Sheffield woman demands 'more compassion' as number of people not in education, employment or training leaps

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As the number of young people not in education, employment or training surges, a Sheffield woman has spoken out about her experience.

There are 1,408 more NEETs, as they are known, with one education expert putting the increase down to the impact of the Covid pandemic.

A survey showed an increase in NEETs aged 16-24 in the three months from January to March 2022, compared with the previous quarter, October to December 2021.

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According to recent data from Office for National Statistics (ONS), the number of young people currently not in education, employment or training (NEET) in the UK has increased slightly by 0.2 per cent to 704,000 nationwide.

A Sheffield woman has spoken out about her experience after new figures showed a big rise in the number of young people not in education, employment or training (file photo by Danny Lawson/PA Wire)A Sheffield woman has spoken out about her experience after new figures showed a big rise in the number of young people not in education, employment or training (file photo by Danny Lawson/PA Wire)
A Sheffield woman has spoken out about her experience after new figures showed a big rise in the number of young people not in education, employment or training (file photo by Danny Lawson/PA Wire)

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Pamela Rae-Welsh is the chief executive officer of Dimensions Training Solutions (DTS), an organisation supporting young people who are NEET with inclusive learning and development programmes that are focussed on giving them career aspirations and employment goals.

As the data suggests, DTS also recently saw an increase in young people accessing their services.

According to the Ms Rae-Welsh, the pandemic and the cost of living crisis had an impact on the immediate needs of learners when returning to normal schooling and exam conditions.

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She said: “The issue we have is that often when speaking about young people the government default is to talk about apprenticeships (and more recently T-Levels) and what they are doing in this space; when they must also make provision for those who require more entry level basic learning and skills.”

The data supports this claim and also shows a shift in the gender of people who are NEET, as after the pandemic, the number of women – who since 2001 have generally been making up a bigger part of the 18-24 NEETs – has gone down, while the number of males affected has gone up.

Ms Rae-Welsh warned: “Traditional classroom environments are not always suited to young people who come from poorer backgrounds where maintaining routines is harder, and home conditions are not always conducive to doing quality self-study putting them at a significant disadvantage over those from more affluent backgrounds.”

The funding for the programmes DTS currently delivers is due to finish in spring 2023 and there has been no announcement of replacement funding for these services yet.

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ONS data reveals that the number of NEETs across both genders is significantly higher in the 18-24 age group versus the 16-17 age group, which suggests that 18-to-24-year-olds are more vulnerable to finding themselves NEET.

This is due to the difference in support for underage and adult young people who are NEET, as the example of Laura*, from Sheffield, demonstrates.

She was 16 when she had to drop out of sixth form due to her mental health.

She said: “My college didn’t show much sympathy. I had one with the school counsellor in which she just handed me some leaflets and didn’t even know my name. I dropped out after a month.”

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She met with both the school and the council who were trying to find a solution for her.

When meeting someone from the council, the lady supposedly told her she was lucky about the support she got, as, at age 18, “nobody would touch her with a

barge pole”.

For the vulnerable girl, this experience was upsetting and weakened her trust in the council.

Eventually, the council agreed to fund Laura to study with a specialist online college, but her mental health prevented her yet again to stick with the course.

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She demands more support and care from the council as well as a guidance councillor to support vulnerable young people.

“I also wish the people I spoke to were more compassionate and understanding. It always felt like I was fighting the council to prove to them that I was seriously unwell. I couldn’t see any kind of future for myself,” she said.

Today, six years after being NEET, Laura works in her dream job as an animal care officer for the RSPCA.

She is still suffering from the aftermath of her time not in education, employment or training, as she had a hard time adjusting to a routine again and is still not feeling confident in her work.

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Since Laura was NEET from 2014 to 2016, Sheffield City Council has increased its support for affected young people.

Sheffield, as part of the NEET Core Cities Group, contributes to the wider national debate and shares good practices in a collective approach to reducing the number of young people who are NEET.

Councillor Mick Rooney, chair of the Education, Children and Families Committee at Sheffield City Council, said: “As a council, we recognise that we have a vital role to play in supporting young

people to access education, employment, and training and offer a range of dedicated services and projects to do this.”

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The council’s Education and Skills team as well as their Youth Services work to identify those who are or are at risk of being NEET and provide them with regular contact, guidance, and advice to encourage and enable them to make informed decisions about their future and the options available.

According to Coun Rooney, young people from lower socioeconomic backgrounds are disproportionately at risk of becoming NEET.

To help tackle this, the council runs programmes that identify the most disadvantaged individuals and groups to provide direct, tailored interventions to support them.

Coun Rooney said: “We want all our young people to reach their full potential and make a successful transition from their teenage years into confident, happy and successful adults.

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“If any young person out there feels like they need support getting into education, training or employment, please do get in touch and access the help available.”

Projections show that in the next five years, the number of NEETs is likely to decrease nationwide, amongst others on account of programmes such as DTS and the NEET Core Cities Group supporting young people.