Youth unemployment in the EU: a scarred generation? - European Union Committee Contents


Youth unemployment inquiry: visit to the Prince's Trust Centre in Liverpool, 4 December 2013

The meeting was organised through the Prince's Trust, and was held at their centre in Liverpool.

A small delegation of Members from the Committee attended: Baroness O'Cathain (the Chairman), Lord Haskel, the Earl of Liverpool and Lord Wilson of Tillyorn. The delegation was accompanied by Nicole Mason (Clerk), Paul Dowling (Policy Analyst) and John Bell (Specialist Adviser). Victoria Holloway (Public Affairs Executive, The Prince's Trust) also attended the visit.

The Committee delegation met with 10 young people (between the ages of 16-24), who were either currently on The Prince's Trust Fairbridge programme, or had previously been involved in the programme. The young people were from various socio-economic backgrounds, and the majority of the young people had come to The Prince's Trust because of complications in their home lives. The fact sheet that the Committee received from The Prince's Trust informed it that the young people had experienced a variety of serious social problems. These included: being cared for by a local authority, mental health problems, criminal records, substance misuse and achieving little or no formal qualifications from compulsory schooling.

The Fairbridge programme in Liverpool helps around 200 young people per year, and is an individually tailored personal development scheme, providing one-to-one support and group activities. The programme works with young people who are educational underachievers or unemployed and demotivated, and who are unlikely to be able to engage in more structured programmes. It continues for as long as it is needed by the young person in order to support them to move into a 'positive outcome', for example, into employment, education or training.

The session began with a short sandwich lunch, as an 'ice breaker', over which Members of the Committee and the young people were able to informally talk on a one-to-one basis.

The Members of the Committee were then given a tour of the centre in Liverpool, which was equipped with kit for group activities such as climbing, through which the young people were able to build their teamwork skills. The centre also had a large kitchen, which the young people told us that they used for group cooking activities, through which they were able to improve their skills for independent living. The young people also had access to a computer room to enable them to build computing skills, complete college work or to write CVs.

After the tour, Members of the Committee and the young people took part in a group discussion about their experience of employment. Baroness O'Cathain opened the discussion by explaining the role of the Committee, and the subject of its current inquiry. She briefly explained who the Committee had already heard from, and who it intended to hear from. During the introductions part of the session, each Member of the Committee explained their background and first experience of the job market.

The conversation initially centred on the young people's experiences of job centres. There seemed to be a consensus amongst the young people that the service they had received at job centres had been poor in their view; they described advisers as aloof and unhelpful, as well as prescriptive in their approach to which jobs the young people should be applying for. They highlighted a concern about the sanctions that were threatened if they did not apply for the requisite number of jobs, a number that they considered unachievable in some cases (one young person gave an example where his friend had been asked to apply for at least 30 jobs in a week). We were also told that transport costs presented a major obstacle for young unemployed people attending interviews. The Prince's Trust team leaders mentioned that they had a national agreement with Jobcentre Plus, whereby Jobcentre Plus undertook to refer suitable jobseekers to the programme. However, the team leaders noted that whether or not a jobseeker interested in the programme was referred to it seemed to depend on which adviser the young person or team leader spoke to.

The young people talked about the importance of a stable living situation as a necessity for accessing a stable job. They noted that there was currently a lack of accessible, affordable housing.

The issue of careers guidance and advice was discussed in some detail. There was generally a consensus that the careers advice which had been available to the young people was not adequate in helping them to access the labour market. The majority of the young people agreed that there had been a focus on providing careers advice for those that wanted to undertake A-levels and go to university at the expense of other students. When asked whether they had used the now defunct Connexions service, one young person said that she had received advice from it at school, but there was only one adviser between a large number of students. She said that a follow-up appointment was promised, but was not forthcoming, and that it was difficult to contact them in order to arrange one.

Further discussions on the subject of careers guidance revealed that many of the young people aspired to work in the construction sector, but were not aware of where to go in order to acquire the skills needed to break into this career.

Other issues discussed included the high demand for Prince's Trust courses, and the issue of how best the young people could engage with Parliamentarians and the Government. The young people and team leaders were given the Clerk's details, and advised to get in touch either directly or through one of the team leaders with any further thoughts.

Youth unemployment inquiry: visit to Birmingham City Council and Partners, 17 December 2013

The meeting was organised through Birmingham City Council, and the first part of the meeting was held at the Council House in Birmingham. For the second part of the visit, Members of the Committee travelled to St Basils, an organisation which works with young people to enable them to find long-term housing, with the aim of eradicating homelessness.

A small delegation of Members from the Committee attended: Baroness O'Cathain (the Chairman), Lord Freeman and Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe. The delegation was accompanied by Nicole Mason (Clerk), Paul Dowling (Policy Analyst), and John Bell (Specialist Adviser).

The delegation were welcomed by Lloyd Broad (Head of European and International Affairs) and Shilpi Akbar (Assistant Director for Employment) from Birmingham City Council. The first session was a welcome and introductions session, led by Councillor Ali (Cabinet Member for Development, Jobs and Skills) and Baroness O'Cathain, the Chairman. Baroness O'Cathain briefly explained the work of the Committee, the focus of the inquiry, and what the Committee hoped to achieve through the visit to Birmingham. Councillor Ali gave a short introduction, highlighting the challenges faced by Birmingham in the area of youth unemployment, given that it is demographically one of the "youngest" cities in Europe. He noted that Birmingham City Council had been working with its partners to address the consequent issue of high youth unemployment, and struck a positive chord with respect to the results achieved so far. Councillor Ali invited all the participants to give a brief introduction as to their role in their respective organisations.

