On 5 November, leaked documents in the Paradise Papers suggested royal financial investments are linked to “offshore interests and activities”. And the following day, the Duke of York presented awards for technical education to young people at St James’s Palace. But at the awards ceremony, Prince Andrew claimed that he “did an apprenticeship”, because he learned to fly rather than going to university. His comment shows just how out of touch the royal family are.
A dubious past?
Prince Andrew is not new to controversy. He was forced to stand down as “special representative” for UK Trade and Investment (UKTI) in 2011. And as part of this role he was responsible for promoting British arms exports through its Defence & Security Organisation.
- Andrew’s friendship with US financier Jeffrey Epstein, led to allegations linking him to a series of sex scandals, some involving minors. But these claims were denied by the palace.
- His links with Kazakhstan oligarch Timur Kulibayev, led to allegations that he stood to gain over £4m from private deals brokered through his UKTI role.
- In 2010 Andrew was named in the WikiLeaks cache. And this revealed his criticism of a Serious Fraud Office investigation of arms giant BAE Systems. But leaks also outlined potential abuse of his UKTI position in dealings with Kyrgyzstan.
- And even after losing his UKTI position Andrew has been criticised. According to Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) “Prince Andrew has consistently worked with the oppressive Bahraini regime and helped to promote arms sales abroad”.
Educated at private schools, Prince Andrew is seventh in line to the throne. And so his apprenticeship ‘experience’ is difficult to reconcile with the reality of most young people. Given increasing cuts to benefits and services for young people, comparing his life with theirs seems misplaced and out of touch.
In April 2017 the Conservative Government launched the apprenticeship levy. But although designed to create 3 million new apprentices by 2020, the scheme has been widely criticised. The Institute for Fiscal Studies said the scheme offered “poor value for money” and there is widespread confusion about the levy.
And according to The Young Women’s Trust there are further concerns about apprenticeships, especially for women. It found [pdf]:
- Two in five apprentices receive less in wages than it costs them to do their apprenticeship.
- Male apprentices continue to earn more than women: women earn an average £6.67 per hour compared to £7.25 for men.
- In key sectors such as engineering, men outnumber women 25 to 1.
- There are still too few part-time apprenticeship opportunities: Fewer than 1 in 10 apprentices work under 30 hours per week. Lack of part-time opportunities is a particular barrier to women.
But despite the issues with the new scheme, apprenticeships are the only opportunity available for many young people.
- Benefit changes in March 2017 removed housing benefit entitlement for 18-to-21-year-olds.
- Under the Conservatives, spending on mental health services for young people has been cut by nearly £50m.
- The 2017 Youth Index report [pdf, p5] revealed “that many young people feel that they have no control over their lives, are full of self-doubt and feel trapped by their circumstances.”
- And as The Canary previously reported, interest rates on student loans have soared. Many young people are reluctant to take on large debt by going to university.
Given Prince Andrew’s privileged upbringing, his comment is an insult to the harsh reality of most young people in the UK.
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