Latest data show slight fall in NEETs

David Kingman looks at the latest data on the number of young people who are Not in Education, Employment or Training in the UK, which suggest some reasons for optimismYoung Man Empty Pockets

The number of young people who are classed as Not in Education, Employment or Training (NEET) in the first quarter of 2015 fell by 45,000 compared to a year earlier, according to the latest data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS). However, large numbers of young people still fall into this category, showing that more work needs to be done to help young people get on in life.

NEETs still almost 1 million strong

Despite this extremely positive reduction in the NEET total, the data also revealed that the number of young people who are classed as NEET is still nearly 1 million (943,000). This number amounts to 13% of all 16–24 year olds in the UK, although the share of young people who are classed as NEET has been on an almost continuous decline from the high point it reached three years ago in 2012, when it was above 16%.

As with all statistics which look at unemployment, the issue of definition is crucial. The total number of young people who are NEET can be divided between those who are unemployed but looking for work (433,000) and the remainder who are “economically inactive” (510,000). The latter category will include young people who are not studying or seeking employment for a wide variety of reasons – for example, they may be caring for disabled relatives or have life-limiting disabilities themselves, or they may have had so little success looking for jobs that they have given up – so the challenge of helping them to access work if they want it is equally complicated.

Interestingly, this latest release from the ONS shows that the number of NEETs who are unemployed has actually dropped by 78,000 compared with the same figure a year ago – more than the total decline in NEETs. However, this figure was partially offset by the fact that the number of economically inactive NEETs actually went up by 33,000 during the course of the year, leaving a net reduction in the total number of NEETs of 45,000.

OECD warns NEETs are “far from the labour market”

The publication of these latest figures coincided with the launch of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development’s (OECD) latest annual Skills Outlook, which highlighted that British NEETs face particular challenges compared to their peers in other developed countries.

In particular, it showed that a far higher proportion of British NEETs have become economically inactive rather than unemployed compared with NEETs in other countries because their skill levels are too low to enable them to compete effectively for jobs. It warned that too many British NEETs are “far from the labour market” because young people who become NEETs in Britain tend to leave school at a younger age than their counterparts in other European countries, which – added to the fact that young people from poor backgrounds do particularly badly in Britain’s education system – means that large numbers of disadvantaged young people find it virtually impossible to get a job once they start trying to support themselves through work.

Of course, even if the problems are relatively simple to diagnose, the solutions would still be extremely difficult to implement in practice. The most important remedy which the OECD argues for is reforms to improve the quality of Britain’s schools, especially how they teach the key skills of numeracy and literacy, but even if this worthy goal can be achieved it will do little to help the young people who are already trapped in unemployment. Tragically, for many members of this generation of NEETs it may already be too late to do a lot to improve their chances in life – although of course every effort should be made to do as much as possible with job training courses and remedial education – but the most important goal that should be aimed for is to ensure future generations don’t suffer the same fate.