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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Why haven't we heard more about the allegations of Tory election fraud?

Police and prosecutors have joined a probe into election fraud allegations that could erase the Tory majority.

The facts

The Conservative Party is facing accusations of breaking election spending rules during its 2015 campaign. Following a Channel 4 investigation, it has admitted to failing to declare more than £38,000 of expenses, money it says was spent on accommodation for Tory activists.

It’s up to the Electoral Commission, which met this week with prosecutors and police forces, to decide whether or not to launch criminal investigations into this spending.

Allegations that the money benefited campaigns in individual seats have put the Tories in hot water – they may have illegally exceeded the constituency-specific spending limit. Making a false spending declaration in an election carries a punishment of up to a year in prison and/or an unlimited fine, and anyone found guilty is also barred from running in a general election or holding any elected office for three years.

But the party claims that, as the money was spent on “BattleBus” activists who were driving around the country, it counts as national spending from HQ, rather than being part of individual candidates’ spending.

The Electoral Commission, Crown Prosecution Service and representatives of 15 police forces met this week to discuss the claims. This has resulted in extra time being allowed (an extension on the 12 months allowed under the Representation of the People Act) for relevant police forces to decide what action to take.

Up to 29 Conservative candidates are thought to have benefitted from “BattleBus” campaigning, many of whom were fighting marginal seats.

As Channel 4’s Michael Crick reported yesterday:

“It will be interesting to see if they actually start naming constituencies where they think offences may have occurred. That would then put elected MPs, Conservative MPs, in the frame.

“And indeed, if they were to look at all the constituencies that we’ve been making allegations about over the last few months, it could actually endanger the government’s majority in the House of Commons.”

The conspiracy claims

So why haven’t we heard about this? It undermines the credibility of the entire Tory general election campaign. The claims could even constitute a scandal that would trigger by-elections across the country and potentially erase the Tory majority. The Tories have a working majority of 18, so if they lost in 18 by-elections (were at least 18 MPs to be found guilty), then they would lose their majority.

Some, particularly online leftwing voices, have accused the media of conspiring not to cover this story. Our rightwing press and the cowardly BBC, they argue, are ignoring a story that could potentially call the Conservative general election victory into question.

Anger about this story being low on the political agenda is understandable. It hasn’t been prominent, considering it could result in prosecutions (indeed, the Devon and Cornwall police force is reportedly already investigating, following its meeting with the Electoral Commission). And if, say, The Sun were a left-leaning paper, it probably would have framed it in a dramatic way that would have grabbed readers’ attention.

But there isn’t a media conspiracy of silence. BBC News has been covering developments since the beginning of the year, including similar claims about 2014 by-elections, and Grant Shapps MP (Conservative chairman during the election) was hauled onto the BBC Daily Politics sofa to respond to the allegations. And the BBC’s Today programme put the allegations to Communities & Local Government Secretary Greg Clark this morning. Channel 4 News has been investigating the story, and breaking developments, from the start. The Mirror has done a big investigation into each of the MPs’ campaigns that have been accused. And all of the main papers have published news reports on the story.

The reason it may seem like silence, or lack of due prominence, is because this is an ongoing investigation. So far there have been no arrests, and the allegations remain just that: allegations. Care is required by media organisations not to falsely accuse anyone of criminal activity. And, pushed by journalists, the Conservatives have given their side of the story, so we’re not going to get a great deal more from them. Now it’s up to police forces to decide to take action.

So far, the only things to report on have been what would and would not count as a breach of electoral law (rather a dry subject), and whether or not the Electoral Commission would achieve an extension on the time allowed by law for investigating (also somewhat technical). And, however dull, these things have been reported. They may not have been shared a huge amount online, or bounced to the top of “most-read” boxes – but this is because readers aren’t usually that interested in the ins and outs of the Representation of the People Act, no matter how much those who want this government toppled wish they were.

Anoosh Chakelian is deputy web editor at the New Statesman.