery by 4pm.
Massive changes in infotech, in biotech, in nanotech will not only change the world, they’ll create extraordinary new products, new services, new jobs, new companies and new opportunities for you.
When I was here back in the 80s, we had one clunky old Commodore PC in the science lab upstairs that you could sneak on at lunchtimes when the physics teacher Mr Dunbar let you.
Today, Britain’s computer gaming industry is £2 billion big and gives jobs to thousands of people.
It’s bigger than our film or music industry.
Its technology is hard-wired into our most advanced products from smart phones to planes to cars.
I’m told the infotainment system in a Range Rover is now worth more than the engine.
Like you, I had some great teachers when I was here.
One of the teachers inspired my love of science. In fact she ended up as head of science here.
Ruth Byrne wasn’t just my teacher. She was my mum.
And when she died of cancer aged 52 she left me with a vivid sense not only of how much science has done – but how much left science has to do.
And beating cancer is just one of the things you’ll see happen this century.
You’ll be among the leaders of this revolutionary change in the years to come – if you get the backing you deserve.
We are amongst the greatest pioneers on the planet.
Here in Britain we cracked the atom, decoded DNA, invented the world wide web.
Today it’s an old Burnt Mill boy, Michael Arthur, who now leads one of the world’s greatest universities, University College London.
He started his education sitting where you are.
If people like me can make it into the Cabinet, if Michael can lead one of the world’s greatest universities, then so can you.
But here’s the BUT.
If our country is to help unlock this amazing new future we need you to do well.
The truth is the prizes in the future are going to be bigger.
But the race is going to be tougher.
You have to compete in a world that is far harder than I did.
When I was here, I don’t think we worked as hard as you.
We spent a lot of time thinking about the fights with Netteswell down the road.
Or how to get served in the off-licence at the Willow Beauty.
Music was as important to us as it probably is to you.
I was totally into the Jam and the Clash – and you’ll find this hard to believe now, it inspired me to get a mohican not long after I left. Those were the days.
You’re in a much tougher race. A race where the competition is global.
This Easter, I was in Bangalore.
I spent a Saturday afternoon with the Chief Executive of a major British manufacturing company on the shop-floor of his Indian joint-venture.
‘Here in India’ he told me ‘I’ve the choice of 850,000 engineering graduates every year.
Let’s say 15% are fit to hire – actually the real number is 50% – but let’s say its 15%. It means I have hundreds of applicants for every job. Quality wise they’re just as good as my apprentices in [the Midlands].’
‘What are they paid?’ I asked.
‘About £5-7,000 a year’ came the reply.
That kind of challenge means we have to work harder to keep you ahead of the game. Because unless we constantly get smarter we will get poorer.
Your head is a great teacher because she’s determined that you’re equipped to win in this world.
But that is why we need to stop running young people down and start backing them up.
With new answers to help them get on in life.
Look at how the cards are stacked against young people today.
Young people today are now more likely than pensioners to be living in poverty.
Young people today are the first generation in a century to be poorer than the generation before them.
One in six young people are still out of work.
There’s over 5,000 fewer apprenticeships for young people than there was three years ago.
It is now harder to get into BAE Systems’ apprenticeship programme than to get into Oxford.
If you get into university, you leave with £44,000 of debt that takes until your early 50s to pay off.
Those lucky enough to get work, have seen their earnings fall by over £1,600 a year on average since 2010.
Young people’s household income is down by a fifth – in effect, they’re working Friday afternoon for free.
When I left school, a deposit for a house took six month’s pay.
Now you have to save every penny you earn for more than two years. A house for a first time buyer cost £36,000. Now it costs £190,000.
Result? Only one in six of under 35s now own their own home when it used to be more than one in four – and there’s half a million more young people living with their parents than in 2010.
Oh, and just for good measure, young people are now expected to work three more years before they get their state pension.
You have to ask yourself: can they make it any harder for young people?
That’s why it makes me so furious when people decide to add insult to injury, and start moaning about young peoples’ attitude.
There’s one writer who calls this generation, Generation Wuss.
Last year, Jamie Oliver, who I generally like, was labelling young people ‘whingers’, ‘wet behind the ears’ and ‘too wet for work’ – and the Mayor of London promptly backed him up.
The Daily Mail is always running stories about companies like Greencore complaining that they have to employ East Europeans because Brits won’t take low paid jobs.
And it wasn’t so long ago a group of Tory MPs actually wrote a book [Britannia Unchained] claiming ‘lazy’ Brits preferred a lie in to hard day’s work.