Lloyd Broad gave an overview of the written and oral evidence given to the Committee's inquiry, reiterating the three key messages in Birmingham City Council's supplementary written evidence: that there was a need for greater local and place-based leadership for issues such as youth unemployment; that there must be a commitment to developing better and more effective integrated strategic partnerships; and that there should be a greater devolution of funding, accountability and powers to cities and Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs).

Mark Barrow (Chief Executive for Greater Birmingham and Solihull LEP) outlined the situation in Birmingham. He noted that despite having 540,000 jobs, Birmingham was still suffering from high rates of unemployment because many of the jobs were taken by commuters. Thus he highlighted the importance of any youth unemployment strategy taking account of these wider geographies. Mr Barrow reported that his LEP had worked closely with Lord Heseltine to create a delivery plan for targeting youth unemployment. However, he noted the importance of the Government's input in this process, observing that the majority of recommendations in Lord Heseltine's review[306] were made to the Government rather than local authorities. He noted that LEPs were a loose affiliation of "willing partners" and were found in different forms around the country, and that there was no specific guidance from Government on 'best practice' for LEPs. He spoke briefly about some of the youth unemployment related initiatives taking place within Birmingham and Solihull, and noted that the eventual aim was to create a better matching of skills with employers to eradicate the need for compensatory measures, such as Birmingham's job fund.

Before concluding, Mr Barrow mentioned that Birmingham City Council had been working with the Cabinet office to establish how best to use the underspend from the Youth Contract. He reported that £4 million of this was expected to go towards training for growth sectors such as the advanced manufacturing and engineering sectors, furthering the aim of matching skills to employment opportunities.

Gail Walters (Head of Community engagement at Midland Heart, a housing and care organisation that works with young people) gave an overview of how Midland Heart helped young people back into employment through its 'Back on Track' programme. She explained that the underlying ethos of Midland Heart's ideology was a holistic one, which acknowledged that peer pressure, social background and a lack of networks contributed to inability to access employment. It had a focus on young people who had previously broken the law, and therefore found it difficult to access the job market. Midland Heart is funded through its own resources, because it feels that there is not a funding programme which reflects the different services that it provides for young people.

Ms Walters briefly explained the structure of the programme: it starts with a four week unpaid induction programme. If the young people attend the entire induction programme punctually and participate fully, they are employed on a year-long apprenticeship, which can be further extended if appropriate. During the apprenticeship, Midland Heart also works with the family of the young person to ensure a stable home life which enables them to participate in the labour market, for example, working with the family to ensure that they are properly housed. She stated that many of the young people saw this as a stepping stone to getting into the job market after re-offending. From the 33 young people on the programme last year, 25 were working and only two had reoffended.

In conclusion, Ms Walters mentioned that according to a recent evaluation it had carried out, every pound invested in Midland Heart returned £5.60 in Government savings.

Over lunch, the Committee was able to hear the views of the unemployed young people who were drawn from different programmes offered by Birmingham City Council and its partners, and came from a variety of backgrounds. Some of the young people who attended the session came from socio-economically disadvantaged backgrounds and had criminal records.

The discussion began with one of the young people saying that a universal approach to a particular group of young people as 'NEETs' was unhelpful, ignoring the very different needs of young people. Other young attendees voiced their perception that there were not enough jobs out there, and that young people were not provided with the skills training and guidance to access those that were available. One of the young people said that for those who were not attending university, there was a lack of careers guidance, particularly at school, and that they were presented with limited options for other types of training.

The discussion dealt in detail with the difficulty ex-offenders found in terms of getting into work, regardless of their qualifications. The young people who were on the Midland Heart programme said that they wanted to stay in work, and made clear that work provided them with certainty and structure. They also noted that it gave them responsibility and a stake in society, making them "think twice" before re-offending. They said that they had been able to build up the necessary skills for further employment, for example, learning how to interact with others in a professional setting. Addressing the issue of possible measures to help offenders get back into work, they pointed to the fact that most employers did not appreciate that personal issues that occur outside work may affect an employee's ability to attend or perform properly.

One of the young people said that he would be travelling on a funded programme to visit the Netherlands for three months to work on a business plan. He suggested that a possible measure to tackle youth unemployment might be to make international schemes like this more widely available, providing young people with the opportunity to learn new skills outside their normal frame of reference, comfort zone, and possibly away from negative influences.

One of the young people was very well qualified, with four degrees, but had still been unable to find employment for over two years. She stressed that young people should be made aware that a good education was not a precursor to employment and that other skills were as important. It was also suggested that there needed to be a better link between education establishments and the employment market.

For the second part of the meeting, the delegation travelled to one of the St Basils transitional housing centres in Birmingham. The attendees were young people who were using the housing facility, and the St Basils management team. Here, the discussion focussed mainly on homelessness, but this was worthwhile in terms of drawing attention to the relationship between homelessness and unemployment. For example, in 2012, 75 per cent of the young people who had used the St Basils scheme had been able to re-engage with employment, education and training.

The benefits of the National Youth Reference Group were discussed in the wider context of the importance of young people being involved in decisions which affect them. The group is made up of young people aged 16-25 from across England who are homeless or have experienced homelessness. It exists to assist national and local government, local authorities and organisations to engage with young people in the development of policies and opportunities.

One issue raised by Jean Templeton (St Basils Chief Executive) was that St Basils found it difficult to obtain funding because of the small scale nature of the programme. She stated that they felt unable to compete for funding under the Government's Work Programme and suggested that there was not enough engagement from the Work Programme providers and other similarly commissioned providers.

The discussion moved on to the young people's experiences of the labour market. Many of the issues that had been discussed were revisited, including the need for a better link between education, training and work. The young people emphasised the importance of finding a sustainable source of work, in a subject that they were interested in pursuing, as opposed to "any job".

306   No stone unturned: in pursuit of growth, March 2012, Lord Heseltine review, available at: Back

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