An ‘all-out assault on poverty’ requires real action on inequalities in youth unemployment

The Prime Minister’s promise of an ‘all-out assault on poverty’ at last week’s Conservative Party Conference raised hopes of a fresh determination to tackle this solvable problem, says Helen Barnard. 

A prominent passage about ethnic inequalities and discrimination in the labour market followed on from a speech late in the 2015 election campaign in which David Cameron set out the Conservative’s pitch to ethnic minority voters, focusing heavily on getting better employment outcomes. Post-election, the Prime Minister has set targets for improving employment and access to apprenticeships among ethnic minority groups. However, some experts have criticised existing targets for not going far enough. We need to see the Prime Minister’s vision translate into a set of concrete actions if inequalities are to be driven down.

Yesterday JRF published two new reports, by the Work Foundation and IPPR, which set out the scale of the problem, and how it can be tackled.

There is good reason for successive Governments to focus on youth unemployment as it can affect jobs and earnings prospects for many years afterwards.  The biggest driver of youth unemployment is poor qualifications but other factors also play a part. In particular, young people from several ethnic minority groups are much more likely to be unemployed when young, despite those groups tending to do better in school on average than White British young people.

Apprenticeships are intended to provide a route into skilled work and reduce youth unemployment. But they are proving much less effective for people from ethnic minority groups compared to the White British population: in 2013/14, 25% of those who applied for apprenticeships were from ethnic minority groups, but ethnic minority groups made up only 9.5% of those starting apprenticeships. Young people from ethnic minority groups also appear to have less access to higher value apprenticeships, in sectors with better pay and prospects. Improving the quality of apprenticeships, not just the quantity, is crucial if they are to achieve their goals. This research shows that much more should be done to ensure that groups currently disadvantaged get better access to better quality apprenticeships.  

Our new research recommends much greater action to connect young people across all ethnic groups to routes into jobs with good prospects including:

  • Investing in careers advice in schools, colleges and the community. Many reports have documented the poor quality and patchy provision of careers advice for young people. The Gatsby Foundation suggests it would cost £207 million to provide good careers advice across England, with trained advisers and services which meet the needs of young people across different groups.
  • Employers, their representatives and sector bodies should take a lead in tackling discrimination and unconscious bias. Employers should make sure that they are using best practice in recruitment, giving on-going equalities training for managers and taking part in mentoring programmes to support ‘non-traditional’ candidates to get jobs and progress.
  • Local authorities should use local data to identify groups that need greater support, encourage local employers to recruit a more diverse workforce and set up Employer and Apprenticeship Hubs to link young people to the best apprenticeships, training and job opportunities.

The Prime Minister aims to deliver “true opportunity and real equality”; these steps would be a good start to realising this ambition.