A plan to end NEETs through reform, not cuts

We should shift spending over time from paying benefits to young people because they haven’t got skills and work - and instead investing in them so they do.

IPPR is not proposing to 'scrap benefits for under 25s', as claimed in the headline on the front page of the Daily Telegraph this morning. Our new report out today sets out a plan for radically reducing the number of young people who are NEET (not in education, employment or training). Losing touch from either learning or earning is deeply damaging for young people’s own prospects – and often hugely costly for society. Our ideas draw on lessons from countries like the Netherlands and Denmark, where they have a distinct work, training and benefits track for young people – separate from the adult welfare system – and very low levels of NEETs. The plan is built around three core reforms:

First, replacing existing out-of-work benefits for young people with a youth allowance which provides financial support for those who need it, conditional on participation in further and vocational education or intensive job search. This would overcome the structural flaw in JSA for young people, which is that it prevents them from training and treats them like adult jobseekers even if they haven’t yet completed their initial education. And it would prevent young people drifting away from learning or earning altogether, by closing off access to inactive benefits, except for those with serious disabilities and very young children.

To pay for this extension of eligibility to financial support to the 440,000 young NEETs who currently receive no benefit (or incentive to engage in learning or work) and the 260,000 who are in (non-HE) study but not in work or already claiming a benefit, access to the youth allowance should be means tested on the basis of parental income until young people are over 21, mirroring the rules governing the university maintenance grant. In other words, a redistribution towards young people in low income families to help prepare them for work – drawing on the evidence from the Educational Maintenance Allowance, which boosted educational participation among disadvantaged teenagers.

The second plank of the reform is to establish a youth guarantee that offers young people access to further education or vocational training plus intensive support to find work or an apprenticeship. For those not learning or earning after six months, paid work experience or a paid traineeships should be provided, to place an upper limit on the period young people can be inactive or unemployed. Unlike the current system of benefits and support, a youth guarantee of this kind would be directed towards the two things that really make a difference to young people’s chances of building a career: completing their initial education and gaining practical employment experience.

To pay for this substantial expansion of provision for young people, expenditure on 18–24-year-olds in the Work Programme should be re-directed, along with adult skills and apprenticeship funding for over-24s. When public spending is tight, the priority for the state should be to focus resources on giving young people the best possible chance of improving their skills and getting a job. Consistent with a 'social investment' strategy, the political goal should be to shift spending over time from paying benefits to young people because they haven’t got skills and work – and instead investing in them so they do.

Third, and finally, these structural shifts should be combined with a major act of institutional reform. The government should set national objectives and priorities for the youth guarantee, but local areas should organise and deliver it. Decentralisation should start with London and the eight 'core cities' in England taking on resources and responsibility for their young people. These cities should establish governance arrangements, including a key role for employers, plus plans for commissioning a diverse network of local providers. Finally, to increase opportunity for young people and drive employer engagement in this new system, large firms should be offered the choice of offering youth apprenticeships themselves, or paying a dedicated 'youth levy' to train and prepare the future workforce, with resources controlled by employers via the Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs).

Youth unemployment is probably the most visible and damaging consequence of recession – and politicians of all parties will seek to demonstrate they have an answer. Too often in the past, this area has been bedevilled by initiatives that fail to get to the root of the problem. As the next election approaches, we need a plan for substantial reform that would mean all young people are learning or earning.

Unemployed brothers Andrew and Jonathan Courtman in Corby Town Centre on April 24, 2013. Photograph: Getty Images.

Graeme Cooke is Associate Director at IPPR

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The dog at the end of the lead may be small, but in fact what I’m walking is a hound of love

There is a new, hairy face in the Hovel.

There is a new, hairy face in the Hovel. I seem to have become a temporary co-owner of an enthusiastic Chorkie. A Chorkie, in case you’re not quite up to speed with your canine crossbreeds, is a mixture of a chihuahua and a Yorkshire Terrier, and while my friend K— busies herself elsewhere I am looking after this hound.

This falls squarely into the category of Things I Never Thought I’d Do. I’m a cat person, taking my cue from their idleness, cruelty and beauty. Dogs, with their loyalty, their enthusiasm and their barking, are all a little too much for me, even after the first drink of the day. But the dog is here, and I am in loco parentis, and it is up to me to make sure that she is looked after and entertained, and that there is no repetition of the unfortunate accident that occurred outside my housemate’s room, and which needed several tissues and a little poo baggie to make good.

As it is, the dog thinks I am the bee’s knees. To give you an idea of how beeskneesian it finds me, it is licking my feet as I write. “All right,” I feel like saying to her, “you don’t have to go that far.”

But it’s quite nice to be worshipped like this, I have decided. She has also fallen in love with the Hovel, and literally writhes with delight at the stinky cushions on the sofa. Named after Trude Fleischmann, the lesbian erotic photographer of the Twenties, Thirties and Forties, she has decided, with admirable open-mindedness, that I am the Leader of the Pack. When I take the lead, K— gets a little vexed.

“She’s walking on a loose lead, with you,” K— says. “She never does that when I’m walking her.” I don’t even know what that means, until I have a think and work it out.

“She’s also walking to heel with you,” K— adds, and once again I have to join a couple of mental dots before the mists part. It would appear that when it comes to dogs, I have a natural competence and authority, qualities I had never, not even in my most deranged flights of self-love, considered myself to possess in any measurable quantity at all.

And golly, does having a dog change the relationship the British urban flâneur has with the rest of society. The British, especially those living south of Watford, and above all those in London, do not recognise other people’s existence unless they want to buy something off them or stop them standing on the left of the sodding escalator, you idiot. This all changes when you have a dog with you. You are now fair game for any dog-fancier to come up to you and ask the most personal questions about the dog’s history and genealogy. They don’t even have to have a dog of their own; but if you do, you are obliged by law to stop and exchange dog facts.

My knowledge of dog facts is scant, extending not much further beyond them having a leg at each corner and chasing squirrels, so I leave the talking to K—, who, being a friendly sort who could probably talk dog all day long if pressed, is quite happy to do that. I look meanwhile in a kind of blank wonder at whichever brand of dog we’ve just encountered, and marvel not only at the incredible diversity of dog that abounds in the world, but at a realisation that had hitherto escaped me: almost half of London seems to have one.

And here’s the really interesting thing. When I have the leash, the city looks at me another way. And, specifically, the young women of the city. Having reached the age when one ceases to be visible to any member of the opposite sex under 30, I find, all of a sudden, that I exist again. Women of improbable beauty look at Trude, who looks far more Yorkie than chihuahua, apart from when she does that thing with the ears, and then look at me, and smile unguardedly and unironically, signalling to me that they have decided I am a Good Thing and would, were their schedules not preventing them, like to chat and get to know me and the dog a bit better.

I wonder at first if I am imagining this. I mention it to K—.

“Oh yes,” she says, “it’s a thing. My friend P-J regularly borrows her when he wants to get laid. He reckons he’s had about 12 shags thanks to her in the last six months. The problems only arise when they come back again and notice the dog isn’t there.”

I do the maths. Twelve in six months! That’s one a fortnight. An idea begins to form in my mind. I suppose you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to work out what it is. But no. I couldn’t. Could I?

Nicholas Lezard is a literary critic for the Guardian and also writes for the Independent. He writes the Down and Out in London column for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 28 April 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The new fascism