Independent Advisor on Poverty and Inequality: shifting the curve - a report for the First Minister

Report from Naomi Eisenstadt, Independent Advisor on Poverty and Inequality, informed by research evidence and views from stakeholders across Scotland.

3. Young People's Life Chances

"She just wanted money for her birthday so she could put it towards her school trip to the outdoor centre. And I just felt so sad that that's what she had to ask for - for her birthday. Children should be children and not have that worry."

"Growing up was really hard because my mum's disabled, and she's ill quite a lot. I became a young carer when I was about 13 … I had to cook and clean and, when mum couldn't do something like shopping and stuff, I had to do it. When I came home from school, I had to practically be a parent, but to my mum. I had to do everything, and fit in my homework when I could."

Over the last twenty years, a significant shift has occurred in how we view early childhood. It is now widely accepted that the first five years of life lay down the foundations for future success. However, this important emphasis on early years has not been matched with a similar narrative on older children, particularly the period from mid-teens to early adulthood. While Sarah Jane Blakemore's groundbreaking work has established that brain plasticity lasts well into early adulthood, and other research has looked at risk and resilience in this group, there has been no comprehensive examination of the evidence about 'what works' for adolescents and young adults.

Young adulthood is probably one of the most challenging periods in the life cycle. It is a period when parents have less influence on their children's behaviour as peers become increasingly important, and when the likelihood of risky behaviour is high. Increasing dependence on financial support from parents at this age increases the likelihood of intergenerational poverty. Some parents simply cannot afford the support offered to children that is increasingly common in better off families: private tuition, culturally enriching holidays, and deposits for a first home.

With this in mind, this next section of my report looks at young people's life chances.

RECOMMENDATION 10 - Carry out a comprehensive review of policies and services relevant to the life chances of older children and young adults, with particular emphasis on young people from poorer backgrounds

The Scottish Government should commission a wide ranging literature review of the research concerning young people's life chances, and carry out a comprehensive internal review of policies, interventions, and mainstream services for young people, from secondary school age through to young adulthood: physical and mental health, access to sports and leisure, education, employability and training. Does the effort and expenditure on the less advantaged match that on the most advantaged?

A developed understanding of what constitutes well-being is essential for this group who are often physically healthy and therefore not likely to come into contact with health services, but often have high levels of mental illness including depression, self-harm, and anti-social behaviour. This issue was recognised in the Draft Budget, with additional funding made available for child and adolescent mental health services. However, an overarching review would try to establish how to reduce the incidence of mental health problems in young people, and look more broadly at the relative contribution that family support, leisure and sports provision can make to improving well-being.

As in earlier reviews by the UK Government on under 5s, the Scottish Government has a chance to rethink the way we approach young adulthood, with particular reference to those less likely to go to university and enter lucrative careers. Action is already in hand on employment matters raised in the next three recommendations, as a result of the Wood Commission and Developing the Young Workforce, Scotland's Youth Employment Strategy. However, they need a stronger sense of urgency while the above suggested overarching review is in train.

RECOMMENDATION 11 - Reduce the number of government-supported employment programmes targeting 16-24 year olds and simplify the landscape, to provide a clearer, sharper focus

Worklessness for the under 25s is a critical issue to be tackled. Research shows that unemployment during this period can have a significant impact on future earnings potential [13] . Youth unemployment is significantly higher than unemployment in general, and the proposed changes to the minimum wage may have both good and bad effects: incentives exist for employers to hire this group, but most likely in low skill jobs that may be insecure.

Figure 2 - Young people's employment and qualification rates

Figure 2 – Young people's employment and qualification rates

As figure 2 shows, young people in Scotland with further or higher education qualifications have higher employment rates than those with lower qualifications The Scottish Government invests significant public funding in those who pursue a school to university route, and Scotland has world class higher education. However, comparable efforts must be made to ensure that all young adults are supported into a wide range of valuable routes into work that avoid lifetime disadvantage.

In many ways, Scotland has a positive story to tell in terms of supporting young people into work. The latest statistics suggest that positive school leaver destinations are at an all-time high [14] , the target for Modern Apprenticeship starts has been surpassed for each of the last six years [15] , and 92% of modern apprentices who completed their apprenticeship were still in work six months later [16] .

However, as table 2 shows, youth unemployment remains challenging. Of all 16-24 year olds unemployed and not in full-time education, around two thirds are male, one-third female.

Table 2: Proportion of all 16-24 yr olds unemployed and not enrolled in full-time education, by gender

Jul '08

- Jun '09

Jul '09

- Jun '10

Jul '10

- Jun '11

Jul '11

- Jun '12

Jul '12

- Jun '13

Jul '13

- Jun '14

Jul '14

- Jun '15

















Unemployed 12 months +








Source: Annual Population Survey, ONS

Note: Percentages show proportion of total (16-24) unemployed and not in FT education.

Scotland already has a vast array of support programmes for young people's employability. For example, I've been told about Modern Apprenticeships (including Foundation Apprenticeships), Community Jobs Scotland; the Employability Fund; Scotland's Employer Recruitment Incentive; and the In Work Support Package. There are many more.

This suggests a lack of focus. All these programmes are, I'm sure, worthwhile - but there must be opportunities to build on the current efforts of Developing the Young Workforce, Scotland's Youth Employment Strategy, for a more consolidated approach. Young people need clear, simple messages about the choices and consequences of their choices, and about the kinds of support available to help them decide their options and pursue their goals.

RECOMMENDATION 12 - Ensure that the new approach to employer engagement in education is having an impact on improving skills for work of young people

Students in secondary school who are university bound have a clear route laid out, with advice and support on choice of subjects, appropriate courses, and a relatively clear transition from living at home to living independently. Those not university bound have traditionally had little exposure to the world of work until near the end of their school career.

Addressing the needs of this group will require some consideration of the role that schools currently play in preparing young people for work, in ensuring as much effort is expended on the non-academic as the academic, and developing collaboration with employers on skills gaps well before school leaving age.

The fundamental relationship between what is taught at school and what skills are needed in the local economy is weak. More opportunities for work experience, better consultation with employers on skills shortages, and a more systematic linking of education and employment could improve both the local economy and the chances for young people leaving school. Some of these actions are already in train, through the establishment of regional 'Developing the Young Workforce' groups.

RECOMMENDATION 13 - Do more to tackle occupational segregation

The Scottish Government has committed to provide 30,000 new Modern Apprenticeship opportunities every year by 2020. The programme has a lot to commend it. Efforts are made to collect rich data to help keep track of how the programme is doing overall. And because of that data, officials are fully aware that more needs to be done to tackle under-representation on the programme. It's positive that Developing the Young Workforce, Scotland's Youth Employment Strategy, is helping progress this.

However, the fact remains that much less is spent on skilling up (mainly young) women from the programme than is spent on (mainly young) men. The overall level of qualifications gained by young women is lower than those gained by young men. And the average pay of young women emerging from the programme is likely to be lower than the pay of young men.

Reducing occupational segregation is crucial for genuinely inclusive growth. Occupational segregation is not something that the Scottish Government or its partners can easily fix. It's going to take time to make real progress, but a proper start has to be made. The Scottish Government should set out how it and its partners can target their effort and resources to areas where it is most likely to deliver better outcomes by gender, but also in terms of disability and ethnicity. It's positive that Skills Development Scotland has recently published an Equalities Action Plan for Modern Apprenticeships, and that the Scottish Funding Council will do likewise for the further and higher education sectors, backed by Scottish Government investment. A close eye will be needed on performance monitoring, to identify both early impacts and areas where not enough is being achieved.


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