Programmes need to tackle emotional effects of youth unemployment

3 Jul 2015

Youth unemployment is one of the biggest problems facing us in the UK. ONS figures indicate that whilst unemployment is falling, it’s not falling at the same rate for young people. There are also indications, described by think tank IPPR in a blog post here, that some young people are beginning to drop out completely from society, not claiming JSA, largely untracked, they are Neet but under the radar, and not recorded by the system so there’s little that can be done to reengage them. Government’s carrot and stick approach to welfare will not work for them – they have removed themselves completely from the process.

This is really worrying trend. It’s a shocking waste of talent and a pretty damning indictment of the lack of opportunities available to many young people today.

Policymakers need to respond. A recent report from the London School of Economics talks about the long term effects of unemployment on young people.  This isn’t something we hear much about. It’s always been a given that the cure for unemployment is a job. In fact being out of work for a period in your late teens or early 20s has a pernicious effect, causing ‘scarring’ which stays in the psyche for many, many years.

As a result young people develop negative expectations of their future, believing they will never get sustainable employment and this starts to reduce their well-being more generally. It also traps more disadvantaged young people in a catch 22. Whilst well educated young people can afford to wait for a better paid job, less well educated are under pressure to accept the first role they are offered and these are often low paid and short term. This pattern repeats itself again and again, as these young people suffer frequent periods of worklessness which further entrenches insecurity and instability.

These observations are echoed by Youth Access’s research into young people and mental health, which found that Neet young people are more than twice as likely as other young people to suffer from mental illness.

Better tailored programmes to support young people get into employment are needed. But in addition policymakers need to give greater attention to the mental health of unemployed young people and the longer term damaging effects of being jobless.  Lack of support at an early age can condemn young people to a life of pessimism – an emotional response which compounds their lack of opportunity and which no amount of skills training can rescue them from.