‘Neet’ is not the most pleasant adjective with which to describe a young person – then again it’s hardly the most pleasant of states to be in, as increasing numbers are finding: 979,000 16 to 24-year-olds were Neet between April and June this year, according to official figures from the Department for Education. That means almost a million young people without work or any recognised constructive use of their time. It’s the highest figure for the second quarter since comparable data was first published in 2006, and up from 16.3% last year.
That’s not a stat that the Government will be pleased to hear right now, given the pressure it’s already under to address the issue of the nation’s disenfranchised youth. It gets worse too: 19.1% of 19 to 24-year-olds are Neet. This at a time when a record 220,000 are expected to fail to get UK university places. Meanwhile figures from the Office for National Statistics last week showed that youth unemployment in the UK had also risen, from 20% to 20.2% in the quarter to June. It seems that trying to discern a viable path for youngsters these days would need to be a full-time job itself.
It’s not all disastrous. The proportion of young people in England aged 16 to 18 who are considered Neet has continued its fall, thanks to Government efforts to encourage young people to stay in education or apprenticeships. It will have supported 250,000 more adult apprenticeship places than under Labour's plans and has launched a Work Programme offering personalised support and training to help unemployed young people. And the Government says it’s working on a strategy for over-16 involvement in education too.
Yet this is a serious business, and can have a grave effect on young people’s sense of self-worth, not to mention their perception of their place in society. And it’s not all for their benefit. The wider economy needs young people with marketable employment skills, otherwise they won’t have the fresh blood that’s necessary to give the economy its much-needed kick-start.
Having scrapped Labour’s guarantee of apprenticeship places for young people who want them, as well as the Education Maintenance Allowance, the PM will have a hard job on his hands sorting this out.