Neet strategy is not fit for purpose

Ravi Chandiramani
Monday, March 8, 2010

At last week's Generation Neet debate, CYP Now aimed boldly to identify "how to solve the problem of young people not in education, employment of training (Neet)" via a panel of politicians, experts and young people. Of course, we didn't actually solve the problem.

As Shaks Ghosh put it, there is no "magic bullet". But the debate scratched well beneath the surface of one of the most critical and complex issues facing the parties in the forthcoming election campaign.

We commissioned QA Research to survey and interview 16- to 24-year-olds who are Neet. Two findings stand out. First, Jobcentre advisers put pressure on young people to apply for any vacancy regardless of its suitability; they are perceived as uncaring, intimidating and driven by targets. Second, some young people harbour resentment that economic migrants are being favoured by employers. On these matters, the study recommends young people get allocated a specific adviser; and that personal, social and health education programmes invite the young to challenge all types of stereotyping and prejudice.

But our country's response to young people who are Neet is inadequate. It lacks cohesion. A mishmash of different policies, funding steams and performance measures straddle different age ranges. Connexions supports those up to 19, after which Jobcentre Plus becomes the main advisory service, undermining a smooth transition. Councils meanwhile are incentivised to channel efforts to reduce Neet numbers among 16- to 18-year-olds. This can be to the detriment of those who are 19-plus. Our Neet strategy - and, therefore, all children and young people's services - must be reshaped explicitly to support the young, right through from birth to 24, not 19.

The national response is also inadequate because of the obsessive focus on employment, education and training when these options might not be in the long-term interests of the young person, economy and society.

Informal learning and volunteering is often the life-changing stepping stone to not being Neet in the long run. A dead-end job to keep the statistics down is not. Here, good youth work has a crucial role. The Liberal Democrats' proposal to make youth work statutory is encouraging, as is 14 to 19 minister Iain Wright's promise at our debate to consider making it so. Local authorities must be better encouraged to make such opportunities work for young people. That is the challenge for the next government.

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