kennedy CareKnowledge editor Jim Kennedy sees some serious long-term issues arising from the UK's increasing number of NEETs:

Youth Unemployment is a serious problem across all sections of UK society, but it has a particularly heavy and pernicious impact on vulnerable young people – particularly those who have been in care. I was therefore dismayed to see the headlines for this week’s report from the Work Foundation which paints a very bleak picture of the UK’s comparative performance, set against other countries in the OECD.

The Foundation’s report suggests that the UK has experienced the fastest rise in numbers of so-called NEETs (young people not in education or training) of any country in the G8 since the start of the recession and now has the third worst levels in the OECD.

I was, of course, aware that youth unemployment is a serious problem here, and that we are suffering, as are most of the major economies, from an increasing amount of joblessness across all age groups. However, the other reporting I’ve read on youth unemployment had not led me to understand that we were in such a dire situation, compared to our fellow economies.

That misperception is either down to the failures of the other employment-interest groups, to make these points or to mis-representation of the data in the Work Foundation report. I’m not in a position to judge on that kind of issue on employment statistics, but the Foundation is research-based and part of Lancaster University, so I’ll content myself with the conclusion that things may not be quite as bad as the report suggests, but are probably a lot worse than I had so far assumed.

And the report explains part of my misconception, where it points to the very high levels of youth unemployment that have persisted for long periods of time in a small number of countries – notably Spain and Greece where they have remained at around 20-25% and the report says, are now above 45%.

But, accepting that we appear to have more significant problems than some others, if there are lessons to be learned from those countries about how to tackle this thorniest of problems, those lessons might well be worth learning, whatever our position in the league table of misery.

The report looks at youth unemployment internationally, especially focusing on Germany, Denmark, the Netherlands and Australia, all of which, it says have maintained consistently low levels of youth unemployment despite the economic downturn.

And, the report argues that the UK’s youth unemployment problem cannot be attributed solely to the recession, particularly as other major economies have consistently outperformed the UK in this area. Drawing on best practice from other countries, it makes a series of recommendations about how the UK government can improve its policy responses. Some of those are:

• The establishment of ‘dual apprenticeship systems’ which combine training in the workplace with school-based learning, and the engagement of large corporate companies in their development
• Increasing employer engagement in the design and delivery of apprenticeship schemes
• Increasing the availability of part-time flexible employment opportunities which draw more young people into the labour market
• Implementing early intervention approaches to mitigate the ‘scarring effects’ of long-term unemployment “with a focus on reintegration into the schooling system for those with no qualifications.”
• Providing for more local control
• Providing a guaranteed part-time job for six months for all unemployed young people combined with intensive support from providers
• Improving and re-introducing key-stage 4 work experience and developing a better mix of experience between the labour market and school, including more and different work experiences and greater use of mentoring

Finally, and perhaps most difficult of all – given the current attitude to all benefits claimants – is to ensure a decent balance between sanction and support, not the first thing that springs to mind when confronted with the recent ‘Poundland’ case…