The Creative Society is an arts employment charity that helps young people into jobs in the creative and cultural industries.
A small cheer for the news this week that the number of unemployed fell unexpectedly by 17,000 to 2.48 million . It is the first drop in unemployment since September last year.
Alas, for young people – 16 to 24 year olds – there is little to celebrate. This is the age group that has been especially affected by the current economic downturn. In fact this age group accounts for more than one in three of every person on the dole queue. Arguments and redefinitions about increasing numbers in education but also seeking work do not alter this fact. And, not even included in the figures, are almost 800,000 16 to 24 year olds who are not looking for work and not in education or training (so-called Neets). They do not appear in the official unemployment figures because they are not looking for work.
As the Future Jobs Fund officially closes, and with the new Single Work Programme programme still months away from implementation, there is no sign that things are getting better for this age group. While the rate of unemployment for the population at large has fallen 0.1 per cent to 7.8 per cent of the workforce as a whole, the rate for 16 to 24 year olds still exceeds 20 per cent or one in five of the economically active population in that age group (compared with one in 12 of the wider population).
Details of the February figures are as follows: of the 2.48 million people on the dole, 963,000 are in the 18-24 age group. That means that 38 per cent of all those classified as unemployed are in this age group. This is a continuing crisis. While 11,000 more 16-24 year olds are reported to have found work, the picture for those who left school most recently is especially grim. Among 16 to 17 year olds, the number out of work increased by 14,000, the highest figure since 1992. This means there are even fewer first-time jobs for those who do not go on to further education. The scrapping of the Educational Maintenance Allowance could see increasing difficulty for this age group since more are likely to be leaving school earlier with poorer qualifications.
Worryingly, the overall trend for youth unemployment remains upwards. The latest quarterly figure (to February) has increased slightly to 20.4 per cent compared with 20.3 per cent in the previous quarter.
With the FJF now finished and the Single Work Programme not yet underway, we face a worrying gap in provision for young people. Even once the new programme is in place, it will take a few months to get properly underway. Expect the figures to rise further, and expect more comments – we have seen them this week – that the national minimum wage makes young people unattractive to employers. The “one in five” has already been questioned because it includes those in education seeking part-time work. But the harsh truth is that things have never been worse for this age group whether they are struggling to get an unfunded education, actively seeking work, or just dropping out.