The search for work: Demeaning and demoralising

Friday 20 June 2014

A number of announcements were made this week about young people and the challenges they face in finding work or continuing education. They all had one thing in common: they failed to mention the huge disparities in the numbers of young men and women who are not in education, employment or training (NEET). Latest figures show that there are still almost 90,000 more young women who are NEET than young men.

The difference between young men and young women is even starker when you consider the huge numbers of young women who are “economically inactive”.  These are young women who are not claiming Job Seekers Allowance, they are not going to job centres for advice and support and they are not engaged in any training.  These young women are ignored. The proposals made by Ed Miliband which require anyone claiming JSA to engage in training up to level 3, will not help them change their situations.

The scheme may benefit some young people, indeed it could offer some the ‘second chance’ they are so often denied, but it will only help significant numbers as part of a much broader effort to improve opportunities for young people. These efforts must particularly recognise the difficulties faced by young women who are out of work or in precarious employment and at great risk of life long poverty. 

We have been gathering evidence for our Inquiry, 'Scarred for Life?’, which is concerned with young women who are NEET. We have been talking to many young women around England. These young women have hopes and dreams for their future and tell us they are facing a number of barriers to achieving their goals.  In some areas there are very few jobs to apply for and high unemployment rates amongst young people makes the competition very fierce.  Their confidence is repeatedly knocked – many employers don’t even acknowledge receipt of applications let alone give feedback about why applicants have been rejected. We have been repeatedly told that Job Centres are requiring young people to apply for a fixed number of jobs each week, regardless of whether they are suitable or not.  This is demeaning and demoralising.

Robin Simmons has recently written about young people who were required to take part in ‘employability’ programmes which they found dull and repetitive. Only rarely did such training lead to a job. Simmons says that “The most common destination on completion of these programmes was to become NEET once more, and the next most frequent outcome was going onto another employability training programme”.

As if that wasn’t enough, many of these young women tell us they are battling against gender discrimination or finding that the vocational qualifications they have worked hard to achieve are dismissed as irrelevant. The more young women we speak to the more we see how widespread and varied these challenges are and we will be publishing our findings in September. 

Meanwhile we hope that policy makers remember that there are hundreds of thousands of young women who want to contribute to society but are struggling to do so. We hope too that policy makers look at the whole picture in order to understand what is preventing young women from engaging in work or training. We need to restore young people’s faith that education and training is going to make a real difference to their lives.