British youth unemployment hits 20.2pc

Record numbers of A-level candidates are expected to end up without a university place today – as the latest unemployment numbers underline the bleak prospects of them finding a job.

More than one in five of Britain’s young people (those aged 16 to 24) are out of work and almost 100,000 have been on the dole for two years or more.

The youth unemployment rate rose to 20.2 per cent this northern spring – one of the highest in the European Union – according to the Office for National Statistics

There are 949,000 16 to 24-year-olds without work, a rise of 15,000 on the last quarter, and approaching levels last seen in the 1980s. Overall, unemployment rose by an unexpectedly high 39,000 in the three months to June this year, to top almost 2.5 million. The number of jobless women benefit claimants rose by 15,600 to 512,700, the highest since 1996.

The youth unemployment situation will be compounded by the number of teenagers who will not get into university this year. The number applying has reached an all-time high of 669,956 as candidates try to beat the rise in fees of up to £9000 a year, coming in September 2012.

 Today’s A-level results could see about 250,000 people chasing just over 40,000 places, meaning a record 210,000 will miss out. Many of them will face a dilemma over whether to hunt for scarce jobs, volunteer as unpaid interns, take gap years or seek university places overseas.

Sally Hunt, general secretary of the University and College Union, described the Government’s fees policy as “a clumsy disaster”.

The increase in youth unemployment is especially worrying because of the strong evidence that if young people cannot establish themselves in the world of work early in their careers they will find it much more difficult later on – the “lost generation” phenomenon that marked the 1980s, when youth unemployment was even higher than today.

The jobs misery is not confined to the young. Reflecting the sharp rise in unemployment when the recession began in 2008, and the faltering recovery since then, the number of long-term unemployed is up 30 per cent. For those over 50, the rise is 38 per cent, suggesting that, as in previous downturns, many may never work again.

Economists predict that general unemployment will see a further 250,000 out of work, and perhaps more, within months. The rate jumped from 7.7 per cent to 7.9 per cent, reversing recent declines. The more timely claimant count – which comprises those of the unemployed who are eligible for jobseekers allowance – jumped by 37,100 in July to 1,564,000.

Some of the rise in the number of jobless women benefit claimants was due to their being moved from other benefits onto jobseekers allowance as part of the Government’s welfare reforms. However, the high proportion of females employed in the public sector implies there may be more to come.

The official figures also understate the extent to which people can find work that they consider suitable – hidden unemployment. As many as 1.26 million of those in work are in temporary and part-time jobs because they could not find a full-time position.

Skilled employees are being forced into casual labouring or bar work to subsist. While that keeps them engaged in the world of work and off jobseekers allowance, it also represents a vast waste of human skills and potential.

Disappointingly for ministers anxious for the private sector to generate jobs to compensate for those being shed in the public sector – around half a million over the next five years – employment growth has virtually ground to a halt and the number of vacancies has fallen to recession levels.

There were 154,000 redundancies – a rise of over a quarter.

Although there are 250,000 more people in jobs than a year ago, that progress now seems to have ground to a halt – just 25,000 more found themselves in work in the northern spring.

Of those some 20,000 were temporary jobs and 4000 part time, leaving only around 1000 new full-time jobs.

The much heralded “rebalancing” of the economy seems to be stumbling along with the recovery; the latest survey data from business organisations suggests the manufacturing revival has run out of momentum, even as some businesses complain about a shortage of engineering skills.

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