Can you solve a problem if you can’t quantify it? That was the question we were pondering when we first came up with the idea for the Youth Jobs Index, published today. As an organisation that works to ensure disadvantaged young people succeed in education and employment, we know that there are many young people failing to get on the career ladder. Many of the young people that our partner charities work with have never worked, or have been out of work or education for a long time.
And yet they don’t show up in the quarterly NEET statistics released by the government. We can all celebrate the fact that this number has fallen from its mid-recession peak of over 1 million to around 850,000 today. But what our research – using the same Labour Force Survey data as the government’s quarterly statistics – shows is that those who have been left behind are much more likely to be low qualified and that they are not just taking a few months off, or swapping between jobs; 1.3 million young people are spending six months or more NEET, and 700,000 are out of work or education for over a year.
These young people are not benefiting from the return to economic growth in the same way that graduates are. And maybe that’s not surprising – all through the ‘booming’ 2000s NEET numbers fluctuated between 650,000 and 850,000. This isn’t just an economic issue – and so it can’t be solved just by the economy. Those who are spending six months or more NEET need targeting with sustained, and expert, support to get them into jobs or education outcomes which last and lead to long-term progression.
From next year the Youth Obligation promises intensive support to all 18-21 year olds from day one of a benefit claim. It’s essential that the purpose of this support is not simply to get young people off the benefit roll, but to get them into a job or education outcome that they can keep, and move on from. Our Youth Jobs Index also shows that for those young people NEET who do get into work or education, sustainment rates are reasonably good – but the majority (70%) are not getting into these opportunities in the first place.
Now we know the size of the problem we can better target our efforts to solve them, both in our day-to-day work of supporting the best charities working with unemployed young people, and through working with government. We need to ensure that all can benefit from a growing economy, not just the easiest to employ – and we’ll be tracking the long term NEET figures year-on-year to ensure we all stay focused on this aim.