The 1988 Social Security Act withdrew young people’s entitlement to claim income support or jobseeker’s allowance. Those young people who fell into a black hole were given the Orwellian label “status zero”. This over time developed into those not in education employment or training –NEET- a term that has been exported it transpires to many countries.  But is it is a helpful term? Not really it seems.  But its not easy finding an alternative. Apparently even students on gap years ie traveling before taking up a confirmed university place, are classified as NEET.

Professor Jocey Quinn, of London Metropolitan University, in giving evidence to the Select Committee in late January bridled at the term “NEETs”. She said she thought that it lumps together a lot of very diverse young people and tends to fix them as an alien species almost. “ It’s also very much a deficit term, which focuses on what they lack and what they are not doing, rather than what they actually can do and want to do” Professor Pring  agreed saying that  within the overarching term of NEET, you have so many different subsets of people. For example, you have people who are in jobs without training one minute, who the next minute move back to being NEET, and who then move back again.  So NEET is not a fixed category at any time, and the number of NEETs in respective age groups ie 16,17,18  varies  considerably.

There is significant movement in and out of the category known as ‘churn’.  People have talked about the different subsets of people who might be pregnant or looking after children, or looking after parents for example. There are lots of difference groups even within that. Professor Richard Pring said “We need a more subtle way of addressing the group, and different kinds of approach to the different subgroups. We also need to recognise that young people move across those different categories. That is the reality of their lives; they do not stick in one place.”  Research by Dr Sue Maguire of Warwick University suggests unless young people in NEET   are estranged from their family or under threat of estrangement, they are not entitled to any benefit whatsoever. Also, unless they are actively engaged in an education policy, so that they are eligible for education maintenance allowance under an income assessment, or they participate in a training programme, so that the training allowance kicks in, they are not entitled to any benefit. McGuire notes that many feel in consequence real social isolation.  The majority of young people between the ages of 16 and 18 who are the classified NEET aren’t able to claim any income support or jobseeker’s allowance. So they are effectively left at home. McGuire said that unless they seek to engage with Connexions-they are not forced to engage with it, because they are under no obligation to do so-a lot of young people are socially isolated. Dr Maguire said “I do not think that we should underestimate that problem.”

The NEET figure overall has been broadly stable over the last 10 years. But Dr Maguire pointed out that although the NEET population of 16 to 18 looks to have stayed about the same over the last 10 years-it has gone up slightly in the last couple of years. So the NEET population for instance among 16-year-olds is at its lowest for 10 years. Among 17-year-olds, it has declined over the last three years. But the real problem now occurs among 18-year-olds. Maguire attributes this to two factors. One is a decline in the labour market. More and more young people are staying on in education, and are then coming out at a much later stage, so that we have a much bigger problem now among 18-year-olds, because of increased participation post 16  combined with the effect of the depressed Labour market.

Professor Jocey Quinns research found there was a feeling that often young people were being kept in training and education when they didn’t really see the point in it. The kind of skills and training that they wanted was something that led to a meaningful job.  So figures may look good but young people were in poor quality training. She said too that a lot of people in jobs without training felt that they were learning lots of really good skills in their jobs, but that the skills were not accredited or recognized. To people from the outside, they were in a job without any kind of training at all. But to them, they felt that they were getting trained. They also felt that they were always being pushed by people and organizations such as Connexions to get out of that situation and back into formal training and education, which was not necessarily appropriate for them. She said “There is a big mismatch between the formal system and the expectations and desires of a lot of these young people.”  Her research also suggested that working class boys are stereotyped.  “The kind of advice that they were given by careers advisers was that if they wanted to do certain kinds of jobs, particularly in the creative industries, they were told, “No, that’s not for you. You should look at being an engineer, or a computer programmer”-things that were felt to be more appropriate for them. There are all sorts of stereotypes that are shaping people in certain ways, and that often causes negative trajectories in their educational lives. That is something that needs to be addressed for young white men”, she said.  What about advice and guidance? An important fact Dr Maguire gleaned from her research was that young people in the NEET group were in practice the least likely to have accessed careers guidance at school. Also, their parents felt less able than any other group of parents to offer advice to their children about what they could do post-16. Those parents felt particularly ill at ease about offering advice on educational opportunities. She said that these young people had a double whammy, in that they were not accessing independent careers guidance and their parents felt less able to give advice about post-16 options.

Note; There are currently 927,000 ILO unemployed young people aged 16 to 24, which is a fall of 16,000 on the previous quarter. Of these, 269,000 (almost 30 per cent.) are in full-time education.  The youth claimant count has fallen for the second consecutive month and is now 483,700. (Source Hansard; 1 February 2010) DCSF Select Committee-NEET


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