And a while ago, a Tory minister was saying that our young people lacked ‘grit’
How dare they!
While you’re slogging hard – they’re sloping off putting Parliament on a three day week and playing Candy Crush in committee hearings.
When is this going to stop?
Have you noticed, when you hear politicians slagging off young people, it’s never their own kids they’re talking about? It’s always someone else’s.
I’m sick of it.
Our country needs your rebellious optimism now more than ever before.
We need politicians to stop attacking young people and start backing young people.
I’m someone who’s done every job under the sun.
I started working life frying chips in McDonalds in the High.
I’ve been a white van driver for Johnsons, which I managed to smash up by reversing into some scaffolding. I’ve swept floors. I’ve picked fruit. I’ve sold suits. I’ve sold photocopiers – badly. And I’ve started a hi-tech business that created jobs for others.
I’ve learned that any job is better than no job.
But a good job is better than a bad one.
And right now we need more good jobs – and you need more help getting them.
That’s why there’s one big change that is top of our ‘to do’ list.
The biggest change in the professional jobs market has been the boom in unpaid internships.
There’s now around 100,000 internship opportunities a year; most in London and many unpaid.
And more than one in three graduates employed by firms have worked for the firm before – often as an intern
But here’s the challenge.
The average unpaid internship is three months long and can cost over £930 a month.
If you’re from a low income background you just can’t afford to do that.
The result is that the best jobs are getting locked up by those with the richest parents.
That isn’t right. It isn’t fair. And it needs to change.
This change has got be part of a wider ambition to once more put the power of government behind you – and not against you.
Like a new Tech Bacc, so young people who want take a professional and technical route to work, have got a gold standard qualification.
A Youth Allowance to support anyone under 21 studying at college.
More high-quality apprenticeships so by 2025 as many young people can start an apprenticeship each year as enter university – and new Technical Degrees so apprentices can study up to degree level skills.
More university degrees which cost less to study.
A jobs guarantee for the under 25s so no-one is ever again left to languish on the dole.
A minimum wage at £8 an hour and a ban on exploitative zero hours contracts.
And action to build 200,000 homes a year by 2020 so you stand a chance of getting a place to call your own once more.
These are the changes we WILL make if we’re elected next year and they’re changes that will put government back on your side once more.
ANGER AND OPTIMISM
You might call this an action plan for optimism.
It’s definitely a plan to put government behind you – not against you – once more.
It’s a plan that’ll help you build a future for all of us.
I feel so strongly about this because growing up in Harlow taught me that in politics you need more than anger.
You need optimism.
Here in Harlow I learnt most of the lessons that lasted me a lifetime.
My Mum and Dad came here in the 1970s.
They were drawn by a sense of idealism.
When I talk to my Dad about why he came, he said what he loved about Harlow was that it was a leap of faith.
A new town, built by a can-do spirit.
Our grandparents founded this town while we still had rationing.
It didn’t stop them.
Couples came from the bombed out East End in search of a job and a home and somewhere to raise a family and build a new future.
They were pioneers.
And great public servants like my mum and dad came because they wanted to help build around those families a strong community.
Like the sports scene that gave us one of the best local football leagues where Glen Hoddle, the most famous Burnt Mill boy trained.
Or the arts scene that grew-up around the Playhouse.
Or the incredible voluntary sector that gave the town a real sense of compassion in action.
My mum and dad wanted to part of that great effort to build a better place where people could get on.
A town of ambition and aspiration and compassion in action.
When I was growing up here there was a lot of anger about the government that seemed determined to divide working people.
Everyday I used to hear my parents talk about how tough it was doing their best when the government was cutting everything so hard.
From them I learned my sense of compassion and anger at injustice – and that’s what inspired me to join Harlow Labour party when I was 15.
But back in the 80s, we also had a sense of optimism and aspiration.
Optimism born of a confidence that things can be better.
And that’s what I came to see was the most important thing of all.
But when people give up hope they turn to extremists – as they did in our country back in the 1930s – and which many are doing again today
Today I serve one of the youngest constituencies in Britain.
Everything I learned in politics has taught me that right now, there isn’t anyone better to inspire us than you.
But our job in politics is to match your optimism with a plan.
That’s what the builders of Harlow had back in the 1940s.
They had a vision of a better country.
Not just for some.
But for all.
Those dreamers built this town.
They built this school.
And they built a better, richer, fairer country.
A country where people could build better lives.
As they did here in this town.
Today we need to rediscover the optimism, the idealism and the impatience of the people who built this school and built this town,
That is how futures are really built.
That’s how you will build once again a greater Britain.