Friday 2 March 2012

We need real action to tackle youth unemployment

Copied from TOUCHSTONE

The TUC has published ‘Generation Lost‘ (written by Paul Bivand, of Inclusion), a new analysis of young people’s jobs prospects and the action that is needed to improve them, both now and in the future. The report makes worrying reading, highlighting that whatever you make of unpaid work experience there is currently no evidence that it works as a way to improve young people’s chances of moving into paid work, and that the limited nature of the Government’s Youth Contract means that (over the period of its operation) it will only be sufficient to provide support to one in ten young JSA claimants.

But we are not only concerned with the immediate problems facing young people. Considering youth unemployment over recent decades, our analysis demonstrates both that there was a small rise in youth unemployment before the recession and that this increase was worse for young people who were not in education. And it is not just current policy interventions that the pamplet questions: for years politicians have focused their efforts solely upon the population of the claimant unemployed, but with one in five of all young people not in education or employment we believe that this group are arguably more vulnerable than those who are just in reciept of JSA, a concern that often fragmented policy solutions need to take account of.

A long period of unemployment can have scarring affects throughout young people’s careers – a lesson we’ve learnt from previous recessions. But put simply the Government is not currently doing enough to support those young people who leave school, college or university without a job. Prioritising effective support to give young people the best possible chance of successfully applying for an existing vacancy, or to enable them to undertake productive and useful activity until the jobs market recovers, is a priority which (as ACEVO (pdf) recently showed) makes both economic and social sense.

But the Youth Contract is worth 26 per cent less per year than the previous Youth Guarantee (which included the Future Jobs Fund), and is largely based upon interventions for which there is no real evidence of effectivness. In the short term our analysis argues that the programme therefore needs to be reshaped, to focus on the introduction of a Job Guarantee (a subsidised minimum wage job, which provides experience of real paid work and a proper reference), improved apprenticeships and funding for a wider volume of support. And of course a Government boost to aggregate demand (and therefore jobs) would do far more for youth unemployment than any micro measures can ever hope to.

But whatever decisions are taken over the next few years, in the medium term a wider range of problems need to be addressed if youth unemployment is to be properly tackled. These include raising levels of educational participation (despite the improvements of the last decade, learning participation rates among 15- to 24-yearolds in the UK are low by European and developed country standards), paying policy concern to young people in low-paid work as well as those who are unemployed (it transpires that 9 per cent of young people not in education and working part-time are doing so because they can’t find full-time work) and reconfiguring services that aim to support  young people so that as they move between work, unemployment and education they don’t fall between service gaps and encounter counterproductive benefit rules. To deal with these issues, our proposals include:

  • Recognising our poor levels (when compared to our European neighbours) of educational participation among young people and establishing a government goal that by 2020 the UK’s young people should be as well qualified for jobs as those in any developed country.
  • Introducing a new youth credit, which would integrate all financial support available for young people into one payment, building on the strongest elements of both JSA and the educational maintenance allowance (EMA).
  • Developing a new youth employment and skills service that would bring together the job-related support provided through Jobcentre Plus with the careers service for those aged under 25. The role of the new service would not be to get people to take any job at all, but to encourage and support all young people to undertake and progress in either/or both learning and work.
  • Supporting employers to play a more proactive role by structuring employment patterns to enable young people to combine learning and work and so firms can become better at offering opportunities which combine employment with education.

There is no magic bullet to tackling youth unemployment. But a serious attempt needs to rest both on evidence of what works, and on a proper analysis of those young people who are at greatest risk are. We hope this pamphlet provides some ideas as to how this might become a reality.

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