Wednesday 12 October 2011

What is the Government doing about youth unemployment?

The ACEVO Commission on Youth Unemployment, chaired by David Miliband, is warning that tomorrow’s youth unemployment figures are likely to be a “wake up call” to all those concerned about the future of young people in the UK.

New NIESR research undertaken for the Commission, and funded by the Nuffield Foundation, sheds new light on young people’s experiences of being unemployed, inactive and/or NEET (not in education, employment or training).

In advance of tomorrow’s ONS unemployment figures, David Miliband MP said,

"This week’s figures are likely to be a challenge to the whole country. Youth unemployment scars people for life, particularly if it is prolonged, and at today's levels it will be costing the country millions of pounds a week. Our aim is to understand the problems we face, arrive at the right solutions, and then act. We must not let the scourge of unemployment leave a permanent mark on the hundreds of thousands of young people living through it today."

Over 100 charities, local councils, businesses and others worried about youth unemployment levels have submitted evidence to the Commission on Youth Unemployment.

But despite growing concern in the UK and abroad at youth unemployment, the broad definition of NEET - which can cover everyone from teenage mothers to those taking gap years - and reliance on point-in-time estimates has limited the evidence available on the issue.

Now preliminary results from new NIESR research presented to the Commission on Youth Unemployment yesterday shed light on how youth unemployment and NEEThood are set within individuals' wider education and labour market histories.

NIESR's work uses nationally representative survey data to classify young individuals into groups sharing similar labour market histories between the age of 16 and 21. By shifting the focus from a snapshot picture to the entire youth labour market history, the research allows us to consider the full richness of individuals' youth labour market experience.

NIESR's results suggest that:
- A group of 10% of young people are most likely to warrant policy attention
- This group can be divided into a number of categories, including:
  • long-term NEEThood from the age of 16 and 18;
  • long-term worklessness straddling unemployment and inactivity;
  • individuals experiencing some employment but developing only limited labour market attachment; and
  • individuals who appear to withdraw from the labour market following an apparently successful entry into employment.

The results also highlight the central importance of the school to work transition to successful longer term outcomes.

I believe these results will be an important addition to our evidence base on the youth labour market. They classify, in a rigorous way, young people's different experiences to help us distinguish, say, those who take gap years from those at risk of serious long-term labour market exclusion. This knowledge is an essential precondition for successful intervention. The results also highlight the importance of the school to work transition for subsequent success in the labour market.

NIESR's next steps will be to compare the characteristics of the members of each group, and in particular of those falling within groups associated with unsuccessful labour market trajectories. This will aim to uncover which individual characteristics (such as gender, skills, disability, family structure, or social attitudes) are good predictors of adverse labour market outcomes in the long-run. This work will help inform the policy recommendations of the Commission.

The key issue now is what will Government do ab out it? The various reviews and analyses of the recent riots have so far failed to draw links between what happened and underlying social and community damage. Its no good just arguing it was a bout of criminality.

There is now a very strong danger we have learnt nothing from the lessons of long term youth unemployment in the 80s. Many of those unemployed then are unemployed now. Their kids are the new youth unemployed.

Time for the Government to get a grip on this problem before it is too late. Acevo members are at the forefront of action on tackling both the causes and the consequences of youth unemployment. Yet these are the very organisations being hit by cuts and having to scale back their work. That is criminal.


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