by Richard Darlington
Any day now, the Government will formally launch the new Youth Contact and from April, 160,000 job subsidies and an extra 20,000 apprenticeships will begin to come on stream to help young people who have been out of work for more than a year. The new scheme cannot come soon enough and it will fill the policy vacuum left by the abolition of the Future Jobs Fund, more than a year ago.
Since that decision was taken, youth unemployment has risen to the highest since records began in 1986/7.
Last month, the latest stats show that more than a million (1,042,000) young people (aged 16-24) are now unemployed, the second highest since comparable records began in 1992, and a rise of 67,600 in the last year.
Most worrying of all, there are now more than a quarter of a million 253,000 young people (aged 16-24) who have been unemployed for more than a year. There has been an increase of 24,900 over the last year in this group, that would have been helped had the Future Jobs Fund not been abolished.
But it is not just work, but training, where too many young people are losing out in record numbers. There are now a total of 958,000 young people (aged 16-24) who are NEET (not in education, employment or training), up 19,000 over the last year and a record high of 15.9 per cent for a fourth quarter.
Because the figures are not seasonally adjusted, the figure always peaks in quarter three and falls again in quarter four. But taking the average level over the calendar year shows that was over one million NEETs during 2011 for the first ever time.
The latest rise is a very steep jump since the General Election and formation of the coalition Government. The worse rises are in the East Midlands (up 26 per cent, 17,000 young people), the North West (up 18,000, a rise of 13 per cent) and Yorkshire & Humberside (up 17,000, a rise of 15 per cent).
Looking even more closely, and you can see the concentration of NEETs in towns and cities in the north, Wales and Scotland.
The Youth Contract is only part of the solution to the UK’s unemployment crisis and is not going to the issues caused by the abolition of the Education Maintenance Allowance. Resources are vital to tackling NEETs, as Barry Sherman’s education select committee showed in their excellent report at the end of the last Parliamentary session.
A more recent report from children’s charity Barnardos on the replacement to the EMA highlighted its inadequacy. The latest NEET figures covering the year since it was abolished do likewise.
Being NEET, is no fun at all. The Prince’s Trust show that young people who are NEETs are almost twice as likely as other young people to lack a sense of belonging in life. More than a third of unemployed young people (34 per cent) feel isolated all or most of the time, increasing to 45 per cent for those who have been out of work for a year or longer. Almost half of young people not in work (48 per cent) claim that unemployment has caused problems including self-harm, insomnia, self-loathing and panic attacks. Young people are twice as likely to self-harm or suffer panic attacks when they have been unemployed for a year.
IPPR research shows that apprenticeships – and vocational education more generally – play a key role in supporting young people’s transitions into work in many northern European countries where rates of youth unemployment in these countries are much lower than in Britain.
The Youth Contract on its own will not be enough. We need a job guarantee for everyone out of work for more than a year and more needs to be done to ensure that apprenticeships are available for young people.
Richard Darlington is head of news at IPPR and was Special Adviser at the Department for Education 2004-2005