A tiny fall in the number of young people not in education, employment or training (Neets) has failed to impress union leaders despite leaving Skills Minister Matthew Hancock “heartened”.

Labour Force Survey research shows the proportion of England’s 16 to 24-year-olds who were Neet between April and June was down on the same period last year by 51,000 (0.8 percentage points) to 935,000 (15.5 per cent).

The fall, described by the Department for Education itself as insignificant, was welcomed by Mr Hancock.

“I am heartened to see the fall in the number of young people not in work, training or education,” he said.

“We are heading in the right direction, but one young person out of work, education or training, is one too many.

“That is why we are continuing to work hard to give young people the skills, confidence and experience demanded by employers and universities.

“Only then can we say we have done everything we can to ensure young people reach their potential and help us compete in the global race.”

However, unions were critical.

Dave Prentis, general secretary of Unison, said: “The slow rate of progress in getting our young people into work, education or training shames this government. Every statistic represents a young person who is being given no hope for the future.

“The number of youngsters leaving school, colleges and universities will swell the ranks of Neets adding to the need for more help and support.

“Instead, our young people are being let down by government cuts to careers services, high youth unemployment and the rocketing cost of continuing education.”

Len McCluskey, Unite general secretary, also hit out, pointing to the UK’s total 16 to 24 Neets figure — according to the Office for National Statistics — of 1.09 million, which can be split into the unemployed or economically inactive.

Essentially, unemployed Neets are looking for a job and for April to June, there were 586,000 of them in the UK aged 16 to 24, up 6,000 on the previous quarter, but down 58,000 on the same period last year.

Neets who are not looking for work are economically inactive and for April to June there were 507,000 of these in the UK aged 16 to 24, down 7,000 on the previous quarter and down 46,000 on the same period last year.

“There can be no cause for celebration with more than one million young people not in education, employment or training,” said Mr McCluskey.

“These figures tell a million stories of untapped potential and dashed hopes thanks to a government that has made it harder and harder for our young people to make a start in life.”

He added: “Scrapping educational maintenance allowance, hiking up tuition fees, axing youth services and cutting housing benefit for young people deepens their marginalisation. This is not the way to build a healthy society.”

A government spokesperson said: “Some employer surveys suggest young people lack the experience and skills required to be successful in the workplace.

“That is why the government is continuing its reforms to ensure every young person is prepared for the world of work, enabling them to prosper and compete in the global race.

“This includes raising the participation age from this September.”

They pointed to further government action to cut the number of 16 to 24 Neets in England, including the introduction of traineeships and, “spending £7.4bn in 2013 to 14 to fund an education and training place for every 16 or 17-year-old who wants one and £4.1bn on adult learning and skills in the same time period”.

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