The latest set of figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) shows that over a fifth of 16-25 year olds were without a job in the third quarter of 2011.

This is a rise of 67,000 on the second quarter putting the total of young people without work at 1.02 million.

Drilling down further nearly 40% of young people between the ages of 16 and 17 are unemployed.

Across all age ranges total unemployment has increased by 129,000 and now stands at 2.62 million, which is 8.3% and is at the highest it has been for 17 years.

422,000 people have now been out of work for over 2 years a rise of 29% in a year, with those having been unemployed for between one and two years is868,000.

Nida Ali, economic advisor to the Ernst & Young ITEM Club, said “These figures are pretty horrendous. The increase in unemployment on the ILO measure is much worse than expected, while youth unemployment has hit the million mark. Although the rise in the claimant count has abated significantly compared to previous months, it brings little comfort given that it’s the 8th consecutive increase."

And while this looks bad some young people are being told to work for an employer for nothing or risk losing their benefits reports the Guardian.

It appears from the report that anyone expressing an interest in the work experience programme, where the national minimum wage does not apply, are being given placements with big businesses such as Tesco, Poundland, Argos and Sainsbury’s.

Under the scheme, says the Guardian, “The Department for Work and Pensions says that if jobseekers "express an interest" in an offer of work experience they must continue to work without pay, after a one-week cooling-off period, or face having their benefits docked.”

But three jobseekers who talked to the newspaper said that they were not told about the one week cooling off period and were told that once they had showed willing they would lose their £53 a week Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA) if they then backed out. So that’s a 30 hour plus week for £53 that some ‘employers’ are benefitting from?

One of the jobseekers, Cait Reilly, told the Guardian that "It seems we're being used as some free labour especially in the runup to Christmas," she also said "I was told [the work experience placement] was mandatory after I'd attended the [retail] open day,"

The question we should be asking is, why are large companies such as those named be benefitting from what is in effect state paid labour? This sounds more like a return to the workhouse than finding employment. Some of the companies involved did though say that they thought the scheme was totally voluntary.

This does not help anyone except large corporations to make fatter profits and pay larger dividends and takes pressure off of Job Centres to get people into real work. It also gives the government the chance to say it is doing something to help.

If we are going to get these young people to work for their benefits then it should surely be on something that the taxpayer, not a private company, can see a reward from.

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