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One in six 18-year-olds are now not in school, college or work, official figures showed today.
The rise, from 14.2% in 2007 to 16.6% in 2008 has been fuelled by the recession, and a lack of jobs available for school leavers.
The Government statistics show that the proportion of 16-18-year-old so-called “Neets” – teenagers, “not in education, employment or training”, rose to 10.3% in 2008, up from 9.7% in 2007.
This represents an estimated 207,800 teenagers out of work and not training or studying – more than one in ten in total.
About 113,560 of these are 18-year-olds, by far the largest proportion.
The proportion of 16 and 17-year-olds falling into the “Neet” category has fallen this year.
It suggests that it is those 18-year-olds who may have stayed on in education after the age of 16 to take further qualifications, who are now struggling to find work, or to win a university place.
Today’s figures are from the end of last year, so the proportion of 18-year-old Neets is already likely to be higher now, and could continue to rise in the coming months, as the recession continues.
In addition, the Government has promised only 10,000 extra university places this year, and figures published earlier this year showed a massive rise in the numbers of people applying to university.
According to the latest youth unemployment figures, more than 16% of under 25s are currently out of work.
The figures do show an improvement in the proportion of 16-18-year-olds staying in education to gain more qualifications, rather than find work in the downturn.
Almost eight in ten (79.9%) continued their education in 2008, up from 78% in 2007, according to the provisional figures for England.
The Government blamed the rise in Neets on “reduced employment amongst young people not in education or training”.
Schools secretary Mr Balls said: “It is a tough time for the economy and for the youth labour market. What we are seeing today is a record proportion of 16 to 18-year-olds in education or in training.”
He added: “We have seen a small rise in the number of 18-year-olds not in education, employment or training, and a small overall rise in Neet numbers.
“That is why it is so important this summer and next that we deliver the September Guarantee.”
The Guarantee is an offer of a place in training or education for every 16 and 17-year-old.
Mr Balls said that 18-year-old Neets have access to the New Deal – which helps them find and keep a job.
But he said university places were not part of his remit. They come under the new Department for Business, Innovation and Skills.
Critics have accused ministers of failing to cut the number of Neets since Labour came to power.
Today’s figures show that there were fewer teenagers in the Neet category in 1997 than there are today. In 1997, the figure stood at 8.9%.
Liberal Democrat schools spokesman David Laws said: “The soaring number of teenagers that aren’t in any form of education or work is very worrying. This will only get worse when school leavers enter a very tough job market this year.
“Ministers have let down thousands of young people by failing to improve overall standards in schools and colleges.”
Martina Milburn, chief executive of youth charity the Prince’s Trust, said: “Too often young people leaving school with few qualifications or job prospects face a downward spiral towards a loss of self-confidence, and even crime, homelessness and drug use.
“Jobless teenagers will cost the state billions of pounds if we fail to help them into work, education or training. All of us will feel the impact.”
Children’s charity Barnardo’s said the current situation was “desperate” for young people leaving school at 16, and wanting to work or train in the workplace.
Chief executive Martin Narey said: “The proportion of young people who are Neet has not changed much over the last decade, hovering at around 9-10% of the age group.
“But beneath this, there are two clear trends: a steady rise in the number of young people staying on in full-time education, and the steady decline in employment and work-based learning opportunities for young people aged 16-18.
“We urgently need a more relevant education system – with more vocational options for young people who are not suited to narrow, academic learning – and more opportunity to learn in the workplace, to gain the skills and experience that employers demand.”