Youth joblessness

The UK labour market remains tight, with government now concerned about the shortage of workers pushing up inflation.  Though ONS monthly figures show a marginal increase in the unemployment rate for October to December 2022 by 0.1 percentage points on the quarter, to 3.7%, the ‘economic inactivity’ rate (those not in, but not actively looking for work, and who government is trying to encourage to do so) decreased by 0.3 percentage points on the quarter, to 21.4%.  Yet this month’s figures still show that many young people who have left full-time learning, remain outside of the labour market.

In the past, faced with difficult labour market conditions, prolonged stays in education have meant youth unemployment has been much lower than it could be.  This month’s figures show a fall in the number of 16–24-year-olds in full-time education – down by over 100,000 over the year.  But fewer students, has not meant more young people in work. Instead, over the last year, joblessness amongst 16–24-year-olds ‘not in full-time education’ has remained at 10% of the cohort. (Around a third of full-time students have some kind of employment – maybe more if those working for ‘cash in hand’ are included – and 10% of students are recorded as looking for work. But employment statistics for full-time students should be kept separate from those not studying.)

There continues to be significant increases in those no longer in education, classed as economically inactive. Up from 17.2 % to 18.2% over the year. Though this figure is well short of what it was in the period following the financial crash, when youth unemployment alone peaked at 22.5%, it is the highest for well over a year.  In particular, the figures show that of the 200,000 16–17-year-olds not in full-time education, only about a third are considered to be ‘employed’ and 55% estimated to be economically inactive, a disturbingly high figure, considering that everybody up to 18 should legally remain in education or training (!) 

While the high rates of economic inactivity generally have been linked to older workers leaving the labour force, the large number of economically inactive 16–24-year-olds outside of full-time education, could reflect at variety of factors. Some Tory MPs will point to a collapse of the ‘work ethic’ amongst young people – but it may mean more young people are turning their backs on conventional employment and ‘getting by’ through other means. On the other hand, it could simply reflect more graduates taking time out before they try and enter the labour market.   

But it also coincides with increases 17 to 19 years with mental health problems, which NHS figures show, rose from 1 in 10 (10.1%) in 2017 to 1 in 6 (17.7%) at the height of the pandemic. 2020. Rates were stable between 2020 and 2021, but then increased to 1 in 4 (25.7%) in 2022. Finally, while it’s difficult to obtain accurate data, the current economic climate is likely to have increased numbers of young people with caring responsibilities.

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