Youngsters should busk for train fare to job interviews

Busking, by Radio 3Lewis Whyld/PA Archive/Press Association Images

Conservative MP Damian Collins isn't going to win any plaudits for being in touch with real people today, after comments at a Channel 4 Battlefront event, where he seemed suggest young people ought to work for less than the minimum wage, and busk to raise the money to job hunt.

So did he really say this, and is the government now hopelessly out of touch?

What did he say?

To be fair to Collins, this wasn't entirely what he meant. His comments on working for less than the national minimum wage were intended to support apprenticeships as an alternative to A-Levels.

According to the Metro, he said: "A businessman I know told me: 'I would much rather get a school leaver at 16. Get them to do an apprenticeship for two or three years. At 19 they will have the skills necessary to be able to enter the workforce on the national minimum wage. Someone who does a one year course after 18 won't be ready.'"

His comments on busking came from an anecdote he told in response to another panel member saying young people could often not afford to train fare to go and look for jobs. He explained how a former employer had told of how he had busked in order to raise the train fare to London, where he went around potential employers asking for work until he was successful.

Another panel member, Liam Preston, of the British Youth Council, said: "I find it quite insulting that you think we should be busking to get the travel money to find work." And suddenly Collins finds himself out-of-touch.

Lost touch

Collins hasn't done himself any favours. By telling the story of a successful man and his enterprising approach in the 1960s, he risks showing a lack of understanding of what the jobs market is like for young people now. They can scratch together train fare all they like, but the days when you could knock on doors and eventually find one open to you are gone. Now, looking for a job is a long, slow, depressing business.

The coalition government has faced their share of 'out-of-touch' jibes recently. Just this week, an Ipsos/Mori poll found that only 26% of people thought Cameron was more likely to "understand people like me" than Ed Miliband.


Cuts in child benefits, tax credits, pensions and the notorious granny tax have led to voters seeing the axe come down on the most vulnerable, while those in power remain relatively unscathed.

Labour was quick to launch a campaign to brand the Tories as 'out-of-touch', while their case wasn't helped by Conservative MP Nadine Dorries calling Cameron and Osborne ''arrogant posh boys''.

Meanwhile, u-turns and indecision have made the government a laughing stock. One low point this year was Pastygate in the aftermath of the announcement of VAT on hot food. George Osborne said he couldn't remember the last time he had been to Greggs, and in an effort to appear more normal, David Cameron claimed to have had a pasty most recently from the West Cornwall Pasty Company in Leeds station (which closed in 2007).

At one stage, The Sun, even sent a model round to the Treasury dressed as Marie Antoinette to hand out pasties and sausage rolls.

Collins is unlucky. His comments were insensitive at best, ridiculous at worst... and his timing was appalling.

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