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Stephen Lambert, Director of Education4Democracy.

Stephen Lambert calls for a state funded blue-print to abolish long-term joblessness in Post-Brexit North.

YOUTH unemployment is still a major problem both at home and abroad. Four in 10 of all young adults living in Spain, Greece, Italy and parts of southern Europe are long-term jobless.

Although the situation is less profound in Britain with a fall in both adult and long-term unemployment, almost one in five 16 to 24-year olds are classed as NEET (not in education, employment or training). Whilst the youth unemployment rate is higher in the UK than in other societies, there are striking variations between regions.

In Newcastle, unemployment is at its lowest since 2007 with more residents in work than ever before. There are 18,600 more city residents working now than in 2013.

Yet despite a big fall in unemployment, the rate remains stubbornly above the UK average. 15% of known 16 to 18 year olds are NEET. Over a fifth of 19 to 25-year olds across the North East region are out of paid work.

Likewise our region contains a number of NEET ‘hotspots’ with the de-industrialised towns of Ashington, Blyth, Sunderland and the sub-region Teesside having some of the highest youth unemployment rates in the country.

As the Huddersfield university educationalist Robin Simmons points out the long-term impact of this situation is considerable – not only for the youngsters concerned, but the economy and society more generally. Young people outside education and the workplace are more susceptible to loss of confidence, social isolation, low self-esteem. They are more likely to become teenage lone-parents and to experience mental health conditions.

They are more vulnerable to long-term unemployment in adulthood too, and more likely to be in very low paid precarious jobs when they are able to get employment. As Simmons point out ‘’there’s a significant scarring effect associated with being NEET or long-term unemployed’’. Furthermore lost tax receipts, increased social security payments and other forms of social welfare will, cost the UK economy billions.

Being NEET and unemployed is in the main a social class and gender related phenomenon. Youth unemployment rates are tiny (1%) in middle-class places like Gosforth whereas comparatively high in the working –class east end neighbourhood of Walker (17%) and the west end ward of Scotswood. Research by Youth Employment UK re-affirms that NEET young people are drawn disproportionally from deprived backgrounds. They are more likely to be caught up in low-level crime, drink and drug abuse, and other types of anti-social behaviour.

Research carried out by Newcastle City Council in 2016 around the nature and causes of NEET found that children and young people at greatest risk of experiencing ‘’poor life-chances’’ were those you were NEET. Family dysfunction was the prime factor of poorer life chances, including becoming and experiencing longer spells of NEET. One in Four care leavers had a single spell of NEET which lasted over one year and one in 10 young offenders were jobless for more than 12 months. Interestingly the study published as ‘Improving Outcomes for At-Risk Youth’ noted that good educational attainment by 16 can protect many youngsters from poor backgrounds from becoming NEET or long-term unemployed.

Yet many NEET youngsters aren’t permanently inactive or excluded from the labour market. Some ‘’churn’ regularly between unemployment, insecure temporary jobs, and a series of government training programmes, often of a dubious quality.

Professor Simmons’ work (based in the North) for the EU policy body ‘Eurofound’ discovered that while NEET young adults – mostly men- often felt angry and frustrated at their plight, many held mainstream conventional values and opinions. The vast majority wanted a job, a decent home and a ‘traditional’ family. For Simmons the popular stereotype of a young jobless man as feckless or idle who thinks ‘work is for mugs’ is misplaced.

The underlying causes of youth unemployment stem from the nature of work and our educational system in as much as the intrinsic qualities of young people themselves. Business, civic and educational leaders in our region need not only to address the skills deficit, but think about the abilities of youngsters and more importantly the nature of the job opportunities open to them. A significant element of the North east labour market is reliant on zero-hours contracts, part-time jobs and other casual employment.

Youth unemployment is notably lower in several Northern European nations such as the Nordic countries and Holland. Germany and The Netherlands, which have the lowest youth unemployment and NEET rates in the EU, have recognised for years that focusing only on training and skills is not enough. The demand for labour needs to be regulated and that an industrial policy both for the North and elsewhere in the UK is key for economic success.

In the long-term the region needs a post- Brexit high achieving further and adult education system (via UTCs and colleges) fit for purpose alongside the creation of high quality, meaningful and rewarding employment opportunities.

In the short-term we need a “Employment Guarantee Blueprint”, as advocated by Frank Field and Nicholas Soames this week, which would give the long-term jobless in ‘’left behind’’ areas after six months paid employment in the private, public or voluntary sector. With will, resources and political commitment we can abolish long-term youth joblessness both in the North and elsewhere as a first plank in a post-Brexit reform programme.

Stephen Lambert is a Newcastle City Councillor and writer on educational issues.

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