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Qualifications don’t protect you from being out of work

18 December 2017 No Comment

New research from the Young Women’s Trust has found that hundreds of thousands of young women without a job are being written off as economically inactive and going without support to find employment, despite many of them having good qualifications and wanting to work.

264,000 women aged 16 to 24 in the UK are economically inactive (not working or currently able to look for work) and not in education or training – 37,000 more than men. Most say they want to work, either now or in the long-term, but they are not included in official unemployment statistics and not given the right Government support to prepare for work.

The ‘Young, Female and Forgotten?’ report – the most comprehensive study of its kind and the culmination of a two-year project which included in-depth interviews with 57 young women, discussions with experts and new analysis of official data  – finds that having children has a greater impact on women’s likelihood to be in work than their level of education.

The report reveals that new mothers and those with a dependent child are six times more likely to be economically inactive than those without children. In contrast, having children does not impact on whether or not men are in work.

Even having a university qualification does not protect women from being out of work. The report finds that women with degrees are as likely to end up economically inactive as men with no qualifications, often due to the impact of having children and a lack of suitable jobs, including on a part-time or flexible basis.


The research, co-funded by the Barrow Cadbury Trust and carried out with Professor Sue Maguire of the Institute for Policy Research at the University of Bath, also shows that mental ill-health, which affects more women than men, increases the risk of becoming economically inactive – but that there is a lack of support available.


The report exposes the extent to which many young women who are out of work are isolated, with limited support networks, and struggling to get by financially. This can lead to low self-esteem, low confidence and poor mental health – making job-hunting even harder. Being out of work, training and job-hunting for more than a year has been shown to limit a young person’s chances of gaining employment in the future.


Young Women’s Trust is calling for the Government to take action including:


  • Providing one-to-one personalised support to young women to help them with their next steps, including finding work
  • Reducing the time taken to process welfare claims, including Universal Credit
  • Including investment in jobs and skills for young women in the Industrial Strategy, including flexible working hours, better pay and flexible childcare to help women become economically active
  • Extending the 30 hours of free childcare to people on zero hours contracts, apprentices and students
  • Replacing European Social Fund provision that currently supports local employment initiatives


Young Women’s Trust Chief Executive Dr Carole Easton OBE said:


“Young women are telling us they want to work but they are getting shut out of the jobs market in their hundreds of thousands. Women can have a degree and be just as likely to be out of work and training as a man with no qualifications.


Having children, having poor mental health and a lack of suitable jobs seem to be having a bigger impact on women’s work than on men’s. While the Government focuses on reducing its unemployment figures, over a quarter of a million young women who are not included in the numbers are being forgotten.


The young women in our study faced multiple barriers but the overwhelming majority did not lack personal ambition or a willingness to change their circumstances in the future.


The report recommends support and mentoring to help ease young women’s transition back into the world of work, a commitment to invest in jobs and skills for women in the Government’s Industrial Strategy, due to be published soon, access to affordable childcare, and reducing the time taken to process welfare claims. Young Women’s Trust is also calling for a new ministerial champion to oversee progress.


Giving young women the support they need to find work will not only help them to become financially independent but will benefit businesses and the economy too.”


Professor Sue Maguire, of the Institute for Policy Research at the University of Bath, who carried out the research with Young Women’s Trust, said:


“This in-depth research shines a light on the lives of young women who are defined as NEET (not in education, employment or training) and economically inactive. Through their own words and experiences it offers a damning critique of a system which appears to view them as a problem rather than recognising their resilience and abilities.


Despite most young women possessing decent qualifications and having future aspirations for obtaining jobs, too often they are locked into long-term economic and social disengagement because of their caring responsibilities and/or ill health. They lack the external support that meets their needs and are simply written off. Mental health issues loom large among this group, together with a lack of money and financial independence. Youth poverty is particularly prevalent among young mothers and those living alone.


Government must act to address the needs of this neglected group of young people – first and foremost by the creation of accessible, flexible and high-quality training and work opportunities in their localities, together with personalised support and mentorship provided by services which are targeted at meeting young people’s needs.”


Sarah*, a 19 year-old care-leaver and young mother who was interviewed for the report and has experienced poor mental health, said:


“It’s horrible, it’s horrible not being able to work, it’s horrible not having the chance and no one giving you the chance anymore, because of your past and stuff like that straight up. You try to go in college, you stop because of my past, try to go into work, I can’t because of my head and the fact of my past has stopped me. It’s just draining, watching all these people to be able to go out and get all this money, and then you’re sat here having to be on benefits, because you can’t. It’s physically draining.”

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