Some policies are born effete, some achieve effeteness and some have effeteness thrust upon them. The raising of the participation age was a prime example of a laudable piece of policymaking that, thanks to political circumstance, ended up limping through to the statute book in little more than name.
Since 2015, all young people have been required to remain in education, employment or training until the age of 18. This, however, is completely unenforced. Not wanting to be seen to be as either too supportive or not supportive enough of a Labour initiative, the coalition opted for the path of least resistance and most cowardice: allow the change to happen but invest negligible effort or funding to make it a success.
Even now, it’s nigh-on impossible to pull together accurate statistics. An approximate figure of 40,000 16- and 17-year-olds not in education, employment or training (Neet) was calculated by the authors of the first report of the Learning and Work Institute’s Youth Commission, published this week. And of the 700,000 Neet 16- to 24-year-olds – one in 10 of this age group – it’s the 40,000 under-18s who are the greatest cause for concern, especially when you consider the long-term impact on their job and pay prospects.
While only the most cynical observer would claim that successive ministers have conspired to penalise young people, this is the cumulative impact they have had. One in five young people are in insecure work. The pay gap between younger and older workers has widened. And worryingly, only half of out-of-work young people are on benefits at all – meaning that 150,000 are cut off from back-to-work support.
To borrow Robert Halfon’s “ladder of opportunity” metaphor: if young people can’t even get on to the first rung, what chance do they have of achieving a better life? Good policymaking can transform lives – but only when it is properly funded, implemented and monitored. That’s the least young people deserve.
Stephen Exley is the Tes FE editor