From education to employment

Funding priority as youth mental health impacts labour market

A joint report published today reveals the huge scale of poor mental health in workless young people and calls for urgent support funding for the not in employment, education or training (NEET) population.

The findings from a survey undertaken by The Employment Related Services Association (ERSA) and Education Development Trust (EDT) overwhelmingly cite mental health issues as the largest single barrier preventing people aged 16 to 24 accessing employment, education, or training.

A staggering 92% of industry experts surveyed selected mental health as the primary driver in stifling young people’s progression opportunities, with lack of confidence also recording a 90% response rate. Alongside a raft of other recommendations, the survey partners are now calling for government funding to provide mental health support for the NEET population.

Young people account for 12% of the UK’s economically inactive residents, with more than one in ten people between the ages of 16 and 24 classified as NEET. Rates have been on an upward trend following the pandemic and while it is widely acknowledged that mental health is becoming more of an issue for all young people, the rate is increasing more quickly for NEET young people than the wider population. The problem is exacerbated still further for young people living within or leaving care, who are almost four times more likely to end up NEET than others. Just 22% of young care leavers are in employment aged 27 compared to 57% of non-care experienced adults.

The research, conducted over a five-month period by ERSA and EDT researchers, canvassed young people, local authorities and third sector and private employability organisations to understand the barriers, current support available, and gaps in helping NEET young people and care leavers access opportunities. More than 130 organisations contributed their expert views and evidence.

The report and its recommendations are published during Youth Employment Week (3-7 July), recognising its theme of ‘Opportunity for All’.

Elizabeth Taylor, Chief Executive of ERSA said:

“There was previously little research to inform us of what is offered and what works best in supporting NEET 16- to 24-year-olds. We now have a clear view of what’s needed to activate this missing generation of workers.

“Employment support organisations embedded in the local community build strong relationships with the young people they help. They need the funding and flexibility to provide appropriate support for the ingrained anxiety and confidence barriers that came across so strongly in the research.

“National policy to support young people is limited almost exclusively to those who claim benefits and attend Jobcentre Plus, but that’s not scratching the surface of this NEET population. Our recommendations address the inherent problems faced by young NEET people, with a particular emphasis on those who are care experienced. Our research is offering insights and recommendations to make a meaningful impact to thousands of disadvantaged lives.”

In addition to metal health and confidence concerns, the research also identified commonly persistent barriers such as lack of qualifications; unstable housing – especially for those leaving the care system; transport; childcare; a mismatch in vacancies available; and the flexibility of some employers.

Mark De Backer, Deputy Director of Youth from EDT added:

“Proportionally, the number of young people not in employment or education has remained stubbornly high over the last decade. This research examines the barriers faced, with recommendations for structural and policy direction to reduce these. Some of the barriers remain familiar to anyone who has worked in this area over many years, while new challenges such as mental health have become much more prevalent.

“At EDT we are committed to transforming lives through our mission of education, including through employability and careers interventions. Young people face significant barriers in accessing education, training and employment. This research adds to the evidence base for those designing policy and programmes to increase the life chances of those young people who become NEET.”

The executive summary and full survey report ‘Entry and retention in the labour market: Narratives and solutions for NEET and care leaver employment support’ can be accessed here.

Policy and recommendations summary here.

Free online launch event: Thursday 6 July, 10am. Tickets here.

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