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Positive role models can break cycle of despair

IN NEED OF A JOB: Young black men find it hard to get employed

IN RECENT weeks Government figures show unemployment falling to record levels across the UK. However, while this news gives welcome relief that the UK might be turning the corner from the harsh economic climate it has endured for the past four years, there is still a disproportionately high number of young black men out of work. Here Lib Dem Peer, Baroness Floella Benjamin, gives an exclusive insight into how and why the problem should be tackled.

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THERE HAS been much talk and many recent reports highlighting the fact that employment is at an all-time high. More than 30 million people are now in work and since the 2010 General Election, the number of people claiming the main out-of-work benefits has fallen by 566,000. This is great news and my party, the Liberal Democrats, have worked hard in government to achieve success stories like these, listening to people’s concerns and ensuring the right support is being put in place.

But disappointingly there’s no denying that unemployment is still disproportionately high amongst young black people, especially men and there are concerns that people from ethnic minorities still face discrimination when applying for jobs. However, the Liberal Democrats are working to redress these imbalances.

At their Autumn Conference, the party voted for a motion on race equality in education and employment, supporting task force recommendations that the private sector should monitor and publish equalities information just as public authorities do, and that national and local government should make better use of their purchasing power to force companies to improve diversity before getting public contracts.

An issue I feel very strongly about is the need for young people to have role models in their communities – everyday hard-working successful people - as I feel issues of low confidence or lack of self-belief may have compounded levels of unemployment in the black community. If we’re not careful, young people can get caught in a cycle of despair and low self-esteem.

When you’re a young person, the world can be a daunting place so the best advice I can offer them is to work hard, stay strong and keep positive. I believe confidence, self-awareness, ambition and a sense of purpose are crucial to success.

I have done a lot of work with young people and in the end, started ‘Touching Success’; an initiative set up to help young people reach their potential in their chosen field through programmes of inspirational talks and visits from successful people in all walks of life. Through hard work and dedication you can achieve whatever you want and there is plenty of help along the way.

For example, if your dream is to set up your own business, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg and his colleagues have been making it easier to access finance to set one up. There are higher aspirations to start-up a business amongst ethnic minority groups, especially Black African (35 per cent) and Black Caribbean (28 per cent) groups (compared with 10 per cent for White British counterparts), yet conversions to start-ups remain low.

The government is working hard to assist those with drive and ambition to become their own boss; it has been listening to the concerns of would-be entrepreneurs and ethnic minority business groups and working with banks to address these concerns.

However, the most important thing I say to young people is to stay focused. Never give up and keep smiling because winners smile! You are the one in control of your dreams and you can achieve them if you believe. One day a door will open and on the other side will be the rest of your life. So make sure you are prepared for that moment.

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Baroness Floella Benjamin, a Liberal Democrat peer, is an advocate for bringing issues around the welfare of children to the fore. She spent many years as a leading presenter on children’s TV programmes and now holds high-level roles with Action for Children and Barnardo’s.

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