Labour's lost generation: one in six young people do nothing

Record numbers of under-24s join the Neets' - not in education, employment or training
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The Independent Online

Record Numbers of 18 to 24-year-olds are not in school, college or work – and the figure is set to rise again over the next three months.

The number of so-called “Neets” (not in education, employment or training) has risen by more than 100,000 in comparison with the same time last year, to 835,000. The number of 16 to 18-year-olds in the same boat has also risen, by 24,000 to 233,000, to nearly 12 per cent of the age group as a whole.

Overall, one in six 16 to 24-year-olds (959,000) are now officially described as Neets, with the figure set to top the million mark in three months’ time as school leavers fail to gain university places. A record 60,000 are expected to be disappointed this year.

Opposition MPs immediately launched an attack on the Government’s record with David Laws, the Liberal Democrats’ schools spokesman, saying ministers had “failed spectacularly” to cut the number of unemployed youngsters and warning it “risks creating a lost generation”.

“This surge in the number of young people not in education, work or training clearly shows they are bearing the brunt of the recession,” he added.

A regional breakdown of the figures showed the problem was worst in the North East, with 9.8 per cent of 16 to 18-year-olds at risk of being on the streets.

David Willetts, the Conservative shadow universities secretary, described the trend as “deeply worrying”.

“Ministers have comprehensively failed to get a grip on this crisis,” he added. “Young people don’t need more empty promises or celebrity gimmicks. They need more apprenticeship opportunities, more postgraduate places and better careers advice.”

Iain Wright, the schools minister, said: “We recognise the economic downturn is having a significant impact on young people and we are determined to ensure that as many as possible stay in education, employment and training.” However, he added it had been “challenging” to reduce the Neets figures for 18-year-olds.

Both he and the Chancellor, Alistair Darling, who is in charge of the country this week, emphasised the Government’s “September guarantee”, which ensures a place in education or training for every 16 and 17-year-old who wants to stay on at school or college.

Ministers are also introducing a second pledge in the New Year that anyone out of work for more than a year will be offered either a job, training or further education.

Mr Darling, who was visiting a job centre in Marylebone, central London, added: “It is important that we do everything we can, which is why we are spending over £5bn to get people back into work as quickly as possible.” He said it was important that “we don’t repeat the mistakes that were made 20 years ago when a whole generation was lost”.

TUC general secretary Brendan Barber added: “We cannot afford to lose another generation of young people to unemployment and underachievement.

“Tackling this crisis won’t come cheap. We need more employers to take on apprentices and the Government must ensure its guarantee ... continues to be well funded, as demand will be high.

“Neets are likely to have low skills and poor experience so the training and work on offer must be meaningful. Otherwise it will just be a stop-gap before further unemployment.”

Susan Anderson, the CBI’s director of education and skills policy, said: “The number of 18 to 24-year-olds not in employment, education or training will continue to rise. We know from the 1980s’ recession that unemployment scars the lives of young people – so they need our support. This can include apprenticeships, internships or volunteering opportunities.”