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One in eight young people are NEET (not in education, employment or training) at the age of 18. This huge issue has far reaching consequences for our economy and society. Yet over the course of this parliament the quality of local data on these young people has broken down completely. It is now systematically and grossly understating the true scale of the problem, misleading local decision makers and pushing the issue down the public agenda.
We have lost track of over 150,000 young people aged 16-18 in England. Their working or education status is now ‘unknown’. When local NEET data is published an assumption is made that one in eight of these ‘unknowns’ is actually NEET, and the other seven are in education, employment or training. We can see how badly wrong this is by comparing the much more accurate national statistics with the sum total of the local statistics. There are over 50,000 NEETs missing from the local numbers.
So this apparently innocuous technical assumption has major implications: it leads to the systematic and gross understatement of the true scale of the NEET issue at a local level, which is where it needs to be tackled. And it means that the many ‘missing NEETs’ do not get the help and support they so badly need. New field research in this report, using matched data in Coventry, confirms that many of the ‘unknowns’ are likely to be NEET.
We need a proper count in every area. We should start by recognising that the published statistics are disastrously wrong, changing the assumptions that create them, and reworking them on a more realistic basis. The right number of unknowns to count as NEET – on average – is not one eighth, rather at the end of 2013 it was between a third and a half. The chair of the UK Statistics Authority should review this issue and make recommendations to the Department for Education.