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Young, Female and Economically Inactive: Why It's Important to Look Beyond 'Youth Unemployment' Figures

It is important we act, and act now to reverse the course that threatens the future of hundreds of thousands of young women. I am delighted to be undertaking this vital work.

According to the latest government figures, there are almost three quarters of a million young people aged 18-24 who are NEET (not in education, employment or training) in the UK . The majority of whom, 448, 000 (62%) are deemed to be 'economically inactive'; a term used to define those who are 'not actively looking or able to work'. But what is little known is that young women constitute two thirds of this group.

This begs the question as to why so many NEET young women are classified as economically inactive. It is often a fact readily dismissed as being down to the choices young women make about pregnancy or parenthood. It is assumed those with parenting and caring responsibilities do not want to work and their inactivity is therefore written off as a lifestyle choice. However, research conducted by the Young Women's Trust (YWT) reveals that 95% of young mums who are NEET actively want to work and are just as likely as those without caring responsibilities to say having a paid job is important.

These young women are prevented from working because of numerous barriers including the lack of flexible working hours and prohibitive childcare costs. However, whilst it is true that young women are more likely to be involved in childcare or other types of caring responsibilities, this does not tell the whole story. Office for National Statistics (ONS) data show that almost a third (30%) of economically inactive women do not have children.

All those considered economically inactive and in receipt of Employment Support Allowance or Income Support, miss out on the intensive support offered to those who are classified as "unemployed" and claiming Job Seeker's Allowance. This leaves them drifting further away from the labour market, making it that much more difficult to get back into work when the opportunity arises.

The need to further examine why young women are more likely to be economically inactive is at the heart of a new two year research programme, supported by Barrow Cadbury, which I will be conducting alongside YWT - a charity which works with young women aged 16-30 living on low pay or no pay across England and Wales. Over a two year period, we will engage a range of national and local stakeholders, including a survey of young women - building on the findings of YWT's 2014 public inquiry, Scarred for Life? which revealed the high levels of young female NEETs who are also classified as economically inactive in England.

Without effective intervention, this will inevitably lead to unacceptable levels of youth poverty and even higher levels of disaffection and disengagement among young people. It doesn't take a genius to understand that the consequences of sustained, long-term social and economic exclusion among successive generations of young people will have a profound impact on society as a whole. It is therefore crucial that we develop a greater understanding of both the reasons for high inactivity rates and their impact on young women's lives, in order to create effective long-term solutions. This work comes at a time when impending cuts are likely to exclude even greater numbers of young people from accessing welfare support, including housing benefit. It is important we act, and act now to reverse the course that threatens the future of hundreds of thousands of young women. I am delighted to be undertaking this vital work.

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