The government must be far more ambitious in its attempts to tackle the growing youth unemployment crisis, says a new TUC report published today (Thursday).

Generation Lost: Youth unemployment and the youth labour market is the latest in the series of Touchstone Extra pamphlets and was researched for the TUC by Paul Bivand, Associate Director of Statistics and Analysis at the Centre for Economic and Social Inclusion (CESI).

The pamphlet finds that the government’s response so far only provides enough places on support programmes for around one in 10 young people who will claim Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA) in future, and analyses official data to suggest that the unpaid Work Experience scheme is not leading to any overall improvements in young people’s chances of finding work.

At a time when youth unemployment is still rising, the Youth Contract is worth 26 per cent less per year (£117 million per year) than programmes that were previously aimed at tackling youth unemployment. And with its annual value of £333 million less than half the £770 million of cuts that have been made to support for young unemployed people, the government has to face up to the fact that cut price provision won’t work and won’t get young people into decent jobs, says the TUC.

The pamphlet also argues that rather than focusing upon the group included in the most commonly-quoted youth unemployment figures policy makers should place a particular emphasis on the one in five young people who are neither in employment or education, and who are at the greatest risk of long-term worklessness.

The report says that current policy solutions are not helping those young people in greatest need, arguing that while all those who are not in work or in education should be focus of the government’s efforts, many of them are being missed by services which only help those claiming JSA.

Generation Lost: Youth unemployment and the youth labour market also shows that many of those young people with jobs are not in sustainable work; and nine per cent of young people who are not in education and are working part-time are doing so because they cannot find full-time jobs.

The report says that today’s high levels of unemployment are strongly linked to Britain’s economic performance – in recessions youth unemployment rises more steeply than for any other age group. However, the pamphlet notes that youth unemployment was already rising before the downturn due to a combination of three recessions over a 30-year period and wider changes in the labour market. While young people’s skill levels have increased in recent years, educational participation among young people in the UK is far below the average for other European counties, which is also a factor, says the TUC.

As the evidence shows that those who experience long periods without work when they are young are likely to suffer lifelong effects on their future earnings and job prospects, the TUC believes the government must address youth unemployment urgently before yet another generation is lost to worklessness.

The report proposes both short and long-term measures the government can introduce to reduce youth unemployment. Ministers should:

* Introduce labour market programmes that evidence proves will work and which prioritise supporting young people into better quality jobs with good prospects. This should include a job guarantee scheme along the lines of the Future Jobs Fund, scrapped by the government.
* Ensure that the support provided to young people is adequate to support the estimated 4.5 million young people who will start a JSA claim over the next three years (rather than only funding support to one in 10 as is currently the case) as well as the large numbers of young people who are neither in work or education but are not claiming unemployment benefit.
* Strengthen the regulation of apprenticeships and develop a universal quality mark for apprenticeships.
* Establish a government goal that by 2020 the UK’s young people should be as well qualified for jobs as those in any developed country. Achieving this would require a fresh look at how further and higher educational systems in the UK are combined with employment, and how access to ongoing educational opportunities could be expanded further.
* Introduce a new youth credit, which would integrate all financial support available for young people into one payment, building on the strongest elements of both JSA and the educational maintenance allowance (EMA), again abolished by this government.
* Develop a new youth employment and skills service that would bring together the job-related support provided through Jobcentre Plus with the careers service for those aged under 25. The role of the new service would not be to get people to take any job at all, but to encourage and support all young people to undertake and progress in either/or both learning and work.
* Support employers so they can play a more proactive role by structuring employment patterns to enable young people to combine learning and work and so firms can become better at offering opportunities which combine employment with education.

TUC General Secretary Brendan Barber said: ‘Young people were hit hardest by the recession and decisions taken by the government so far – trebling tuition fees, scrapping the EMA and vital job support – have only made things worse for them.

‘There are also fears that the government’s cut price Youth Contract is not up to the job of tackling mounting joblessness, with much of the wider support available through Jobcentre Plus also facing cutbacks.

‘The government must take real action now – with more than a fifth of young people out of work we need to invest in supporting them to get into work.’

Report author Paul Bivand said: ‘It is vitally important that actions to help young people can be shown to work. Young people themselves want to know this, so do co-workers in the workplace, and so do the employers who are placing their reputations at risk.

‘We would hope that good quality work experience with training would have a small positive effect compared to Jobcentre Plus support, but the evidence needs to stand up to critique. We are not there yet.’