The BBC has today reported that nearly a quarter of all 16-24 year-olds in Doncaster are not in education, employment or training. You can read the report by The Work Foundation here.
Report author Neil Lee said high Neet levels were one of the UK’s most serious social problems:
“For a young person, being out of education, employment or training can have major ramifications, including long-term reductions in wages and increased chances of unemployment later in life, as well as social or psychological problems arising as a result of sustained unemployment.”
The situation is likely to worsen, and is not remedied instantly by employment:
“For an individual, a period being NEET can lead to wage scarring; lowering earnings long after they find employment. It also represents a significant drag on the economy through lost output, higher welfare payments and lower tax contributions.
Yet there are important concerns that the NEET problem may worsen. Rapidly rising unemployment has reduced the number of entry-level jobs available for those leaving education.
And public sector cuts are restricting both youth services and the capacity of government to help people to enter the labour market. This squeeze will be worst in cities with weak economies and which are already facing the challenge of public sector cuts. Given these trends, we expect the NEET rate for 16-24 year olds to continue to increase (accounting for cyclical variations).” (Off the Map? p.3)
This is particularly problematic in Doncaster:
“Towns such as Doncaster and Grimsby are NEET blackspots: between one in five and one in four young people are NEET. Without targeted action to address the problem of NEETs in these places there is a real danger that a generation of young people, often those living in towns and cities which are already less economically successful, will face long-term problems in the labour market. Both national and local government needs to focus their efforts on young people in these cities (emphasis mine).”
What can be done to address these issues?
A co-ordinated strategy is crucial and must include areas of the council and external bodies who support education, employment and training. They must work in partnership to alleviate the social problems associated with high Neet levels. Libraries must play a central role; they help people find employment, provide access to education for children and adults, and make a significant contribution to careers information, advice and guidance for employability – Doncaster council simply cannot afford to ignore this any longer.
Edit: Research from Glasgow University has found that young people from deprived areas have higher levels of ambition than tends to be expected. What they lack is information about how to achieve what they want to. Schools careers offices, careers advice centres, FE and HE institutions and public libraries give young people access to information about jobs and careers. Public libraries offer people a place to study, access learning resources and careers advice on their doorsteps. They’re the natural place for people to access information and an incredibly good value way for councils to achieve their aims to reduce NEET levels.
The decision to close two branches and give 12 others to community groups or close them has been called into Overview and Scrutiny because it is believed that the cuts to the library service conflict with the borough strategies, which include improving educational achievements and qualification levels, and offering “the same opportunities in life for all residents, leading to improvements in their quality of life”. The £1.2 million the council wants to cut from the libraries is a drop in their budgetary ocean (the library service cost £5.7 million in 2010/11, which is less than 1% of the overall council budget).
We know how crucial good library services are to successful societies, and how much of a difference they make to the skills, development and employability of young people. We’ve already written in depth about how investing in the library service, providing trained and qualified staff in 26 fully-funded, well-resourced, local branches offering the same standard of provision across the borough, would help with Doncaster’s strategic priorities. We hope that the Overview and Scrutiny Committee on 10th November pays particular attention to the signs of success that the council identified as desirable in the Borough Strategy:
- Educational standards will rise for all
- Children and young people will have the opportunity to engage in positive activities
- There will be more young people in education, employment or training
- There will be more people qualified with the relevant skills to meet the needs of the local economy
- The same opportunities in life for all residents, leading to improvements in their quality of life
- Raised aspirations, particularly amongst young people, and better skills
It is time for the Cabinet and the Mayor to reverse its decision on the library service and instead invest in library resources for young people. The Labour group say they could find the money within council budgets so that they would not have to cut the library budget – now is the time for the Mayor to consider this. If money is still short, national government should support the council financially in order to focus efforts on young people as recommended by the report.