Behind the Youth Unemployment Statistics: the scope for local action to combat hidden youth unemployment
Youth unemployment in the UK stood at around 624,000 in the period June - August 2016. This is down from its peak of over one million in 2012. There are 414,000 unemployed young people who are not in full time education. Of those not in education just over 247,000 (59.7 per cent) are not claiming Job Seekers Allowance. This group will therefore not be receiving government support with job search.
What is striking is that the proportion in this group has expanded by 20 percentage points since 2012. It is a group to a large extent hidden from official support. One reason given for this sharp increase is the tightening of the conditions associated with the payment of benefits and the use of benefits sanctions. In contrast the numbers of 18-24 year olds claiming JSA has fallen from a peak of nearly 500,000 in 2012 to just over 171,000 - lower than at any point over the last 20 years.
Falls in headline levels of youth unemployment and in claimant rates are both very positive. However the rise in the prevalence of hidden youth unemployment should be of considerable concern to policy makers. The evidence on the long term the effects of periods of youth unemployment, through wage scarring, wellbeing and health, is now well established.
In 2013 the Big Lottery Fund, drawing on the findings of the ACEVO Commission into youth unemployment, launched a £108 million, five year, strategic programme called Fulfilling Lives: Talent Match. The programme has funded voluntary and community sector-led partnerships in 21 Local Enterprise Partnership areas of England. Each area was designated because of its concentrations, or hotspots, of youth unemployment. The unique selling point of Talent Match is the youth-led design and delivery of activities in each area. Participation by jobseekers is also voluntary, a rarity in an employment support landscape where participation in government programmes is now mandatory.
The funding also enables partnerships to work with those furthest from the labour market.
What has Talent Match achieved so far? By September 2016, just over half way into programme delivery, 15,471 young people had been engaged on the programme, over half the programme target. Of this group, 3,099 had gained employment and for 1,037 this was sustainable employment of six months or more.
What is striking is the scale and extent of the barriers young people face. 23 per cent of participants report having a disability and 18 per cent report having experienced mental ill health. The following chart shows the proportions of participants experiencing what are known to be significant barriers to labour market entry for young people.
In terms of interventions nearly all young people entering Talent Match (97 percent) receive some form of one-to-one support, with careers advice (IAG) and support with personal development also being common. On average participants receive five different forms of support, with 30 percent receiving seven or more.
Talent Match appears to be having some notable success around labour market activation. Around four fifths of participants had applied for jobs and two thirds had attended at least one interview. 85 per cent of those securing employment were satisfied with their role although 41 per cent said that they were underemployed.
It is too early to determine the impact of the Talent Match programme. However, the following issues are striking and deserving of continued policy interest:
 O'Neill, M (2016), Youth Unemployment Statistics. House of Commons Library Briefing Paper Number 5871 19th October 2016. Available at: http://researchbriefings.parliament.uk/ResearchBriefing/Summary/SN05871
 Bell, D.N.F. and Blanchflower, D.G. (2010), Youth Unemployment: Déjà Vu? IZA Working Paper DP No. 4705 Available at: http://ftp.iza.org/dp4705.pdf
 ACEVO (2012) Youth unemployment: the crisis we cannot afford. The ACEVO Commission on Youth Unemployment. Available at: www.acevo.org.uk/youth-unemployment-crisis-we-cannot-afford
 See the Talent Match blog site for more information about the programme and links to each of the partnerships: https://blogs.shu.ac.uk/talentmatch/
Matt Poole and Peter Wells (pictured)