A troubling picture of youth unemployment

There has been a steady trend since the election that the relative position of young people has worsened in comparison with other groups.

There has been a steady trend since the election that the relative position of young people has worsened in comparison with other groups

Unemployment is coming down. This week’s Labour Market Statistics showed another fall.

But you don’t have to look far through the figures to find the problems left behind by the three years without growth which followed the General Election.

It will take a concerted government effort to address those problems, and that is what Labour’s Compulsory Jobs Guarantee will provide.

The picture on youth unemployment is especially troubling. Youth unemployment actually went up last month – it’s back over three quarters of a million for the first time in three months.

That wasn’t obvious from the statistical release, because it only includes the figures for the current month and for three months ago.

Figures for the two months in between aren’t published. This month’s youth unemployment figure is 754,000, slightly lower than the figure three months ago (756,000). But it’s higher than last month, which was higher than the month before.

Long term unemployment among young people jumped this month. The number of 16-24 year olds out of work for more than a year rose by 15,000 on the quarter, to 218,000; and the number out of work for more than two years rose sharply by 11,000, from 84,000 to 95,000.

There has been a steady trend since the election that the relative position of young people has worsened, by comparison with others. The unemployment rate among young people is now 2.5 times the rate in the population as a whole.

Duncan Melville, chief economist at think tank Inclusion, pointed out in his response to this week’s figures that ‘young people not in employment, full-time education or training has risen by 31,000 in the quarter and warned of ‘a worrying reversal of the improving trends seen for young people between mid-2013 and mid-2014’.

Another major worry is that – among over 25s – long term unemployment is not falling in line with the overall headline figure. The number of women out of work over two years rose this quarter, from 132,000 to 142,000.

Looking back over the past year, while the number unemployed has fallen by almost 19 per cent, the number unemployed over two years is down less than 16 per cent.

New statistics on the Work Programme published this week confirm that people out of work on health grounds, claiming Employment and Support Allowance, are getting a terrible service.

The minister, Mark Harper, recently boasted in the House of Commons that Work Programme performance for ESA claimants had improved so that, for recent joiners, 10 per cent were now being helped!

And the Work Programme has also proved hopeless for jobseekers over 50. Overall, it remains the case that the number of people securing a sustained job outcome after up to two years on the Work Programme remains around 30 per cent; and more than twice as many people just go straight back to the job centre after their two years.

The economy is growing, and new jobs are being created, but too many people are being left behind. Given the political will, its an opportunity to give the chance of employment to young people, and to older people who have been trapped outside the labour market for too long.

That’s what the Compulsory Jobs Guarantee will deliver. For young people out of work for a year, and older people out of work for two years, the guarantee will ensure the offer of a real job: at least 25 hours per week, to last at least six months, paid at least at the rate of the national minimum wage, with – where necessary – the government paying the full wage cost to make sure a job is available.

This week’s stats show that the labour market on its own will not deliver what’s needed. But a Labour government will.

Stephen Timms MP is the shadow minister for Employment. Follow him on Twitter

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