Levels of youth unemployment in Britain are still far too high, according to a recent warning from the House of Lords. Members of the House of Lords EU Committee have recently argued that “exceptionally high” numbers of young people are still out of work, despite the economic recovery which is currently gathering pace, as they called for new action to address the problem.
EU Youth Guarantee
Although Britain’s economy is now growing again after a prolonged downturn, and overall unemployment is beginning to recover, levels of youth unemployment have remained stubbornly high for a number of years. Almost a quarter of all British residents aged 16 to 24 are currently classed as unemployed – meaning they are looking for work without being able to find any – which is much higher than the level of general unemployment across the economy as a whole.
According to Baroness O’Cathain, the committee’s chairperson, “…a generation of young people across Europe has been left scarred by joblessness…the youth unemployment rate in the EU is more than double the general unemployment rate, and in the UK in the last few years we have seen the worst ever levels of youth unemployment. Although the picture is starting to improve, the damage has been done.”
Strikingly, the committee pointed out that five UK regions are now classed as having such high levels of youth unemployment that they qualify for targeted EU funding to address the issue: Tees Valley & Durham, West Midlands, South Western Scotland, Inner London and Merseyside.
The committee recommended that the government should use this funding to adopt the “Youth Guarantee” scheme which is currently being promoted by the European Commission. This is designed to ensure that all young people under the age of 25 are offered either a job, apprenticeship, traineeship or further education within four months of them leaving school or becoming unemployed. The EU provides additional funding to assist member states with implementing the Youth Guarantee scheme through the European Social Fund and the €6bn Youth Employment Initiative.
However, so far the UK government has chosen not to implement the Youth Guarantee. Instead, it has directed its efforts to combat youth unemployment through the “Youth Contract”. This scheme appears to be somewhat less ambitious than the Youth Guarantee, as it only provides assistance to 16 to 24 year-olds who’ve been out of work for more than six months by helping them to get work experience or training and interviews, plus providing wage incentives to employers which are worth up to £2,275 per person when they hire unemployed young people.
The geography of UK youth unemployment
The warning from the House of Lords committee was rapidly followed up by the launch of a new report from the Work Foundation which provides a geographical analysis of UK youth unemployment.
The report – entitled The geography of youth unemployment: a route map for change – draws particular attention to how much difference where you lives makes to your chances of being able to access employment opportunities as a young person. Significantly, they argue that the causes of Britain’s youth unemployment problem can largely be explained by the results of long-term economic trends rather than relatively short-term events such as the economic downturn.
According to the authors:
“…Rates of youth unemployment are very high in towns and cities which previously relied on traditional industries for jobs and growth, many of which have seen large reductions in employment. Many of these towns and cities saw little growth during the good times and have been hit hard by the recession. These include coal-mining towns such as Barnsley and Mansfield, the seaside towns of Blackpool and Hastings, former textile manufactures such as Bolton, Blackburn and Huddersfield, and the coastal industrial towns of Middlesbrough, Hull, and Grimsby.”
However, they also emphasise that youth unemployment is a problem that affects seemingly far more prosperous towns and cities as well; even in ones with the lowest youth unemployment rates such as Cambridge, Bournemouth and Reading, over 10% of young people are looking for work.
The best-performing cities in the UK still have an average of around 13% youth unemployment, which compares unfavourably with the national average in Germany (8.5%). Some of Germany’s best-performing cities – such as Hamburg – have rates which are as low as 5%.
The Work Foundation proposes that the government should try to combat youth unemployment by establishing “Youth Transition Partnerships”: joined-up combinations of different services working in tandem to try and make sure all young people enjoy the smoothest possible transition between school and the world of work.
Youth Guarantees, Youth Contracts, Youth Transition Partnerships…clearly, there is no shortage of ideas for how Britain can try to solve its youth unemployment problem. The important question is whether any of them can overcome the entrenched youth joblessness which the Work Foundation’s analysis shows is a blight on many parts of the country that have suffered urban decay. Time is running out to try and make sure we don’t create another “lost generation” of young people whose lives are forever blighted because they can’t find work even though they’d like to.