The latest national unemployment figures that were recently released by the Office for National Statistics contained plenty of Christmas cheer. In the third quarter (between August and October), total unemployment fell by 63,000 to 1.96 million, leaving unemployment at just 6%, which is the lowest level recorded in 6 years.
Over 30 million people are now in work, an increase of 115,000 on the previous quarter, driven largely by growth in full-time jobs. And wages were up as well, with average pay (including bonuses) being 1.6% higher than a year earlier, beating inflation which ran at 1.3%.
So it’s all good new, then? Perhaps not if you’re a young person, for whom the stats are rather less encouraging.
Young people falling behind
Just looking at the headline figures, youth unemployment in Britain also seems to be on the mend. An official parliamentary briefing, prepared by the House of Commons Library alongside these new figures, emphasised that the number of unemployed 16–24 year olds had fallen by 208,000 over the previous year, down to 754,000. The unemployment rate among this age group had also fallen by 4.1%, down to 16.6%.
However, if you dig a little deeper the picture becomes less encouraging. The ONS provides a detailed breakdown of its unemployment statistics by age group which shows that young people are still at a significant disadvantage in the labour market.
The unemployment rate among 16–17 year olds was 32.5% during the third quarter, and while it is falling this is still roughly 5% higher than it was at the beginning of the recession in 2007. For those aged 18–24 it is officially 14.7%, which again is much higher than it was before the recession. For both, it is far above the overall unemployment rate of 6.1%, and greater than among older age groups.
This is to say nothing of what type of work those who don’t appear in the unemployment statistics are actually doing. The Great Recession has witnessed the rise not just of NEETs – young people who are Not in Employment, Education or Training – but also the exotically-named “GrINGOs” (Graduates In Non-Graduate Occupations) and the growing use of part-time and zero-hours contracts. Overall, even though the headline indicators are improving, there remains an entrenched problem with youth unemployment in Britain which need further action to rectify.
Help for the over-50s
The government’s latest action to address unemployment is aimed at an entirely different section of the labour market: the over-50s. Under recently-announced plans, unemployed members of the over-50s will be given targeted support to try to get them back into work, including providing dedicated careers advisors for them in job centres and additional training for things like computer skills.
A group of seven “older worker champions” will be provided through job centres (at a cost of £250,000) to go around meeting small and medium-sized employers to encourage them to take on older staff. This project is a pilot which is attempting to test whether such measures can have a big impact on the estimated 1.2 million over-50s who are unemployed and “willing to work”, who it is estimated could “add £50 billion to the economy” if they able to put their talents to better use.
Helping the over-50s looks like a timely and extremely sensible policy for which the government deserves to be applauded. Yet it is a shame that something similar isn’t being done to try and get more young people working at the same time, given that unemployment among people aged 50–64 is only 3.8%, far lower than the levels suffered by the younger age cohorts shown above.
Young people need champions too. A useful start would involve getting more unemployed young people to take apprenticeships, a field where Britain lags far behind the good example set by other developed economies such as Germany and Australia. In general, the whole issue of the school-to-work transition is an area where many young people need much help than is currently available, especially for the 50% who don’t go on to higher education.
This is something the politicians ought to consider introducing alongside targeted support for older workers. After all, as Employment Minister Esther McVey said at the unveiling of this new policy, “more jobs are being created in the UK than anywhere else in Europe… We’ve just got to make sure that everybody is a part of that growth.”