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It's Time to End the Scandal of Workless Women

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It's the scandal that no one is talking about; more than 90,000 more young women than men are out of education, employment and training - so-called NEETs. It may be a tidy acronym but now is the time to stop sweeping this issue under the carpet.

That the number of female NEETS has barely changed in a decade points to the fact that successive governments have failed to address a major problem at the heart of youth worklessness - that so many more women than men are in this position; 418,000 women aged 18-24 compared with 325,000 men according to the latest figures.

Add to that the fact that women are NEET for longer than men - three years compared with two on average - and the case for government action looks even more compelling. But what's revealed in Young Women's Trust's new report about the way in which young women are being stereotyped and stigmatised also raises questions for employers and, ultimately, for all of us.

According to our ComRes poll of 859 NEETS, female NEETs are three times more likely than male NEETs to have been told by careers advisors to think about becoming care workers, nannies, nurses or hairdressers and male NEETs are at least six times more likely to be told to think about becoming IT technicians, construction workers or electricians and plumbers.

Many young women are directed towards traditionally female sectors, such as childcare or health and beauty, even though their interests and aptitude lie elsewhere. Because they don't have a clear idea what they want to do - as many of us didn't in our teens - they go along with this. Perhaps because this is what society has conditioned them to accept, few have the confidence to challenge the advice they receive. Before they know it, based on what might have only been a ten minute conversation, they are set on a path that quickly becomes difficult to escape from.

Almost half (47%) of the women in our survey said they did not find careers advice, provided at school or job centre, useful and 41% said careers advice would be most useful given later, between the ages of 18 and 21. But this isn't just about careers advice - other support is lacking, both practical and emotional. More than half (55%) have not received any training or education since leaving school or university and even more (58%) have been prevented from applying for a job due to lack of confidence.

Stigmatisation, sadly, comes with stereotyping. Many people will assume NEET women are in this position by choice, yet almost all NEETs (95%) say getting a paid job is important to them. And, also contrary to popular misconceptions, only 5% have their sights set on being famous.

Likewise, many people may assume that women are NEET because they have had children but only a quarter are mothers, though you would be right to assume that life is tougher for those with kids. More than two thirds (69%) have been put off from applying for a job due to caring responsibilities for their children and almost as many (65%) said training only led to more training and not to employment.

It is depressing to find that crude gender stereotyping lies behind so much of this but that's the reality; hundreds of thousands of young women who want to work cannot do so because the advice, training and support they receive has them competing for a limited number of poorly paid jobs.

If the moral argument for change is not persuasive enough then the economic argument should be. There are approximately two jobs for every qualified construction worker but five qualified practitioners chasing each job in hair and beauty. Or to cut and set that another way, as one of those abundant hairdressers might put it, we are training women for jobs that don't exist while not being able to fill jobs in another, economically vital, sector.

Female NEETS cost the government £926million per annum in lost tax and the cost of benefits and £2.6billion in lost productivity.

On every level, this is a scandal. We are wasting the talents of so many young women and consigning them to the hopeless pursuit of jobs that are too few in number and pay too little to be sustainable. Many NEET women will be trapped in poverty but it isn't just them that are poorer as a result but our society.

Around the Web

Worklessness by gender and country of birth - London's Poverty Profile

Women Work and Worklessness - Tower Hamlets Council

Women and Worklessness - Tower Hamlets Council

What works with tackling worklessness? - Greater London Authority

Working and Workless Households, 2012 - Statistical Bulletin - ONS

The Rise of the Workless Household

UK: work and ethnicity - The Poverty Site

poverty, worklessness and welfare dependency in the UK

In Europe, Job Protections for Older Generation Are Barriers for Younger Workers