For Neets, an unwelcome record beckons

Huge numbers of young people are not in employment, education or training.

Against the backdrop of a row over unpaid mandatory work experience, new statistics out tomorrow are likely to confirm that the number of young people Not in Employment, Education or Training (Neet), was a new record high last year.

At the start of this week, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg announced plans to help 55,000 Neets with a new £126m scheme. It's a welcome move but in the context of the numbers of young people not in work or training, it looks like a drop in the ocean.

The latest Neet stats show 150,000 teenagers aged 16-17 years old are Neet and overall 1,163,000 young people aged 16-24 year olds. This is the worst number since records began in 2000. Compared with the same period (quarter three 2010 to quarter three 2011) there were 137,000 more 16-24 year olds out of both work and training, representing a rise of more than 13 per cent.

When those stats were published, the government announced plans for a new 'Youth Contact' including 160,000 job subsidies and an extra 20,000 apprenticeships. It was another welcome measure but it is still a policy yet to be implemented. Assuming there is no slippage, the Youth Contract will come on stream in April, more than a year after the abolition of the 'Future Jobs Fund' and the Education Maintenance Allowance.

Tomorrow's Neet figures will show just how young people have struggled to find work or access training during that period of policy vacuum. Last week's youth unemployment figures suggest that we will break a new record for the worst Neets in 2011, something I take no pleasure in pointing out that I predicted last summer.

Even excluding full-time students, youth unemployment is the highest since records began in 1986/7.

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Being Neet is no fun at all. 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.

Work experience can help some young people but as Jonathan Portes argues, policy makers would do better to ensure that "work experience is genuinely worthwhile - for the participants, not for the employers - with the real, not theoretical, prospect of a job at the end of it".

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.

We cross our fingers for good news from tomorrow's Neet stats, but with the economy slipping back into negative growth at the end of last year, the chances of 2011 being the worst ever year for Neets look depressingly likely.

Richard Darlington is Head of News at IPPR and is author of Through the Looking Glass, a report on teenage girls' self-esteem.

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

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Who will win in Stoke-on-Trent?

Labour are the favourites, but they could fall victim to a shock in the Midlands constituency.  

The resignation of Tristram Hunt as MP for Stoke-on-Central has triggered a by-election in the safe Labour seat of Stoke on Trent Central. That had Westminster speculating about the possibility of a victory for Ukip, which only intensified once Paul Nuttall, the party’s leader, was installed as the candidate.

If Nuttall’s message that the Labour Party has lost touch with its small-town and post-industrial heartlands is going to pay dividends at the ballot box, there can hardly be a better set of circumstances than this: the sitting MP has quit to take up a well-paid job in London, and although  the overwhelming majority of Labour MPs voted to block Brexit, the well-advertised divisions in that party over the vote should help Ukip.

But Labour started with a solid lead – it is always more useful to talk about percentages, not raw vote totals – of 16 points in 2015, with the two parties of the right effectively tied in second and third place. Just 33 votes separated Ukip in second from the third-placed Conservatives.

There was a possible – but narrow – path to victory for Ukip that involved swallowing up the Conservative vote, while Labour shed votes in three directions: to the Liberal Democrats, to Ukip, and to abstention.

But as I wrote at the start of the contest, Ukip were, in my view, overwritten in their chances of winning the seat. We talk a lot about Labour’s problem appealing to “aspirational” voters in Westminster, but less covered, and equally important, is Ukip’s aspiration problem.

For some people, a vote for Ukip is effectively a declaration that you live in a dump. You can have an interesting debate about whether it was particularly sympathetic of Ken Clarke to brand that party’s voters as “elderly male people who have had disappointing lives”, but that view is not just confined to pro-European Conservatives. A great number of people, in Stoke and elsewhere, who are sympathetic to Ukip’s positions on immigration, international development and the European Union also think that voting Ukip is for losers.

That always made making inroads into the Conservative vote harder than it looks. At the risk of looking very, very foolish in six days time, I found it difficult to imagine why Tory voters in Hanley would take the risk of voting Ukip. As I wrote when Nuttall announced his candidacy, the Conservatives were, in my view, a bigger threat to Labour than Ukip.

Under Theresa May, almost every move the party has made has been designed around making inroads into the Ukip vote and that part of the Labour vote that is sympathetic to Ukip. If the polls are to be believed, she’s succeeding nationally, though even on current polling, the Conservatives wouldn’t have enough to take Stoke on Trent Central.

Now Theresa May has made a visit to the constituency. Well, seeing as the government has a comfortable majority in the House of Commons, it’s not as if the Prime Minister needs to find time to visit the seat, particularly when there is another, easier battle down the road in the shape of the West Midlands mayoral election.

But one thing is certain: the Conservatives wouldn’t be sending May down if they thought that they were going to do worse than they did in 2015.

Parties can be wrong of course. The Conservatives knew that they had found a vulnerable spot in the last election as far as a Labour deal with the SNP was concerned. They thought that vulnerable spot was worth 15 to 20 seats. They gained 27 from the Liberal Democrats and a further eight from Labour.  Labour knew they would underperform public expectations and thought they’d end up with around 260 to 280 seats. They ended up with 232.

Nevertheless, Theresa May wouldn’t be coming down to Stoke if CCHQ thought that four days later, her party was going to finish fourth. And if the Conservatives don’t collapse, anyone betting on Ukip is liable to lose their shirt. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.