Why the tens of thousands of England’s ‘lost’ NEETs must become our priority
Being NEET – not in education, employment or training – has very serious consequences for a young person. At the ages of 16 and 17 it means missing education, and at the age of 18 it means being unemployed. A combination of the two can mean the start of long-term unemployment, poverty and poor health, early single parenthood and the iniquitous cycle of inherited disadvantage.
One in eight of all the 18 year olds in England were NEET in 2013, and the rate was much higher in many large cities. More than 80,000 young people joined the ranks of the unemployed that year alone. This is a huge problem, with major consequences for our society and economy.
This week, Impetus-PEF joined forces with the Fabian Society to publish Out of Sight, a new and concerning set of insights about young people who are NEET. The research is authored by Richard Brooks, who has formerly held roles as OFSTED’s head of strategy and as senior policy adviser to the then Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families.
Brooks points out that there are two basic reasons we have stopped talking about NEETs. The first is that for a long time the problem looked intractable. There were almost exactly the same number of 16-18 year olds NEET in 1999 as there are now. We have gotten used to thinking of this as a ‘wicked problem’ about a group of young people who are too hard to help.
The other reason is that the true nature of the NEET crisis is understated. It’s true that more young people are staying on in education after they finish their GCSEs, and the overall 16-18 NEET numbers have finally started to fall. But this apparently benign picture is misleading. What really matters is how many young people end up unemployed, and the number of young people who are NEET doubles between the ages of 17 and 18.
Even worse, the official NEET numbers grossly underestimate the scale of the problem at a local level. As a result it has much less visibility and priority than it should. To be clear: many local authorities have a much bigger NEET problem in reality than their official data suggests. We have lost track of tens of thousands of young people, including over 50,000 NEETs across England. As a result they are neither getting the help they need individually, nor the priority they need collectively.
We need a proper count, at both local and national level.