Labour’s early efforts to tackle youth unemployment are encouraging

The new government's first steps on tackling youth unemployment point to a new era for supported services

The new government's first steps on tackling youth unemployment point to a new era for supported services

11 Jul 2024, 17:00

In May, the Office of National Statistics released its latest NEET figures. They showed that numbers of young people not in education, employment or training (NEET) had reached their highest levels in nearly a decade at 900,000. Alarmingly, this is not a new issue or challenge.

Youth unemployment is complex. In 2011 we saw the highest NEET levels on record. Then one million young people were NEET, nearly one in five of them at that time. In the 13 years since, the world has changed dramatically. The impacts of austerity, Brexit, COVID, the global and national economic and political challenges all still being felt.

In our Youth Voice Census, young people have told us these last seven years how their confidence in their future and themselves is falling. And barriers to employment are becoming ever more complex, and particularly for those with protected characteristics or additional needs.

Employers in turn tell us about their economic concerns, and that when they hire they see a huge skills gap in the workforce. Hybrid working affects their ability to offer the critical experiences young people need to develop their knowledge, behaviours and skills.

We have seen a plethora of government interventions, but little innovation. There have been cuts to youth services and Connexions, ESF programmes closed to make way for Shared Prosperity Funding, and Education Business Partnerships closed to make way for LEPs and now LSIPs. Devolution is playing a greater role and changes to education pathways, apprenticeships and welfare appear never-ending. And I could go on!

Against this backdrop, it is easy to see the scale of the challenge and why any government would find the the road ahead a challenging one to start down. But the payoff is worth it.

According to research from Youth Futures Foundation, bringing the level of NEET down to match some of the lower levels seen across Europe would boost our economy by £38 billion.

Combining careers advice and personalised support makes a real difference

And the payoff is not just financial: there is a scarring impact for young people who spend time NEET in terms of their health and economic futures, as well as for our communities.

This week, the new secretary of state for work and pensions, Liz Kendall has begun to set out her plans to help people back (and young people in) to work. The challenge of economic inactivity and unemployment is a pressing one for her department.

Labour had already committed to a Young Person’s Guarantee: a commitment that young people aged 18 to 21 would receive support to access a training or apprenticeship opportunity. This is something the Youth Employment Group had called for, so it is welcome.

Kendall has also now confirmed a commitment to bringing the National Careers Service and Jobcentre Plus together. This will mean that at a local level, unemployed people will get careers support as well as the work coach support they need to connect with local opportunities.

This is a very positive move from Labour. We know through the Youth Voice Census that still too many young people have not had the careers support they need to make that confident transition into employment. Access to in-person, tailored guidance is really important to them, and when good careers advice and personalised support come together, it makes a real difference.

There is still much more to do, and this move from Labour is just one of many we will need to see if they are to turn the tide on youth employment. But it certainly points to a new era for supported services, and we look forward to working with the government as they take their next steps on this challenging road.

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