Dear Deputy Prime Minister,
This message is sent to you on behalf of my Sheffield constituents in my role as a Member of the UK Youth Parliament. It is in response to the news last week of the year-on-year increase by a staggering 33,000 young people in Yorkshire and Humberside not in Education, Employment or Training. As one of the worst hit regions, we make up approximately 24% of the overall rise of 137,000 NEETs in Britain today. Moreover, in March earlier this year, it was reported that our region’s young people suffered the most as a result of the abolition of the Education Maintenance Allowance. These figures reveal the dim prospects that many young people in our region – and across the country, are facing in the very near future. It is my belief that when young people miss out on the opportunity for any kind of learning, it is a terrible failure. Young people with higher standards of skills have better job prospects and fewer reasons to disengage with society.
On Friday 25th November, you announced a £1 Billion package to be spent over the next three years to provide the young unemployed with extra help, as part of a new “Youth Contract”. I believe the 160,000 wage incentive job subsidies for employers to take on 18-24 year olds from the Work Programme, beginning in 2012/13, is an excellent start that will better the odds for many young people in the three years it will run. The decision to offer support from the Work Programme to 18-24 year olds after 3 months is also a positive sign that the government is acknowledging the danger of young people slipping through the cracks in the period between school and working life. However, it is my belief that the government should consider the possibility of extending access to the Work Programme and the benefits offered to those 18 and over, to those aged 16 and over. By providing a safety net of access to the Work Programme at 16, when the statutory GCSE (and equivalent) education has been completed, the government could surely rescue many young people from adding to the NEETs statistics. Moreover by making these young people eligible for the 160,000 subsidised jobs now available, and the 250,000 Work Experience placements, it would create a much easier transition for those young people eager to enter the world of work. Capturing young people as soon as possible, when they have not gone into further or higher education, is essential to keeping youth unemployment and long term unemployment at a low.
Furthermore, I have questions with regard to the new government apprenticeships announced and in relation to how the work programme will be organised. Apprenticeships are a fantastic way of building up practical skills and they give young people the opportunity to gain experience in something that they are already enthusiastic about. The extra 20,000 incentives for employers to take on apprenticeships is a great step. However, what will be the scope of these apprenticeships? Skilled apprenticeships for people already qualified to a certain level are of course necessary, but beginners in a field who are passionate but lack experience in a profession must not be overlooked. I would ask you to specify how these apprenticeships will be accessible to all young people of varying qualification levels, and to what age groups? As with the Work Programme, would access at 16 not prove the most beneficial for young people? Secondly, will the Youth Contract organise itself in recognition of the regional disparities in NEETs figures? As I have already stated, our region of Yorkshire and Humberside has had the highest increase since last year of young people NEET. The spending power of the £1 Billion should in my opinion be allocated on the basis of affording more resources to the regions that require them most, putting power in the hands of regional Job Centres to assess how best to fight youth unemployment.
In line with this decentralised approach, I believe that funding for Education must also be regionally considered. As was mentioned, EMA’s abolition has hit Yorkshire and Humberside the hardest, and could have the consequences of dissuading many young people from proceeding into post-16, academic education. The government must not solely focus on young people without jobs. There is of course a great case to be made for education in colleges and sixth forms, to be promoted to as many young people as possible. The benefits of education, far outstrip the costs of any scheme that incentivises continued learning for disadvantaged young people, making the eventual prospect of University education a real possibility for many of them.
Today’s strikes and the Autumn Statement made by the Chancellor of the Exchequer on the 29th November, have presented a bleak outlook for many young people. The pay freezes for the public sector, the 310,000 fewer public sector jobs, and the announced rise in the pension age 10 years ahead of schedule, could deter many 18-24 year olds on the cusp of entering work, from pursuing careers in the venerable professions of Teaching, Medicine and the Emergency Services. I look forward to your response to the proposals I have laid out, and to the questions I have asked on the youth employment schemes.
Member of UK Youth Parliament for Sheffield