Behind the good news: young people are still bearing the brunt of unemployment in the UK

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August’s ONS figures showed that unemployment is at a six-year low and the number of young people out of work fell by 102,000 – the largest drop since records began in the early 1990s.

This is all welcome news of course but a closer look at the figures shows that the number of 16-24 who are out of work remains disproportionately high.  Of the 2.08m unemployed people in the UK, 767,000 are aged 16-24 – that’s 37 per cent for an age group that spans just eight years.  Despite the green shoots, it’s clear that young people are still bearing the brunt of unemployment in the UK.

Young people with low or no qualifications have a particularly tough time finding work, especially in less economically successful areas.  Almost two-thirds of young people from poor homes fail to achieve five good GCSEs and young people without five good GCSEs are 25 per cent more likely to become NEET – not in education, employment or training – within two years of leaving school.

The raised participation age (RPA) came into force in September 2013 with all young people required to stay in some form of education, including work-based training, until the age of 17.  The RPA has the potential to be a really positive step towards ensuring every young person makes a successful transition from school to work but only if it is properly enforced.  If the RPA isn’t implemented effectively, then the consequences for these young people and for society as a whole are potentially detrimental and long lasting.

Our Make NEETs History in 2014 report shows that as little as six months out of education, employment or training before the age of 24 has a profound impact on a person’s earning potential and job security well into their forties.  Unemployment while young can lead to long-term reductions in wages, increased likelihood of subsequent periods of unemployment, and poorer health outcomes.  The world of work has changed and schools need to change too.  We believe schools need to do more to prepare them for life after education through structured and relevant careers advice, more work experience opportunities and the better promotion of vocational courses, traineeships and apprenticeships.

The economy might be picking up but there’s still work to be done.  That’s why Impetus-PEF is calling for a time-limited Secretary of State for School-to-Work Transitions, perhaps only for one term. Who is currently responsible for building – and realising – a vision for Britain’s youth labour market that would draw together policy and resources across Whitehall?  The answer is no one person or agency; responsibility is shared among three departments which means that no one individual bears responsibility, or has the power, to actually end the country’s NEET problem.

One of the first issues this Secretary of State will need to address is making schools accountable for where their pupils end up. Currently, the very narrow accountability schools have for exam results means they end up neglecting vocational qualifications, careers advice and contact with employers.  We would charge Ofsted with inspecting schools’ efforts to improve school-to-work transitions so that schools are transparently and routinely held to account for their efforts to produce school-leavers who are ready for work, and for their ability to understand, in real-time, the attainment and engagement of their pupils.

Stopping young people becoming NEET by ensuring they’re equipped to make the transition from school to work makes a lot of sense – not just economically, but also in terms of young people’s wellbeing, mental health and belief in their – and their children’s – futures.

Impetus − The Private Equity Foundation
About The Author
Kelly Matthews is Interim Head of PR at Impetus-PEF.

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