The unemployed, the economically inactive and the NEETs

Figures released today by the ONS show youth unemployment (16-24-year olds) down to 12.2%, still nearly three times the rate for the population generally, but close to the 2001 low of 11.6%. (Youth joblessness reached 22.5% in 2011.)

But in many respects, these figures are of limited use. For example, over a third of those recorded as unemployed are full-time students looking for part-time work  – the 3.8 million 16-24-year olds in the labour market also include 860 000 full-time students doing part-time work.

Figures for youth unemployment should not be confused with the number of NEETs (Those not in  education, employment  or training) however.  According to figures published towards the end of 2017, 790 000 16-24-year olds were recorded as being NEET, 11.1% of the entire age group. 

Yet only 38% of NEETs were unemployed, the remainder being ‘economically inactive’ meaning they were not looking or available for work. (About a third of female NEETs were recorded as having domestic/care responsibilities preventing them looking for work, but the number of men in this category was practically non-existent.)

If totals for the unemployed and economically inactive are combined however, then almost 1 in 4 of those not in full-time education would fall into this category. A more accurate assessment of youth joblessness.




Education without jobs

Today’s  ONS Labour Market Bulletin, provides further  data about the changing  relationship between young people, education and employment.  Even if it’s still much higher than for other age groups, youth unemployment continues to fall.  For July to September 2017, joblessness  for 16 to 24 year olds was 11.9% ( down from  13.1%  a year earlier and close to the lowest ever recorded).  The data also shows that over a third of those classified as unemployed are full-time students looking for part time work.

There’s  been a  42 000  increase in the number of young people dropping out of the labour market in the last 3 months – but the number in  full-time education has increased by another 20 000, a continuation of a long term trend.  Between March to May 1992 and July to September 2017 the proportion of people aged from 16 to 24 who were in full-time education increased substantially from 26.2% to 44.3%. Since 2007, numbers of  18-24 year olds in full-time learning have gone up from 27% to 33%.  Though there has been a 270 000 increase in the size of the total labour force in the last 12 months – employment among 18-24 year olds (including students) has fallen.

An increase in the number of young people in FT education is generally considered to be a good thing, representing an increase in the nation’s stock of ‘human capital’:  but it’s also a reflection of how many traditional employment opportunities  have disappeared and how apprenticeships have not provided a satisfactory alternative.  A more ‘highly qualified’ society doesn’t always lead to a more productive one.

Latest NEET figures published

 The latest figures for NEETs (‘Young people not in education, employment Neetsor training’) are now available.

It’s doubtful they’ll produce any headlines, as like the figures for youth unemployment they show a further (if slight) fall.  11.7% of all 16-24 year olds in England are NEET compared with 12.3% a year previously – this figure is still above the average for OECD.

The figures also show a 2% point rise in the number of 16 year old NEETs –  up to 3.4%   Considering participation in education or training to 18 is now mandatory, this is extremely disappointing and suggests that the curriculum changes at KS4 – a  move towards  more ‘academically rigorous’ learning  are having a negative effect on the ability of more young people to make effective transitions.

Other research by Impetus-PEF has also shown that official figures do not allow for the large number of ‘temporary NEETs’,  young people (1.3 million out of 7 million) who ‘spend up to 6 months out of education, employment or training.

This research also shows that only 1 in 5 of those leaving the NEET category do so for at least a year. This is an example of what sociologists call ‘churning’ – the continued moving in and out of employment,  from one job to another.  Churning is an increasing feature of a labour market that depends on a growing number of temporary and badly bad jobs and it isn’t surprising that it effects young people most.

The NEET problem is also a jobs problem

Recently released figures, show a fall in the proportion  of NEETS, down from 13% to 12.3% of all 16-24 year olds. According to Skills Minister Nick Boles, this ‘demonstrates that our economic plan is working’ –yet there are still 943 000 young people being in this category.  Take a look at the figures in more detail though and a less certain picture emerges. There’s been a slight rise in the number of 16-18 NEETs for example, from 6.8% to 7.1%.  14% of 18 year olds are also now classified as NEET (up from 12.6% a year ago).

The NEET rate is not the same as the unemployment rate. The latter includes students who are also looking for work in this case, currently about 250, 000. Only about half of NEETs are unemployed however –the remainder being ‘economically inactive’, not seeking work or not able to work.  Arguably though, NEET statistics provide a better and more accurate picture of youth joblessness.

