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Youth unemployment in the UK is at a record high – the number of 16 to 24-year-olds not in work has passed the one million mark. One in five young people are out of work. The worst-hit area is the North East.
Apart from a lack of experience and money, the concern is what effect this will have on the mental health and future aspirations of young people. Tanya de Grunwald, founder of the careers website Graduate Fog, told the press: ‘Youth unemployment is no longer a problem – it is now a full-blown crisis.’ She added that over the past six months 48 people had found her website by typing the words ‘graduate suicide’ into Google.
The British government has blamed the debt crisis in Europe for the sluggish jobs market. Employment minister Chris Grayling said: ‘These figures are bad news. They are, I’m afraid, the consequence of what we’re seeing in the euro zone. If you go back four months, unemployment was falling, youth unemployment was lower than 900,000. We’ve seen a big slowdown in the economy, I think, as a result of the crisis elsewhere.’
However, other politicians criticised this approach, saying that the euro zone debt crisis was not the only factor. ‘It’s ridiculous to blame this rise in unemployment on the crisis in the euro zone,’ Liberal Democrat peer Matthew Oakeshott said. ‘All economists know it’s a lagging indicator, so this is the result of what has been happening in our economy over the past year, for example the collapse in house-building to the lowest peacetime level since 1923.’
Grayling said he would help young people through work programme and work experience schemes. One such scheme will offer a £1500 cash incentive to small firms who hire an apprentice for the first time.
For the many young people who do work, it is not always in jobs they had in mind. Youth charity the Prince’s Trust carried out a small qualitative survey of 190 young people and found that nearly 60 percent had lowered their expectations and more than one in three had taken a job that they didn’t want and for which they were overqualified.
Unfortunately, in such times of unemployment, immigration also hits the headlines. On Sky News, Grayling was asked about why one branch of the sandwich chain Pret A Manger appeared to be staffed entirely by foreigners. He said: ‘It is certainly a situation that I find unacceptable. Of course, this country has benefited from people coming in from other countries to work. But I want to see more young people in positions in this country and I want... to see them getting jobs that become vacant, rather than people coming into the UK.’ Pret has said that it is ‘proud of the fact that our jobs are open to anyone legally able to work in the UK, no matter what their background.’
When looking at these statistics, it’s important to ask a few questions. More and more people in the UK are going to university. What about those young people who are in full-time education or training, and are therefore sometimes classed as ‘unemployed’ even though they are not looking for paid work? They are often included in such statistics, distorting the picture, even if the problem is real.
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