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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How tribunal fees silenced low-paid workers: “it was more than I earned in a month”

The government was forced to scrap them after losing a Supreme Court case.

How much of a barrier were employment tribunal fees to low-paid workers? Ask Elaine Janes. “Bringing up six children, I didn’t have £20 spare. Every penny was spent on my children – £250 to me would have been a lot of money. My priorities would have been keeping a roof over my head.”

That fee – £250 – is what the government has been charging a woman who wants to challenge their employer, as Janes did, to pay them the same as men of a similar skills category. As for the £950 to pay for the actual hearing? “That’s probably more than I earned a month.”

Janes did go to a tribunal, but only because she was supported by Unison, her trade union. She has won her claim, although the final compensation is still being worked out. But it’s not just about the money. “It’s about justice, really,” she says. “I think everybody should be paid equally. I don’t see why a man who is doing the equivalent job to what I was doing should earn two to three times more than I was.” She believes that by setting a fee of £950, the government “wouldn’t have even begun to understand” how much it disempowered low-paid workers.

She has a point. The Taylor Review on working practices noted the sharp decline in tribunal cases after fees were introduced in 2013, and that the claimant could pay £1,200 upfront in fees, only to have their case dismissed on a technical point of their employment status. “We believe that this is unfair,” the report said. It added: "There can be no doubt that the introduction of fees has resulted in a significant reduction in the number of cases brought."

Now, the government has been forced to concede. On Wednesday, the Supreme Court ruled in favour of Unison’s argument that the government acted unlawfully in introducing the fees. The judges said fees were set so high, they had “a deterrent effect upon discrimination claims” and put off more genuine cases than the flimsy claims the government was trying to deter.

Shortly after the judgement, the Ministry of Justice said it would stop charging employment tribunal fees immediately and refund those who had paid. This bill could amount to £27m, according to Unison estimates. 

As for Janes, she hopes low-paid workers will feel more confident to challenge unfair work practices. “For people in the future it is good news,” she says. “It gives everybody the chance to make that claim.” 

Julia Rampen is the digital news editor of the New Statesman (previously editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog). She has also been deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines.