Hundreds of thousands of young women who want to work cannot do so because the advice, training and support they receive has them competing for a limited number of poorly paid jobs, according to a new report published by Young Women’s Trust yesterday (1 Sept 2014).

Totally Wasted? The Crisis of Young Women’s Worklessness highlights the stark reality for women who are Not in Education, Employment or Training (NEET); 418,000 women aged 18-24 compared with 325,000 men. The number of women in this position has barely changed in a decade, they are NEET for longer than men and – as today’s report lays bare – the impact is deeper and can last a lifetime. 

Female NEETS cost the government £926 million per annum in lost tax and the cost of benefits and £2.6 billion in lost productivity. Yet, 95% say getting a paid job is important to them.

According to a poll of 859 NEETS conducted by ComRes for Young Women’s Trust, female NEETs are three times more likely than male NEETs to have been told by careers advisors to think about becoming care workers, nannies, nurses or hairdressers. Male NEETs are at least six times more likely to be told to think about becoming IT technicians, construction workers or electricians and plumbers.

This is despite the fact that there are approximately two jobs for every qualified construction worker and five qualified practitioners chasing each job in hair and beauty.

Negative stereotypes about NEET young women are all too common but Young Women’s Trust found them motivated by ordinary ambitions to work and study; 43% said they would take pretty much any job offered that paid more than benefits. Only 5% on being famous had their sights set on being famous.

Nearly one in four women NEETs (23%) has been offered a zero hours contract – as one of them put it “like pay as you go, literally” – and one in five (20%) has been offered a job paying less than the National Minimum Wage. There is similar exploitation of male NEETS but women have fewer choices in the first place.                                                                              

Only a quarter of NEET women are mothers but for those that are the situation is even more difficult. Many will find an insecure or low paid job even harder to cope with if they have children to provide for and look after.

A woman who has been NEET will see her earnings fall even farther behind those of a man – by the time she is 34 the gap will average £14,000 – but the impact isn’t just financial. Many women told Young Women’s Trust that being NEET made them feel judged and that society is against them. They also felt that the system offers little opportunity for second chances, such as getting back into education or pursuing a new career.

Carole Easton, Chief Executive of Young Women’s Trust, said: “Young women who aren’t in employment, education or training are in a worse situation than any other group of young people. They feel stigmatised but also stuck in their situation because there’s little support and few opportunities for them to do what they want to do; work.

“It makes no sense to consign hundreds of thousands of young women to worklessness, totally wasting their talents and making them an economic burden. Some changes that are needed are simple and could have a dramatic impact. These include providing more and better careers advice, feedback on job applications and interviews and the provision of other support to boost self-confidence. Other changes may be more complex and take longer to implement but it is imperative that we don’t allow another decade to pass without taking urgent action for young women’s sake and for society as whole.”

Denise Keating, chief executive at Employers Network for Equality & Inclusion (enei), commented: “We already know that women are under-represented in top jobs across the economy, and especially in the STEM sectors. Both the education system and careers advice is letting down young women by directing them into ill-suited qualifications in order to increase pass marks, without considering the employability of young women once they leave the education system.

“The total number of young NEETs of both genders has remained at over half a million for the past 14 years and it is clear that women are facing many more barriers than men. This clearly shows that the Government’s efforts in increasing access to opportunities for young people are not working. The Government must work harder to strengthen the links between business and education, with a properly funded Careers Advice Service that works hand in hand with business and employers, and ensure that young people receive quality work experience whilst at school which provides a proper view of work and the workplace.”