Are NEET numbers at the lowest point in a decade?

11 September 2013

"We're also seeing the number of young not in education, employment or training - that number is at its lowest for a decade." David Cameron, PMQs, 11 September 2013

When addressing the Prime Minister at PMQs today, Henry Smith, MP welcomed the fall in youth unemployment in Crawley. The Prime Minister replied saying that although there is plenty more to be done, the number of young people not in education, employment or training - known as NEETs - is at its lowest in a decade.

According a House of Commons Library standard note "the number of young people who are NEET is higher than it was prior to the recession (1.04 million in the second quarter of 2008), but has declined from a peak of 1.24 million in Jul-Sept 2011."

The Commons Library graphed ONS statistics which distinguish those NEETs who are unemployed, from those who are economically inactive, i.e. not seeking work and/or not available to start work.

So how can both these statements be true?

We contacted Number 10 to ask them what figures the Prime Minister had made consulted and were pointed to a DfE press release published last month.

The release states that:

"Skills Minister Matthew Hancock today welcomed a fall in the number of young people not in education, employment or training (NEET) — including the lowest comparable level of 16- to-18-year-olds for 13 years."

The most recent figures relate to the second quarter of 2013 and put the number of 16-18 year old NEETs at 168,000. We need to focus on NEET numbers for the second quarter of each year since records began

As the numbers show seasonal patterns that reflect the academic year - as students go in and out of education - to get a like for like comparison we should be looking at Q2 figures in previous years. 

The DfE's figures (particularly table 4) corroborate the statement made in the press release: the last time the number of 16-18 year old NEETs was lower during a second quarter was in Q2 2000. 

This also applies to the rate. Currently 9.1% of 16 to 18 year olds are not in education, employment or training. The last time the rate was lower than this - in a second quarter - was also in Q2 2000.

However, in his statement to the House of Commons the Prime Minister did not specify these caveats. It isn't clear from his statement that he is referring to a specific age group. 

If we count all NEETs - aged 16 to 24 - than we are again presented with another picture. Currently (Q2 2013) there are 935,000 NEETs. The lowest number in the past decade was recorded in the fourth quarter of 2003 (660,000); the lowest rate was also recorded Q4 2003 when it stood at 12.1%. 

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