Being NEET is no fun at all

954,000 young people are not in education, employment or training

Today’s headline grabbing bad news number is 0.3 per cent. That is the latest revision to the GDP figures for the first quarter of this year and it confirms that the UK economy is not just suffering a double dip recession but that it is deeper than we previously thought [as our economics editor David Blanchflower writes].

But also announced today is that during the same period, the number of young people aged 16-24 years old that are not in education, employment or training (NEET) rose by 29,000 to a new record of 954,000. This lost generation has been growing almost non-stop for more than a decade but the latest rise is clearly a result of the weakness of the British economy.

The worse rises have been in Yorkshire and Humberside, the North West and the East Midlands, which have all hit new record highs. One in five young people in Yorkshire & Humberside are now NEET, up 19 per cent, with a similar rise in London.

The number of male NEETs is also at a new record high and this underlines the impact of the economic climate. Female NEETs are far more likely to have had a teenage pregnancy or have another caring responsibility, for a disabled or elderly relative, that either causes their NEET status or prolongs it.

Being NEET is no fun at all. Research from the Prince’s Trust show that young people who are NEETs are almost twice as likely as other young people to lack a sense of belonging in life. More than a third of NEETs (37 per cent) lack a sense of identity, and this figure rises to nearly half (47 per cent) for those out of work  year or longer. More than a third of unemployed young people (34 per cent) feel isolated all or most of the time, increasing to 45 per cent for those who have been out of work for a year or longer. Almost half of young people not in work (48 per cent) claim that unemployment has caused problems including self-harm, insomnia, self-loathing and panic attacks. Young people are twice as likely to self-harm or suffer panic attacks when they have been unemployed for a year.

So what is the Government doing about it? The new "Youth Contact" is a plan for 160,000 job subsidies and an extra 20,000 apprenticeships but it has yet to have an impact. On its own, it is clearly not enough.

Resources are vital to tackling NEETs, as Barry Sherman’s Education Select Committee showed in their excellent report at the end of the last Parliamentary session. A recent report from children’s charity Barnardos on the replacement to the EMA highlighted its inadequacy. Today’s figures do likewise.

IPPR research shows that apprenticeships – and vocational education more generally – play a key role in supporting young people’s transitions into work in many northern European countries where rates of youth unemployment in these countries are much lower than in Britain.

They say "you’re only young once" and it’s true. I now realise how lucky I was to be a teenager in the late nineties. Those of you in your teenage years in 2012 have my profound sympathy because it is not you who have failed, but Britain that has failed you.

A very young NEET (maybe). Photograph: Getty Images

Richard Darlington is Head of News at IPPR. Follow him on Twitter @RDarlo.

Photo: Getty
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David Cameron's prisons speech could be the start of something good

If the Prime Minister puts his words into action, then this speech could mark the beginning of a big shift on prisons policy. 

David Cameron’s speech condemning prisons as violent and failing could herald a seismic change in policy. He is absolutely right to point to the waste of money, effort and lives that characterises today’s prison system. He is also right about the direction of travel that needs to be taken and some of his ideas are at the very least worthy of discussion. The most important reform was missing, as none of his aspirations can happen unless the sheer number of men, women and children in prison is cut, and cut radically. Sentencing reform is the lynchpin.

The detailed proposals will be scrutinised as they are rolled out over the coming months, but the urgent over-riding challenge is to cut the prison population. Last week the number of men in prison increased by 185, and in the last four weeks the prison population has gone up by 684 men and women. Prison overcrowding is not standing still, it is rapidly deteriorating.

Chris Grayling closed 18 prisons and wings, reallocating the population into the shrunk estate. He cut prison staff by more than a third in each prison. The result was overcrowded, understaffed, violent prisons full of drugs and very disaffected staff trying to control frustrated prisoners on restricted regimes.

I was expecting some thinking on who we send to prison and what we do with them when they are incarcerated to create the conditions for radical reform. I was disappointed as the proposals were oddly reminiscent of things that Labour tried and contributed to this mess in the first place.

Labour was very proud of building lots of new prisons, hoping that they would build their way out of an overcrowding crisis. What happened of course was that new prisons were filled even before they were completed so the old prisons couldn’t be closed. Today we hear that £1.3 billion will be spent on building ‘reform prisons’ that will pilot new ways of working. My worry is that they will become warehouses unless the sheer number of prisons is restricted and resources are allocated to allow for just the sort of flexibility being proposed.

Giving governors more autonomy sounds good, and I support it in principle, but they always used to have their own budgets with discretion to choose how to spend it, including commissioning education and other services. It is no good having increased autonomy if they are constantly firefighting an overcrowding crisis and not given the resources, including well trained prison staff, to implement new ideas.

We already have league tables for prisons. Every few months assessments of how prisons are performing are published, along with regular inspections and independent boards monitor conditions. Reoffending rates are published but this information is less robust as prisoners tend to move round the system so how can one establishment be accountable.

I was pleased to hear that work inside prisons is going to be a key reform. But, the Prime Minister referred to a small project in one prison. Projects with desultory training in the few hours that men get to spend out of their cells will not instil a work ethic or achieve work readiness. Prisoners get a pack of cereals and a teabag at night so they don’t have breakfast, are not showered or clean, are wearing sweaty and shabby clothes.

Every day men and women are released from prison to go to work in the community as part of their programme of reintegration. This is extremely successful with incredibly few failures. So what is the point of adding extra expense to the public by tagging these people, unless the purpose is just to feed the coffers of the private security companies.

There are imaginative ways of using technology but what was being suggested today looks as though it is just adding restrictions by tracking people. That would be neither creative nor effective.

David Cameron is looking to his legacy. I fear that I could be listening to a Prime Minister in five or ten years bewailing the dreadful prison conditions in institutions that are no different to today’s overcrowded dirty prisons, except that they were built more recently. He will have achieved a massive investment of capital into expanding the penal estate but, whilst there will be more prisons, even the new jails could be overcrowded, stinking and places of inactivity and violence.

I want the Prime Minister to look back on today’s speech with pride because it achieved humanity in a system that is currently failing. I would like to see a prison system in decades to come that is purposeful, with men and women busy all day, getting exercise for the mind, body and soul. I would like to see prisons that only hold people who really need to be there because they have committed serious and violent crimes but whose lives will be turned around, who achieve redemption in their own eyes and that of victims and the public.

My job is to hold him to account for this vision. If what he announced today achieves radical reform and changes lives for the better, I will cheer. I will be watching.

Frances Crook is the Chief Executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform.