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.


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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I'm far from convinced by Cameron's plans for Syria

The Prime Minister has a plan for when the bombs drop. But what about after?

In the House of Commons today, the Prime Minister set out a powerful case for Britain to join air strikes against Isil in Syria.  Isil, he argued, poses a direct threat to Britain and its people, and Britain should not be in the business of “outsourcing our security to our allies”. And while he conceded that further airstrikes alone would not be sufficient to beat Isil, he made the case for an “Isil first” strategy – attacking Isil now, while continuing to do what we can diplomatically to help secure a lasting settlement for Syria in which Assad (eventually) plays no part.

I agreed with much of David Cameron’s analysis. And no-one should doubt either the murderous barbarism of Isil in the region, or the barbarism they foment and inspire in others across the world.  But at the end of his lengthy Q&A session with MPs, I remained unconvinced that UK involvement in airstrikes in Syria was the right option. Because the case for action has to be a case for action that has a chance of succeeding.  And David Cameron’s case contained neither a plan for winning the war, nor a plan for winning the peace.

The Prime Minister, along with military experts and analysts across the world, concedes that air strikes alone will not defeat Isil, and that (as in Iraq) ground forces are essential if we want to rid Syria of Isil. But what is the plan to assemble these ground forces so necessary for a successful mission?  David Cameron’s answer today was more a hope than a plan. He referred to “70,000 Syrian opposition fighters - principally the Free Syrian Army (FSA) – with whom we can co-ordinate attacks on Isil”.

But it is an illusion to think that these fighters can provide the ground forces needed to complement aerial bombardment of Isil.  Many commentators have begun to doubt whether the FSA continues to exist as a coherent operational entity over the past few months. Coralling the myriad rebel groups into a disciplined force capable of fighting and occupying Isil territory is a heroic ambition, not a plan. And previous efforts to mobilize the rebels against Isil have been utter failures. Last month the Americans abandoned a $500m programme to train and turn 5,400 rebel fighters into a disciplined force to fight Isil. They succeeded in training just 60 fighters. And there have been incidents of American-trained fighters giving some of their US-provided equipment to the Nusra Front, an affiliate of Al Qaeda.

Why has it proven so hard to co-opt rebel forces in the fight against Isil? Because most of the various rebel groups are fighting a war against Assad, not against Isil.  Syria’s civil war is gruesome and complex, but it is fundamentally a Civil War between Assad’s forces and a variety of opponents of Assad’s regime. It would be a mistake for Britain to base a case for military action against Isil on the hope that thousands of disparate rebel forces can be persuaded to change their enemy – especially when the evidence so far is that they won’t.

This is a plan for military action that, at present, looks highly unlikely to succeed.  But what of the plan for peace? David Cameron today argued for the separation of the immediate task at hand - to strike against Isil in Syria – from the longer-term ambition of achieving a settlement in Syria and removing Assad.  But for Isil to be beaten, the two cannot be separated. Because it is only by making progress in developing a credible and internationally-backed plan for a post-Assad Syria that we will persuade Syrian Sunnis that fighting Isil will not end up helping Assad win the Civil War.  If we want not only to rely on rebel Sunnis to provide ground troops against Isil, but also provide stable governance in Isil-occupied areas when the bombing stops, progress on a settlement to Syria’s Civil War is more not less urgent.  Without it, the reluctance of Syrian Sunnis to think that our fight is their fight will undermine the chances of military efforts to beat Isil and bring basic order to the regions they control. 

This points us towards doubling down on the progress that has already been made in Vienna: working with the USA, France, Syria’s neighbours and the Gulf states, as well as Russia and Iran. We need not just a combined approach to ending the conflict, but the prospect of a post-war Syria that offers a place for those whose cooperation we seek to defeat Isil. No doubt this will strike some as insufficient in the face of the horrors perpetrated by Isil. But I fear that if we want not just to take action against Isil but to defeat them and prevent their return, it offers a better chance of succeeding than David Cameron’s proposal today. 

Stewart Wood is a former Shadow Cabinet minister and adviser to Ed Miliband. He tweets as @StewartWood.