Youth unemployment

Rising unemployment in the UK over the past few years has been characterised by an increasing number of young people not in education, employment or training (NEET), with the number of 16-24 year olds categorised as NEET peaking at 1 million in Q3 of 2009, and remaining over 850,000 in autumn 2010.[1]The number of young Britons who have been without employment for more than a year was over 200,000 in autumn 2010. While this declined slightly mid-way through 2010, it had been rising each quarter before that for a number of years. [2] Even economic recovery is unlikely to have much impact on the long-standing structural problems facing those at the bottom end of the education system and labour market. The young people most disengaged from the labour market are unsure of their role in society and traditional routes from education into training and employment will continue to be inadequate for them. 

The Labour government 1997-2010 created the Young Person’s Guarantee – the promise of a job or training to every 18 to 24-year-old who had been out of work for six months or more. The guarantee has not been extended and further details of the Work Programme to support the creation of jobs, proposed by the Conservative-Liberal Democrat government elected in 2010, are being formulated in early 2011. Such initiatives to decrease the level of youth unemployment are hampered by constrained public spending.

During the recession older employees have fared better than younger ones[3] and the effects of unemployment on young people are particularly acute. [4] Unemployment increases susceptibility to malnutrition, illness, mental stress, and loss of self-esteem, and increases the risk of depression, all of which have detrimental effects on the long-term prospects for those young people unable find jobs. Youth unemployment also has adverse social impacts and is associated with increases in burglaries, thefts and drug offences. Unemployment is often part of the cycle where involvement in crime reduces subsequent employment prospects, which in turn increases the probability of participating in crime.

What are the implications?

  • There is a risk that young people who have been unemployed for some time may become disengaged from mainstream society, with negative long-term consequences for both the individuals and society.
  • Voluntary and Community Organisations (VCOs) who work with unemployed young people may be under more pressure to develop young people’s employability skills and get them into work.
  • Those VCOs who help re-engage young people with the labour market may have opportunities to raise their profile.
  • An ageing population may cause employers to see youth as a disadvantage among prospective employees. But the declining number of young people may also lead to a reduction in youth unemployment.
  • Levels of volunteering may increase if young people turn to volunteering as a way of spending their time and developing skills.
  • Young people without jobs and at risk of poverty may find that they are at risk of being labelled as irresponsible. However VCOs working with young people at risk of poverty may be able to get support for their cause due to the coalition Government's pledge to end child poverty in the UK by 2020.

Moving forward

  • How can the VCS help ensure that policies aimed at getting young people back into work are not just short-term initiatives and do not disadvantage the most marginalised?
  • How can the VCS support young people to develop the skills they need to thrive in the future?
  • What do changes in the education system mean for young people and the VCS – e.g. the Conservative-Liberal Democrat government elected in 2010’s aims to encourage free schools?
  • Can VCOs who successfully re-engage the hardest to reach young people increase awareness of the value that both the organisation, and young people, bring to society?
  • How can the VCS reduce the numbers of those who get caught in the cycle of unemployment and crime?
  • What can the VCS do to promote engagement with knowledge and learning if education becomes increasingly focused on skills, threatening the idea that education has a value in its own right?
  • How can the VCS work with local authorities to ensure that all young people benefit from Labour government reforms to raise the ‘participation age’ to 17 in 2013 and 18 in 2015 (i.e. all young people of these ages must be in education or training)?
  • Will VCS providers of young people’s skills be able adapt to changes in the labour market?
  • What role is there for the VCS in helping young people back into work through volunteering?

Want to know more?

Youth Tracker

Published by: Institute for Public Policy Research (ippr)

Date: June 2009 – ongoing (quarterly publication)

What is it? A quarterly publication which explores the challenges facing young people not in employment, education or training in the midst of recession, and what can be done to support them.

How useful is it? A very good collection of research, figures and analysis of the problem of youth unemployment.

Hidden Talents series

Published by: Local Government Association and Centre for Social Justice

Date: June 2009 – ongoing (quarterly publication)

What is it? A project looking at the issue of young people not in employment, education or training, which covers the impact of the recession, draws on insights from different sectors tackling the problem, and explores solutions for engaging all young people aged 16-24 in positive activity.

How useful is it? A very useful series which gives insight into the issue and explores possible solutions.

Reducing the numbers of young people not in education, employment or training: what works and why

Published by: Ofsted

Date: May 2010

What is it? A survey examining the key factors that have contributed to reducing the proportion of 16 to 18-year-olds not in education, employment or training in 12 local authority areas.

How useful is it? A good insight into the work that local authorities are doing to tackle youth unemployment.

Against the odds: Re-engaging young people in education, employment or training

Published by: The Audit Commission

Date: July 2010

What is it? Research into the financial, personal and social cost of teenagers who are not in education, employment or training.

How useful is it? Another overview of the issue of youth unemployment and how to work more effectively to overcome the issues.

Speaking Out Briefing No. 26: Education, employment and training: support from the sector

Published by: The National Council for Voluntary Youth Services

Date: July 2010

What is it? This report is the outcome of a joint event held by the National Council for Voluntary Youth Services (NCVYS) and the Local Government Association (LGA) on March 18, 2010 to explore the involvement of voluntary and community sector agencies in the LGA’s Hidden Talents programme.

How useful is it? It gives lots of information on the VCS’s role in providing young people with education, employment and training opportunities.



[1] Department for Education, NEET Statistics - Quarterly Brief, August 2010 [Back]

[3] David G. Blanchflower and David Bell, 'Young People and Recession. A lost generation?', Dartmouth College Working Paper, June 2010 [Back]

[4] Costs of unemployment, Trades Union Congress, March 2010 [Back]

Last updated at 16:48 Thu 03/Feb/11.

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