Neets figures set to soar as recession bites
The number of young people in Wales dropping out of school early and failing to get a job could be much higher than currently thought, opposition politicians have warned.
Figures released last week show that 14,000 16 to 18-year-olds were classed as Neet - not in education, employment or training - in 2007, a rise of 2 per cent.
But opposition politicians in the National Assembly said the situation today could be even worse as a result of the recession.
The Government published its long-awaited Neet strategy in March, which included a number of plans to "re-engage" disaffected youths, but critics said it was too little, too late.
Paul Davies, the Conservative education spokesman, said: "Thousands of young people across Wales have been abandoned by the Assembly government's failure to tackle the Neet problem before the recession. The chances of them getting help now are harder still."
Jenny Randerson, Liberal Democrat education spokeswoman, said: "The really worrying thing about these figures is that they cover a period when the economy had not yet taken the series of horrific tumbles it has since.
"The increase in Neets during this period took place in quite a stable economic period and I believe that the situation now may be extremely concerning."
Wales continues to have the highest percentage of Neets in the UK, and the Government has previously admitted that the statistics are a "significant concern".
Its strategy, which draws on best practice and expert advice, calls for schools and colleges to improve identification of, and working with, pupils at risk of dropping out, and sharing the information with other agencies.
The vocationally led 14-19 learning pathways will play a major role by offering a wider choice of options and more opportunities for young people.
A government spokesman said the new statistics pre-date the strategy and other actions being put in place to tackle the Neets problem.
"The strategy will allow us to work effectively across Wales to ensure individuals benefit from the support that is on offer," he added.
"The Assembly government has also taken positive steps to minimise the impact of the current recession, which historically has had a scarring effect on the long-term prospects of this group in particular."
These include the pound;49 million Reach the Heights initiative launched in May, which will help around 30,000 young people across West Wales and the Valleys to improve their career opportunities.