Lancashire Times
A Voice of the North
Tom Burgess
Features Writer
9:56 AM 2nd July 2020

How Boris Johnson's 'New Deal' Does Nothing For Students

Around 15,000 students attend Lancaster University and many of them might have hoped that Boris Johnson’s recent ‘New Deal’ speech might hold some hope for graduating students. They will have been sorely disappointed.

Boris Johnson flippantly dismissed ‘plenty of things that people say' that the government has got wrong. He preferred to favour the things, Johnson argued, 'went right'. Rousing rhetoric swiftly followed about the ‘solidarity not seen since the second world war’ a sentiment echoing Johnson’s idol Churchill. In this particular speech it was not Churchill that Johnson sought to emulate but the revered US President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Johnson even managed to write the headlines by stating that ‘it sounds like a New Deal’.

Underneath the bluster was a rather underwhelming set of announcements to invest £5 billion in infrastructure including refurbishing schools and repairing bridges. Johnson has promised to plant ‘30,000 hectares of trees every year’ which is a step in the right direction but hardly a comprehensive environmental strategy. Comparing these projects to Roosevelt’s Alphabet Agencies, which cost $40 billion at the time and was calculated to cost over 650 billion in 2015, seems a bit of a stretch. There will also be a change in the rules for getting planning permission named ‘Project Speed’ to cut through the ‘red tape’ that has been holding back the building of houses in Britain. The promise to help young people get on the housing ladder is not going to help them get employed though.

Statistics from the House of Commons Library showed a 109% rise in the number of 16-24 year olds claiming benefits related to unemployment from March to May and figures are showing similar levels of unemployment to the Great Depression of the 1930s.

Rishi Sunak is expected to present a financial breakdown next week on the ways in which the government will fund Boris Johnson’s claim for an ‘Opportunity Guarantee’ for young people. In the speech, this vaguely meant having the chance of apprenticeships and work placements. This will primarily be targeted at those leaving school at the age of 18, and not graduates. I hoped the details of this policy are more clearly laid out by Sunak to see if the work placements will apply to students too - I was a little too hopeful to expect clarity in a news briefing.

At Lancaster University students are lucky to have the third highest graduate prospects, according to the Times and Sunday Times Good University Guides in 2020, but the Coronavirus pandemic will have damaged these opportunities. According to a YouGov poll carried out in March 2020, seven in ten students worry that Coronavirus will hurt the job market and cause higher unemployment. Universities across the country are facing financial issues and uncertainty due to the impacts of the virus on international student attendance and the percentage of students opting to defer next year. Considering the scale of the problem facing universities and students, the fact there were only two references to universities in the ‘New Deal’ speech suggests that as a package it is not as comprehensive as Johnson might want to present it.

As a Lancaster student I am disappointed and concerned at what the future holds. While some of the country will be eagerly awaiting the 4th of July, I am worried that the irresponsible celebration of lockdown is going to send us straight back into (to use Boris Johnson’s analogy) the shark’s mouth.