NEETs are a live issue and here’s the data to prove it
Maximising the life chances of young people in Britain seems more pertinent now than ever before.
It is a priority for Impetus-PEF, and we support over 20 charity partners who are committed to improving education and work outcomes of young people from disadvantaged backgrounds.
It is true that employment rates have been in the ascendency and we are among the highest levels of employment in our nation’s history. But we know from the work we do with our charity partners in deprived areas across the country, that the problem of NEETs is still very much a live issue. And we also know that high overall employment rates look less assured when viewed through the lens of post-referendum economic uncertainty.
Historically, at times of economic downturn, young people are hit first and hit hardest. We developed our ‘Youth Jobs Index’ to get underneath the skin of the NEET problem and to ensure that it is not forgotten. Journalists have spoken of issue fatigue, while parliamentarians have been heartened to witness a steady decline in youth unemployment. The NEET figures, which are point in time reports published quarterly by the ONS, contribute to this complacency. On the surface, a downward shift from well over a million 16-24-year-old NEETs in 2011 to around 850,000 at the last count is positive. But little is known about these individuals, how long they spend NEET, and to what extent they ‘churn’ in and out of work.
So, with the help of the Learning and Work Institute, we developed an index which links ONS data sets over time and thus provides a dynamic insight into the factors listed above. We found that:
A period of time spent NEET can have a long term scarring effect on earning potential – representing a loss of £50k over a lifetime, compared to those who spend no time NEET. This also, according to a National Audit Office report, costs the public purse £34 billion a year. And let’s not forget the significant impact on mental and physical health.
Recent policy changes, such as the introduction of the Raised Participation Age, the post-16 Skills Plan and a revitalised apprenticeship agenda, suggest that government is committed to supporting young people to develop the skills to succeed in work. But with each shift, come questions and uncertainties. The introduction of the RPA and compulsory resits for students failing their maths or English GCSE at 16, has put considerable pressure on the FE system. The post-16 Skills Plan, born from Lord Sainsbury’s Review of Vocational Education, has little detail outlining how recommendations – which suggest a significant overhaul of the post-16 landscape – will be implemented. Apprenticeships have great potential but the focus has been on hitting the three million target rather than on quality and accessibility for young people of all backgrounds and abilities.
If we continue to ignore the needs of young people leaving school without good grades, and instead create a system which favours the most-able, our NEET problem will not go away. We do not pretend that our index is perfect. There are clear limitations of using a sample-based survey data to capture the trajectories of a relatively small section of society. But it is increasingly important to understand who the young people who find themselves in hard times are and whether their background impacts on their ability succeed.
We hope the government and parliamentarians quickly realise that the NEET issue hasn’t gone away. We need a more dynamic understanding of the NEET population so that we can get to work supporting them to develop the skills they need to gain, maintain and progress in work and in life.
Policy and Campaigns Manager, Impetus/PEF