It’s difficult to make accurate international comparisons, but the UK is well above OCED averages, if well below the 25% rates of Greece and Spain.  There are more female NEETs but nearly two-thirds of these would not be able to enter employment because of home or family responsibilities. Northern areas have a much higher concentration of NEETS (North East 18.1%, Yorks & Humberside 15.2%) compared with London (10.1%).  

Despite the recent increase noted above, the number of 16 and 17 year old NEETs has declined significantly since the start of the 21st century. This has been the result of increased staying on rates in full-time education, – 87% of 16 and 17 year olds now staying on compared to just over 70% in 2000, the raising of the mandatory participation age to 17 and now to 18 from September 2014, was designed to reinforce this trend. Now figures show that the increase in 16-18 year old NEETS is the result of a rise in NETs (those not in education or training)  which suggest that ‘staying on’ has reached a saturation point.

But 16 to 18 year olds constitute only about 20% of total NEETs, compared with 19-24 year old NEETs. It’s these older NEETs which will be the focus of attention for the new Conservative government.   Adopting a new American style ‘workfare’ approach the Tories will (to quote from the Queen’s Speech)  ‘put in place a new Youth Allowance for 18-21 year olds with stronger work related conditionality from Day 1. After 6 months they will be required to go on an apprenticeship, training or community work placement’. Refusal will lead to withdrawal of benefit.

Yet the NEETs problem represents the sharp end of a wider youth employment problem.  While there’s a notable correlation between low levels of qualifications and becoming NEET and that NEET’s are more likely to have lower levels of basic skills,  at the other end of the spectrum is the increased numbers of youth people who are ‘over skilled’ and ‘underemployed’  in  the work they do –OECD now puts this figure at  I in 8.   

This problem is particularly acute in the UK with up to a third of graduates having to take non-graduate jobs, resulting in the bumping down of those who would generally have done these jobs into lower skilled and lower paid employment.  Because there’s been a more than proportionate increase in the growth of unskilled work, there’s been an even larger increase in the number of people or who are able to do it.  Generally employers will favour those with more qualifications. But, something on which UK skills agencies regularly comment, unless there are proper incentives employers are less likely to want to  employ young people without previous employment experience,  when they can take on adults instead.

Department for Education Statistical Bulletin

Parliamentary Research Briefing

Still nearly 1 million NEETS

While unemployment amongst 16-24 year olds has fallen (down nearly 200 000 compared with a year ago), it still remains much higher than that for the population as a whole. What’s more the figures for the last quarter of 2014 show a small increase.

Latest ONS figures for NEETS (Not in Education, Employment or Training) show a much lower annual decline as well as an increase on the last quarter.  At 963 000, over 13% (almost 1 in 7) of all  16-24 year olds still classified as  NEET, while  over 15% of those 18-24 are in this category.  The discrepancy between the number of NEETs and those ‘unemployed’ is the result of the relatively large number  who are ‘economically inactive’ – over half a million.   Obviously a number of these will have long term illnesses or disabilities, caring or parenting responsibilities and will not be able to work; but many will also have given up looking. The ONS statistics do not include further data on these categories.

However, the figures do show that 60 000 16/17 year olds remain in the NEET category, 4% of this age group and that this has barely changed since the increase in the educational and training participation rate to 17. This may indicate the difficulties in implementing this policy or in cajoling young people into education, if they don’t want to be there.

More young people now working. But in what and for what?

mcdonalds_workers_gi_topThe latest labour market statistics from the Office for National Statistics for May to September   (  show significant falls in unemployment amongst 16-24 years – down to 747 000 (16.6%) from 960 000 (12%)  a year ago and from 853 000 over the last quarter. Amongst  those between 18-24 year who are not in full-time education, which is a more reliable indicator, as the above  figures include full-time students also looking for work, an additional 165 000 have entered employment of some kind.

Though it’s still twice the rate of unemployment as a whole, the dip in youth joblessness is to be welcomed,  yet in the post-crash labour market, the type of employment available is as increasingly significant as the availability of employment in general. Of those 16-24 year olds not in full-time education for example, only around 15% are currently participating in apprenticeships.

