We are at risk of creating a generation of unemployed young people. Assistance needs to be targeted on those who are hardest to help
With more than one million young people out of work in the UK, the challenge of youth unemployment can appear daunting. What is needed is a clearer focus on the hardest to help—the 264,000 young people who have been unemployed for 12 months or longer.
To be young and unemployed can have consequences that go far beyond the immediate effects of social and economic disadvantage. There are scarring effects that include reduced wages, poorer health, and an increased likelihood of unemployment further down the line. The longer a young person spends outside of the labour market, the worse the effects can be; and not just for the individual – the estimated costs of youth unemployment to the public purse over the next decade is pegged at an eye-watering £28 billion.
Our analysis reveals that those falling into this group are far more likely to be young men and more likely to be poorly qualified. While the majority of out-of-work young people hold GCSE grades A-C or equivalent, the sub-group of the long-term unemployed are at an even greater disadvantage as they are far more likely to have no qualifications at all, and less likely to have a degree or A-Levels.
In a labour market that increasingly favours the highly-skilled, simply gaining an initial foothold can prove to be very difficult for these young people.
This is where much of the support needs to be targeted. As part of the research we conducted a series of interviews with long-term unemployed young people from around the UK. One common thread highlighted failures in support during school-to-work transitions: respondents who had received careers advice at school or in their community from Connexions reported that it had been of little use or that they needed more help with follow-through.
The importance of intervening during this period is underscored by the fact that a third of young unemployed people are not claiming benefit and are thus tougher to reach once they’ve left education.
The government’s Youth Contract will help in the short-term, but it only lasts three years. The rise in youth unemployment predates the recession, and the solutions need to be long-term. The transition from school to work has been getting harder for many young people, and the response from government has been fragmented.
We need coordination, and more effective joining-up of services – at both local and national level – to provide high quality and consistent support that will help young people to enter the labour market.
Brhmie Balaram is a researcher at The Work Foundation and co-author of Short-term crisis – long-term problem? Addressing the youth employment challenge