Belfast Telegraph

Youth unemployment bill now £20m per week

By Amanda Poole

The youth unemployment bill in Northern Ireland could total £1bn by 2016, a firm of business advisers has claimed.

A new report from PwC says growing youth unemployment costs around a quarter of a billion pounds a year in lost productivity.

Currently, over a fifth (21.4%) of Northern Ireland's working age population, aged 16-24, are not in education, employment or training - described as NEET.

In 2011, around 48,000 young people in Northern Ireland were categorised as NEET - a rise of 10,000 since 2007.

And latest unemployment figures show a jobless rate of 16% for 18 to 24-year-olds compared to an overall rate of 6.5%.

The PwC report examining this area, entitled 'helping a lost and forgotten generation' - was launched yesterday at the international Children of Conflict conference in Belfast's Europa Hotel.

Dr David Armstrong, a labour market expert and partner with PwC in Belfast, told the audience that Northern Ireland's NEET group was growing proportionally larger and faster than the rest of the UK and was approaching crisis point.

He also said the rise of young NEETs is an issue that has to be addressed by everyone.

"The loss of productivity directly related to youth unemployment costs the UK economy £10m a day, while paying Jobseekers allowance paid to young people under 24 not in education, employment or training is now £20m a week," Dr Armstrong said.

"Northern Ireland's expanding NEET group costs the local economy close to £5m a week and is increasing, driven by rising unemployment and school leavers opting for the job market as an alternative to university. However, around 40% of Northern Ireland's NEET population are already disadvantaged by literacy, numeracy and lifestyle issues such as alcohol and drug use and brushes with the law.

"The downturn has hit this disadvantaged group particularly hard; they are increasingly disengaged with society and this disengagement is likely to become worse."

At the moment, around 3% of young people leave Northern Ireland schools with no formal qualifications and many more do not achieve the necessary qualifications in numeracy and literacy.