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Tom Phillips

UK lagging behind major competitor economies on tackling youth unemployment

Authors: Tom Phillips Tom Phillips

29 January 2013

The UK has experienced the fastest rise in youth unemployment of any country in the G8 since the start of the recession and now has the third worst levels in the OECD, with only Spain and Greece experiencing higher levels1, according to a new report published tomorrow (29 Jan) by The Work Foundation (see tables and graph below).

The report looks at youth unemployment internationally, placing a spotlight on Germany, Denmark, the Netherlands and Australia, all of which have maintained consistently low levels of youth unemployment despite the economic downturn. The report argues that the UK’s youth unemployment problem cannot be attributed solely to the recession, particularly as other major economies have consistently outperformed the UK in this area.

Drawing on best practice from other countries, International lessons: youth unemployment in the global
makes a series of recommendations about how the UK government can improve its policy responses.

  • From Germany, the report makes recommendations for the UK apprenticeship system, calling for greater employer engagement and urging the government to push for all large employers to sign an agreement to offer places, with a widening of the model to include more occupations and greater academic content.
  • From Denmark, the report calls for the government to focus on early intervention and an ‘education first’ approach for young unemployed people without qualifications. Policy should also encourage more opportunities for private sector on-the-job training, which is likely to have more long-term benefits compared to unpaid work experience.
  • From Australia, the report raises major concerns about work-for-your-dole schemes, with the evidence showing them to be largely ineffective at getting young people into employment. It warns that while voluntary schemes can have a small positive impact, forcing people to take part in schemes - such as the government’s Day One Support work experience programme - can actually reduce a person’s chances of getting into work. The report also recommends improving and reintroducing the Key Stage 4 work experience programme and developing a range of other initiatives to better integrate education with work.

Lizzie Crowley, report author, said: “In many other developed nations, youth unemployment has remained low despite the global downturn. However, in the UK youth unemployment as a proportion of 15-24 year olds has increased at a faster rate over the course of the recession than both the European and OECD averages. While the reasons for this are complex, it’s clear that the UK can learn from the experiences of those countries that have fared much better in terms of youth unemployment.

“The government should focus on those policies that have been shown to work, cherry-picking the best responses from other countries and adapting them to the needs of the UK labour market.”


Figure 2
Youth unemployment as a proportion of population aged 15-24 years, 2000-2011

Source: OECD StatExtracts

Notes to editors

  1. The report uses the ‘youth unemployment ratio’, which is calculated by dividing the total number of 15-24 year old unemployed people by the total population for this age group. This differs from the ‘youth unemployment rate’, which measures unemployment as a proportion of economically active people. The latter can create a distorted the picture since those in education are not considered part of the economically active population, with the result that a rise in participation can create the impression of rising unemployment.  Data covers the period 2008 – 2011.
  2. Lizzie Crowley is available for interviews, briefings and written comment.
  3.     International Lessons: Youth unemployment in the global context is available from the press team in advance or upon publication from
  4. The Work Foundation’s Missing Million programme is sponsored by Barclays, The Learning and Skills Improvement Service, Private Equity Foundation and Trust for London. Views expressed in the report do not necessarily represent the views of sponsors.
  5. The Work Foundation aims to be the leading independent, international authority on work and its future. The Work Foundation is part of Lancaster University – an alliance that enables both organisations to further enhance their impact.
  6. The Learning and Skills Improvement Service (LSIS) is the sector-led body formed to accelerate quality improvement, increase participation and raise standards and achievement in the Further Education (FE) and Skills sector in England. LSIS is responsible for developing and providing resources that help colleges and providers implement initiatives and improve quality. This is achieved by commissioning products and services, identifying and sharing good practice throughout the system, and providing tailored programmes of support
  7. Private Equity Foundation (PEF) was set up in 2006 to unlock the potential of young people with limited life chances. Its focus is primarily on the NEET issue. There’s no silver bullet so PEF supports children and young people from age four to 24, at home, through school and into the workplace. It provides the very best youth interventions, with funding and pro bono business expertise to help them improve effectiveness and grow. To date, it has changed 114,000 young lives through 21 charities.
  8. Trust for London is the largest independent funder of projects tackling poverty and inequality in the capital. The Trust makes grants totalling around £7 million per year, supporting around 400 voluntary and community organisations in London at any one time. It was set up in 1891 and was formerly known as City Parochial Foundation.

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