Young people who fail to secure work or a place in education or training in the years immediately after school continue to suffer the consequences 20 years on, groundbreaking new research shows.
The study followed two cohorts of more than 10,000 young Scots, comparing those who were not in education, employment or training (Neet) after school with other young people 10 and 20 years on.
The government-commissioned study is the first to measure the effects of being Neet into people’s thirties.
“The shadow of Neet status was cast a long period after youth,” lead researcher Dr Zhiqiang Feng, research fellow for the Longitudinal Studies Centre Scotland, told TESS.
Almost a third of the 16- to 19-year-olds classed as Neet in 1991 whom the researchers tracked were also out of employment or education in 2011, when they were in their late thirties. This was close to three times the rate for non-Neet young people.
Even those whose Neet experience was relatively short-lived and who were found to be in work 10 years on were less likely to flourish.
This was the “scarring effect of Neet status”, the researchers said: young people who had been Neet were more likely to be unemployed, in low-status jobs if they did find work, and to suffer poor physical and mental health.
The report calls for measures to boost educational attainment and attendance, because success in school was found to be the most important factor in protecting young people from becoming Neet.
Students who have no qualifications at SCQF level 5 (equivalent to National 5) or higher by the time they are in S4 are 10 times as likely to be Neet if they are male and seven times as likely if they are female, the survey shows.
Linda Croxford, of the University of Edinburgh’s Centre for Educational Sociology, praised the research for providing “very strong evidence of the long-term, cumulative effects of educational disadvantage on people’s life chances”.
Previous long-term studies followed subjects only into their twenties, the report says.
Dr Croxford added: “Its findings are in line with previous studies, but this research takes them over a considerably longer timescale and a wider range of issues.”
In Scotland, the Neet group has been shrinking. Between 1996 and 2013 they consistently numbered around 30,000 each year, accounting for 11 to 15 per cent of young people aged 16-19. The latest statistics, however, show that the number of Neets has dropped to around 21,000, or 8 per cent of young people.
Research has shown that someone who is Neet will, on average, cost the public purse about £56,000 before retirement age. The Scottish government calculated the lifetime cost of a single cohort of young people failing to make the transition into regular employment at around £2 billion.
The Scottish government responded to the report by saying it had made “considerable investment” into supporting young people into jobs, including schemes such as Modern Apprenticeships and employer incentives.
The spokesman also highlighted the recent announcement of more than £10 million in funding to deliver elements of Scotland’s Youth Employment Strategy in partnership with local government.
“We are well aware of the risks of young people remaining out of education, work or training,” he added.
Jobless young ‘more likely to suffer depression’
Studies have examined the impact of being Neet on health, but in the past many have used self-reported indicators instead of objective measures.
The Scottish research published last month looked at the kind of drugs being prescribed to the cohorts it was tracking and hospital admissions after an A&E visit.
The study finds that nearly half the young people who were Neet in 2001 were treated for depression or anxiety roughly 10 years later. Slightly over a quarter of non-Neets had the same experience.
Neet young people were also more likely to be admitted to hospital after a visit to A&E, and were up to eight times more likely to be hospitalised for self-harm after a visit to A&E, suggesting that the group is more likely to be suffering “considerable psychological stress”.
Those in the Neet group were also up to nine times more likely to have a record in the Scottish Drug Misuse Database.
‘The system as it is now is not going to take care of this group’
Scottish billionaire businessman Jim McColl, pictured, who last year opened a controversial vocational college for S3-S4 pupils who struggled with school, has revealed his plans for a network of similar institutions across Scotland, writes Henry Hepburn.
Mr McColl wants to cater for a “huge” number of teenagers and see his model “embedded” in Scotland’s education system: too many young people emerge from school as a “wasted resource”, he says.
Mr McColl told an Edinburgh event run by education leadership body Selmas that 10-15 per cent of children were “trapped” and likely to become Neet (not in education, employment or training).
“The system as it is just now…is not going to take care of this group, and we need to – it would be criminal if we just ignored [that] and buried our heads,” he said.
Students at Newlands Junior College, which opened in new premises on one of Mr McColl’s Glasgow factory sites in November 2014, were “absolutely thriving” in the relaxed atmosphere and small classes, he said – including in traditionally academic subjects.
Mr McColl added that newspaper and magazine publisher DC Thomson was involved in plans to open another junior college in Dundee next August.
Two more are planned to open in 2017: one in Edinburgh and another in the Ferguson’s shipyard in Inverclyde, which Mr McColl recently bought.
The billionaire has also been approached by groups interested in bringing the idea to both North and South Lanarkshire, and he has a five-year plan to see the model properly “embedded” in the education system.
Newlands asks schools in Glasgow to nominate pupils who they believe may benefit from transferring to the school. Mr McColl acknowledged, however, that there was “still some apprehension” among teachers.
Mr McColl put the annual cost per Newlands student at between £10,500 and £11,500, about twice that for a pupil at a local state secondary, but insisted that this represented a saving to the Scottish government and the wider economy.
He has hinted that it has proved difficult to get those in power to entertain his ideas: “Some politicians won’t come along and see [the school] because they want to wait until it’s a success – then they’ll all turn up,” he said.
Education secretary Angela Constance told TESS that Mr McColl’s ideas were “really interesting” but that she could not pass judgement on their merits until she found out more.
Read the research
Find the study, Consequences, risk factors and geography of young people not in education, employment or training (Neet), at: bit.ly/NEETfindings