The world needs to wake up to “the ticking timebomb” of youth unemployment in developing countries and treat the issue as seriously as humanitarian disasters and global efforts to eradicate disease, a group of British MPs has warned.
In its latest report, the Commons International Development Committee (IDC) says population increases – especially in Africa – are making it harder for people to earn a livelihood, let alone find full-time employment.
With 600 million young people competing for a predicted 200 million jobs over the next decade, the committee says there is a danger of widespread social and political unrest.
“No one, not national governments nor donor agencies, are doing enough to defuse the ticking time bomb of youth unemployment in developing countries across the globe,” said its chair, Sir Malcolm Bruce.
“The complacent assumptions about population growth slowing are being proven wrong and we need to see that this is now a situation that needs to be addressed with the same kind of passion as children’s vaccinations or humanitarian emergencies.”
While the committee acknowledges that donors, including the World Bank and Britain’s Department for International Development (DfID), are aware of the problem, it discerns “a lack of passion in attempts to address it”.
The IDC notes that DfID is planning to spend £1.8bn ($2.7bn) on economic development this year – more than double the amount spent three years ago – but says the department needs to do more to ensure that money is spent effectively.
Although DfID has increased its engagement with the private sector, which creates 90% of new jobs, the committee still has “several concerns” about its ability to understand and work with businesses.
This situation needs to be addressed with the same passion as children’s vaccinations or humanitarian emergencies
“DfID has been criticised in the past for its lack of understanding of the private sector,” says the report. “The situation has improved, but there is room for further improvement. We recommend that DfID needs to continue to develop its understanding of the private sector and to employ advisers with experience of working in the private sector, especially those who have run their own business particularly in a developing country.”
As well as heeding the advice of its own country offices as to what works best locally, says the committee, DfID needs to use its influence with recipient governments to help them focus on tackling corruption and making conditions more attractive for businesses and investors.
It advises the department to widen its focus beyond manufacturing, agriculture and food processing and look at sectors such as tourism and travel, where 73 million jobs could be created in the next 10 years. A considerable number of jobs, it adds, could be created in health and education.
The committee also says that DfID needs “specific interventions” to help marginalised groups benefit from economic growth.
“Women and girls carry a greater burden of unpaid domestic and care work than men, limiting their education and employment opportunities. We recommend that DfID take further steps to help lift this barrier.”
It questions the wisdom of reducing spending on reproductive health at a time when fertility rates are still high in many parts of Africa: “We recommend that work and spending in this area be significantly increased and that DfID assess whether the main problem is access to or attitudes towards contraception.”
The committee also notes that some NGOs have criticised DfID’s decision to end core funding to the International Labour Organisation (ILO)following the multilateral aid review four years ago, with one group noting “if DfID is serious about working on employment, you had better be working with the one multilateral organisation that knows absolutely what is going on there”.
The international development secretary, Justine Greening, told the committee that her department still worked on individual programmes with the ILO and said DfID was likely to perform a “light-touch review” of the organisation as part of the next multilateral aid review.
Mary Creagh, the shadow secretary of state for international development, said the IDC report expressed reservations over the government’s “trickle-down approach to private sector funding” that had already been raised by others.
“The government has massively increased UK funding for centrally managed finance funds rather than working through country offices to improve the lives of the poorest,” she said.
“A Labour government will reverse this government’s ideological funding cut to the ILO to stamp out slavery in supply chains, as the committee recommends, and we will increase UK spending on health and education services in the poorest countries to create decent jobs.”
A DfID spokesman said that creating job opportunities for young people in developing countries was key to ending poverty, adding that the department’s work on economic growth had seen 70,000 young people trained in Nepal, increased pay for more than 100,000 factory workers in Bangladesh and India, and commercial loans given to 25,000 female-headed businesses around the world.
The spokesman added: “This is exactly the reason we are focusing on economic development and why we have put in place the right people and the right systems to deliver on our strategy.”