As the ONS  data shows, almost all of the increase  in  70 000 overall increase in employment in the last quarter can be explained by the increase in part-time work; while nearly 400 000 of the 1.12 million more jobs between June 13 and June 14 have been self-employed –though this has mostly involved older workers.  In addition  the increase in the total number of jobs has been heavily concentrated in sectors where jobs are low skill and low paid.

Recent evidence from the Institute of Fiscal Studies shows that it is the income of young people between 22-30 that have suffered most since 2008 ( by 13% compared with 6% for those 31-59. The ONS reports that of those young people under 25 who are not in full-time education in work, 19% work in ‘elementary’ occupations and a further 17% in ‘customer service’ occupations and a further 12% in ‘caring and leisure’ –all low paid sectors of the economy. ( According to the TUC, the number of young people trapped in low-paid, low-skill jobs, has increased markedly over the past 20 years. The report blames the huge rise in low-skilled work on the collapse of middle-income jobs, such as administrative and plant and manufacturing jobs in recent decades.

Young women in particular are getting a lower wage return on their qualifications. Despite being better qualified than young men (, just one in a hundred young women worked in skilled trades in 2011, compared to one in five young men. And four times more young women (21 per cent) worked in personal service occupations like hairdressing, leisure and the travel industry in 2011 than young men (5 per cent). More than one in five women earning less than £7.44 per hour were educated to degree level (

Traditionally , at least for many people, employment used to lead to income progression after a training period has been completed. Significantly, the  IFS data shows that the income the under 30s is not rising in the way that it has traditionally done so –reflecting the increased number of young people in ‘dead end’ jobs where there are few prospects of progression or promotion.

Increasing spending on better education and training, is important but in itself is not enough to change this.  The UK is already well on the way to becoming a ‘graduate economy’ but almost half of those leaving university do not go into graduate jobs, while the slow growth in apprenticeships  is largely because most employers don’t  really need them. Improvements to young people’s employment opportunities will only really take place through radical changes to the economy and to the way the labour market works.



Back to school for some of the NEETS: but for what sort of learning?

070228_bored_students_02New Government figures ( show the number of 16-18 year old NEETS at the lowest level for 20 years with a drop of a fifth over the last year. 81% of the age group were in education or work based training at the end of 2013 (70% in full-time school or college). The reduction in NEETS coincides with the raising of the ‘participation rate’ rather than reflecting an increase in the number working –ONS  statistics for Feb to April 2014 showed only 85 000 of the quarter of a million 16 and 17 year olds who have left full-time education have found work. Apprenticeship participation also continues to be very low,– figures (  showing only 71 000 starts by those under 19 and less than 6% of 16-18 year olds in ‘work-based’ learning. In fact , even before the raising of the participation age, as the Wolf Report recognised, most 16-17 year olds are as likely to have been ‘pushed’ back into full-time education because of lack of alternatives, rather than ‘pulled’ back by the prospect of increased opportunities for social mobility.

With increases in staying-on, there will continue to be debate about the nature of the 16-18 ‘sixth form’ curriculum with Labour being the strongest advocate of a new vocational/technical pathway (A Tech-Bacc) for the 50% of young people who don’t go to university. Yet it’s extremely unlikely that following a vocational course will increase the chances of employability. Few employers are familiar with vocational qualifications, those who may be, are still likely to favour candidates with A-levels –while those young people who can, continue to enrol for academic courses. Many of the ‘middle’ or ‘technician level’ jobs which these qualifications (and apprenticeships for that matter) are said to lead to, are now disappearing –or are being done by ‘overqualified’ graduates, while according to surveys, most employers report that they are generally happy with the skills of school and college leavers and that the majority are ‘ready for work’ ( The problem is that so few seek to recruit them!

Following Wolf’s advice that they provide low labour market returns, Michel Gove has pruned the number  of vocational qualifications that are available, demanded more ‘rigorous’ content and that they take on some of the characteristics of academic learning.  Here, he is at odds with Lord Baker who continues to open more University Technical Colleges (UTCs) providing vocational specialisation at 14 (

But if ‘vocational pathways’ do not provide opportunities this does not mean we should see the current academic qualifications as the way forward. In an increasingly uncertain world, all 16-18 year olds need a good general education that includes academic, vocational, practical and community based learning; but which also uses e-learning to the full and develops research skills.