Youth worklessness has fallen dramatically since the mid-nineties, but rising inactivity among young men needs urgent attention, according to a think-tank.
The Resolution Foundation’s Not Working report finds that the number of people aged 18-24 who were out of work fell from 1.1 million to 800,000 between 1995 and 2021, but this was mainly driven by falls in the number of young women without employment. Women accounted for 280,000 of this decline, while overall worklessness fell by just 20,000 among young men.
The report suggests that the increase in economic inactivity among young men is mainly due to long-term sickness or disability, which accounts for three-quarters of the rise.
Between 2006 and 2021, inactivity among young men because of long-term illness or disability more than doubled to 91,000. Women saw a smaller rise of 28,000.
Louise Murphy, an economist at the Resolution Foundation, said it was “troubling” that there has been an increase in inactivity among young men, which raises the risk of prolonged unemployment.
Opportunities for young people
“Rising inactivity among young men has been driven by an increase in people suffering from long-term ill-health or a disability, with mental health problems in particular increasing the chance of young people becoming workless, and remaining workless for longer,” she said.
“Unless we address these challenges now, there is a risk that the welcome progress made in recent decades could soon go into reverse, with widespread youth worklessness becoming a major problem in Britain once again.”
Mental health problems are a significant reason for economic inactivity and youth unemployment. Between 1995 and 2018/19 there was a seven percentage point increase in the proportion of young men with a common mental health disorder (from 17% to 24%), compared with a five percentage point increase among women (29% to 34%).
Martina Kane, policy and engagement manager at the Health Foundation, which sponsored the report, said: “A failure to address the growing rate of poor mental health could leave an enduring legacy as young people with mental health problems are more likely to become workless and remain workless for longer. This is likely to be fueling a vicious cycle as we know that good quality work supports people’s health and wellbeing, including their mental health.
“Good quality work is a key building block of good health. Leaving young people to struggle without support for either their mental health or their employment prospects risks not only their immediate health, but also their future health. We hope that these findings will provide a wakeup call for policy makers to take targeted action.”
The fall in youth unemployment among women was primarily due to a reduction in young parenthood and an increase in the number of women who choose to combine parenting with work. There was an 80% drop in the number of 18-24-year-old women who were out of work due to family care between 2006 and 2021.
Although there was a reduction in worklessness among young people from all ethnic backgrounds, the most pronounced decline was seen among Bangladeshi (13%) and Pakistani (10%) and black (9%) groups, betwen 2003-2005 and 2017-2019. However, young people from these groups were still more likely to be unemployed than people from white and Indian groups.
The report makes several recommendations for policy makers to reduce youth unemployment and support those out of work:
- focus benefits strategies on young people who have historically been hard to reach, to allow the government to support those who are inactive due to ill health
- more investment in support for young people who are workless, beyond the Kickstart scheme
- learn from previous successes of integrating employment support with psychological support, such as Employment Advisers in IAPT and Individual Placement and Support services within community mental health teams
- improve job quality by offering the right to request more hours and receive compensation for shifts cancelled with little notice, for example.