The scale of the youth unemployment crisis engulfing Yorkshire is revealed for the first time today as fears grow of a “lost generation” of young people who will never get the chance to fulfil their potential.
Local MPs are warning of an “unfolding social disaster” as a major new analysis of labour market figures reveals there are now an estimated 100,000 young people looking for work across the region – more than 50,000 of them stuck on Jobseeker’s Allowance.
More than 7,000 18-to-24-year-olds are now officially classed as long-term unemployed, having been claiming benefits for more a year without respite.
That figure is more than four times the 1,700 recorded one year ago, and in December 2007, just as the economy began to crash, the figure was just 420.
Today, in the first of a two-part special report, politicians, business chiefs and religious leaders from across Yorkshire express grave concerns over the future for the young as Britain’s economy falters in a double-dip recession.
The Government insists the apparent leap in long-term unemployment over the past 12 months is due to a change in the way the figures are recorded, meaning the true scale of the problem is only now becoming clear. Ministers claim the picture is starting to improve, and that they are tackling youth unemployment with a range of flagship programmes.
But with latest figures showing that in some parts of the region there are now more than 40 job seekers chasing every single vacancy, grave questions are being posed about how effective any back-to-work programme can be if private sector work is not there at the end of it.
“This is an unfolding social and economic disaster,” said Hull North MP Diana Johnson. “We know that periods of unemployment for young people cause long-term damage to their prospects which, in turn, is harmful for the skills base of our economy.”
Unsurprisingly, the picture across Yorkshire is deeply divided, with fewer than three per cent of youngsters on the dole in wealthy parts of North Yorkshire such as Richmondshire.
In stark contrast, one in seven young people in Barnsley are on Jobseeker’s Allowance, with the town’s overall youth unemployment rate more than 30 per cent.
Barnsley Council’s new cabinet member for development, Linda Burgess, said she was “shocked” to discover some 2,800 of the town’s young people are on the dole – up from 1,000 before the economy crashed.
“It is an appalling figure,” she said. “This is so tragic for those young people. They urgently need the chance to support themselves economically. It is a major challenge.”
Writing in today’s Yorkshire Post, the Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu, warns the “spectre of unemployment” now “looms large” over the nation’s young people, with more than one million 18-to-24-year-olds out of work across the UK.
“Think of that lost talent, and the missed opportunities for something better,” he writes. “The most contentious issue politically is that of the long-term unemployed, with official figures suggesting an astonishing rise of more than 400 per cent in just a year.”
The Government says Labour used to mask long-term youth unemployment by taking young people off Jobseeker’s Allowance after nine months and putting them on short-term training allowances. Ministers say the new Work Programme launched last June allows young people to keep drawing the allowance, meaning the true number of long-term unemployed is becoming clear.
But Barnsley East MP Michael Dugher accused the Government’s of “utter complacency”.
“Long-term youth unemployment is the biggest danger of all, a ticking timebomb,” he added. “When you’ve been unemployed for more than a year it has a hugely detrimental effect on your future chances of getting a job. You lose that routine of getting up in the mornings and there is lots of evidence it massively impacts upon your self-confidence, and even your health.”