20 February 2018

Today London Youth launched its latest piece of research – Hidden in Plain Sight – shining a light of the hundreds and thousands of young people currently ‘hidden’ from the capital’s economy.

What struck me reading this report was that starting out in your career should be an exciting time in a young person’s life. Unfortunately, we know from our work and through this research, that this isn’t the experience for many young people.

We’ve become familiar with statistics about young people who instead find themselves in a situation where they feel lost and they aren’t working or studying. I think the acronym ‘NEET’ – not in education, employment or training – had its use, yet this blanket term also dehumanises young people and hides the individuals it refers to.

When we talk about NEET young people, we might assume that these young people are being supported by our welfare system. Yet our work has shown that there is a group of young people who aren’t studying or working, but also aren’t accessing statutory support, making them easy to ignore.  They don’t affect claimant counts. They don’t affect welfare budgets. They certainly don’t fall into the ‘squeezed middle’. But these are young Londoners who are full of talent and potential.

In fact, if all ‘hidden’ young people were all supported into full-time, sustained employment, there would be an additional £440 million raised in income tax and National Insurance contributions each year.

Since 2014, London Youth has worked with over 2,000 young people (many of these ‘hidden’) through Talent Match London and we felt this was an issue that was yet to be fully explored.

City of London

Our research has highlighted a number of key considerations, in response to which we’ve identified six recommendations to re-engage the ‘hidden’:

1. Choose to see the ‘hidden’. Young people are ‘hidden’ because they fall under the radar of the reporting mechanisms currently in place. Our analysis shows that there are a staggering 480,000 young people who are estimated to be ‘hidden’ in the UK every year. To put this in context, there are 790,000 young people who are NEET. It may not be comfortable to put this information out there. It doesn’t tell as good a story as low unemployment figures. But these young people matter.  So we want to see data on the number of ‘hidden’ young people published at a national and local level so that we understand the issue better and so that appropriate interventions can be put in place and tracked over time.

2. Ensure young people can access meaningful support within the welfare system. Young people are sometimes unable, and sometimes make a proactive choice, not to access support through the Job Centre. They may not have the right documentation, or may not be able to navigate their way through the system successfully. One young person told us “If I go to the Job Centre, it means I’ve lost”. The current system isn’t working for young people who are ‘hidden’ and requires significant change in order to be an effective vehicle for helping them get into work.

3. Continue to support specialist employment support for young people. One of the overriding take-home messages from this research – and from our employability work more broadly – is the need for dedicated employment support for young people. There are many young people who are in precarious work or are technically employed but with no guarantees of work but who are never the less shut out of employability support. With the Work Programme coming to an end and the likely loss of funding from the European Social Fund, it is critical that we continue to prioritise and ring-fence funding for specific employability support for young people.

4. Support young people to make informed choices. We found the majority of ‘hidden’ young people achieve academically, but receiving poor or no careers support combined with a changing and challenging job market means that many young people struggle to successfully identify their options. Of those who took part in our research 71% have 5+ GCSEs at A*-C. Whilst it’s encouraging to see increased attention on this area with the launch of the Government’s new Careers Strategy, we must remember that schools and colleges aren’t the only – or indeed, necessarily the best – places for young people to receive advice. I would strongly argue that youth organisations based in local communities are already in touch with these young people and are trusted by many young people seeking support.

5. We need to start at home. London Youth has been struck by the influence of family and friends, and the home and immediate environment on young people’s choices. ‘Hidden’ young people often find ways to manage outside the system, relying on family for support, or earn money through cash-in-hand jobs or illegal activity. Sometimes circumstances at home, beyond their control, contributed to them becoming ‘hidden’. From caring responsibilities preventing young people being able to look for and sustain work; to severe cases of abuse and domestic violence resulting in them becoming homeless, to strict gender norms prevent young women going out to work. Our research highlights the positive role families play in influencing decisions to seek employment support. Parent referrals is one of the most common routes into Talent Match.

6. Think beyond immediate employment. We found sub-groups of young people for whom the issues of homelessness and mental ill health were a clear barrier to employment. The need to support young people in a holistic way is often discussed. But we need to make sure that we are adequately resourcing those providing employability support to carry out this critical work.

What next?

London Youth is calling for a truly collaborative approach between Government, business and youth sectors. Funding and cooperation is urgently needed in order to design employment initiatives that put young people at the centre. Government can help by getting the framework right, tackling the issues with statutory support and crucially not being afraid to acknowledge this issue and the business sector is key to ensuring that we understand how the world of work is changing.

This report is essential reading for us all and I’d welcome opportunities to talk with all of you who share London Youth’s concern to do more to support young Londoners into work.

Because if it takes a village to raise a child it is going to take our city to raise a generation.