Young UK women with children less likely to find work, report says

The UK has been singled out in a new report as being among the worst countries in the developed world to be a young mother seeking work, reports The Guardian.

The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) said the UK, along with the US, Ireland and New Zealand, scored lowest out of its 35 member states for this demographic, especially when women are in a couple without access to state subsidies. It said women were on average 1.4 times more likely to be not in education, employment or training (Neet) than men.

“For many of them, this is because they are looking after small children and the high cost of childcare is a major barrier to employment. In the United States, Ireland, United Kingdom and New Zealand, childcare costs for a lone parent can account for between one-third and a half of net income,” the OECD said in its report Society at a Glance 2016which checks on the wellbeing of households across member states.

The steep rise in childcare costs in the UK means it is the worst place in the OECD to be a couple with young children, the report said. But the introduction of child tax credits means it is among the best countries to be a single parent, alongside Denmark, Luxembourg, France, Germany and Austria, taking into account childcare costs.

However, the UK had one of the lowest rates of youth unemployment, the OECD said, and was more successful than most large economies in allowing young people to combine work and education, beating Germany, the US, Sweden, France and Japan.

Italy joined Portugal, Spain and Greece as the worst in offering young people work or both work and education. They also had the highest numbers of Neets.

Britain has also seen significant improvements in pupil performance at secondary schools over the last 10 years but still has one of the lowest levels of literacy and numeracy among Neets, according to the OECD report.

Well-funded further education institutions are also important to young people who leave school with poor qualifications. But successive governments have cut further education budgets by 14 per cent, adjusted for inflation, since 2010, prompting Labour to say they operate on a shoestring.

Turkey has the highest proportion of Neets, followed by Italy, Greece, Spain and Mexico. Britain ranks 19th out of the OECD’s 35 members, with Iceland and the Netherlands having the lowest rates.

More generally, the OECD report said that young people found it harder to get a job in 2016 and warned the economic recovery across the developed world may not come to their rescue.

The OECD said young people who leave school at 16 with low skills are facing increasing challenges in finding a job. The Paris-based thinktank found that 15 per cent of 15- to 29-year-olds are Neet, at a cost of between $360bn and $605bn, or 0.9 per cent and 1.5 per cent of the OECD’s collective GDP.

In much of the postwar period, economic expansion led to youth unemployment rates plummeting, but in the years since 2003, many young people have struggled to acquire the skills needed to succeed in the jobs market, especially when they have low qualifications.

The OECD urged policymakers to improve the literacy and numeracy skills of young people who face an uphill task getting a job when each year employers are demanding better-trained staff. A renewed effort to develop apprenticeships tailored to the digital age would also help young people enter the workplace, it said.

The OECD found that up to 20 per cent of all youth experienced a period of inactivity or unemployment that lasted 12 months or more over a four-year period.

Without improvements in schooling and access to further education colleges, periods out of the workforce may get longer, leading to “discouragement and exclusion”, it warned.

“It is getting harder and harder for young people with low skills to find a job, let alone a steady job in today’s workplace,” said Stefano Scarpetta, the OECD’s director of employment. “Unless more is done to improve opportunities in education and training for everyone, there is a growing risk of an increasingly divided society.”

Combining work and education, through apprenticeships and other structured in-work learning, is widely recognised as one the main ways for young people with few formal qualifications to improve their employability.

Looking back at the 2008 financial crash, the report said almost one in 10 jobs held by workers under 30 were destroyed in the aftermath. In Spain, Greece and Ireland, the number of employed youth halved between 2007 and 2014. Across the OECD, despite the recovery, the youth employment rate has stagnated since 2010 and today is still below pre-crisis levels.

“Improving the quality of vocational training and working more closely with employers to create apprenticeships is key. More countries should offer financial incentives to firms to create enough apprenticeship places, especially for the most disadvantaged youth,” it said.