No neat solutions to the youth ‘neet’ trap

There are now nearly one million 16 – 24 year olds Not in Education, Employment or Training (NEET) and the number is rising. Does anyone have an answer?

When someone told Elaine she was a 'neet', she asked if it was the same as being a 'chav'. But it isn't – it's much more serious than that.

As an unemployed 18 year old, Elaine has joined 938,000 other 'neets' - 16 – 24 year olds in England who are not in education, employment or training and the numbers are rising.

This figure is a 43,000 increase on last year's October – December quarter and a year-on-year high since records began in 2005. It now means that 15.6% of all 16 to 24 year-olds in England are neets.

The Department for Education, who released these figures, is quick to defend its work. A spokesman said that young people will always 'bear the brunt in any recession or downturn. That is why we are focused on tackling the deficit and promoting growth.'

He added that the government is funding 75,000 more apprenticeships than the previous government and was committed to encouraging all 16 and 17 year olds into education or training.

Others, however, are unimpressed. Dave Prentis, speaking for the union Unison, said the Government is 'gambling with the future generation', especially by scrapping the education maintenance allowance which could force many to quit college.

He added: 'This will result in thousands more vulnerable young people at risk of falling into the Neet trap.'

Likewise, a spokesman for the Prince's Trust charity who believes this to be a 'huge waste of talent and potential at a time when Britain needs both.
And he paints a bleak picture of the long-term consequences.

'All too often,' he says, 'unemployed young people face a downward spiral towards a loss of self-confidence, or even crime, homelessness and drug-use. If we fail to help them into work, all of us will feel the impact.'

Statistics bear out his fears. Neets are 20 times more likely to commit a crime and 22 times more likely to be a teenage mum.

Pessimism vs. optimism
'There is no sadder sight than a young pessimist,' said Mark Twain, but the present economic climate could well be creating them.

Sally Hunt from the University and College Union, is clear about the answer. 'Instead of erecting barriers to study,' she says, 'such as tripling the cost of tuition fees, the government should be following the example of other countries and be investing in education.'

The government, however, wants to start with the economy. If it improves fast enough, then for England's neets perhaps optimism will replace pessimism.

You Decide

  1. 'Young people in the UK should take to the streets like in North Africa'. Do you agree?
  2. 'The country's economics are more important than the young'. Discuss.

Activities

  1. Someone said: 'We must not view young people as empty bottles to be filled but as candles to be lit.' On your own or in a group, create a Young Person's charter to present to the government – one that lights young candles…
  2. Write a short story about a neet. How do they respond their situation? Is it triumph or tragedy? Funny, sad or both? And how do friends and family react?

Some People Say...

“Old people should be forced to retire at 55 and make way for the young.”

What do you think?

Q & A

Can young people do nothing about their situation?
It depends on which country you're in. In Tunisia and Egypt, it's the youth who have led the way in overthrowing the old.
So why doesn't the same happen here?
In Egypt, half the population is under 25, and only 15% over 50. Whereas in the UK, only 31% are under 25 and 35% are over 50. So power is with the middle-aged and elderly: 'the future's grey'.
How does that work out in practice?
Well, housing and education policies are weighted against the young in the UK. In Egypt, the young could simply outvote the others, but that isn't so here.
So what will happen?
Older people will have to work longer than expected to protect their pensions, but without denying hope to young people who want their jobs. It's a dangerous balancing act.

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