Poorer children in the West Midlands are twice as likely to end up jobless – and qualifications alone won’t close the Youth Jobs Gap

Published: 26th July 2019


New report reveals that there is a Youth Jobs Gap between rich and poor children in the West Midlands, leaving disadvantaged young people locked out of the labour market


A ground-breaking new report today has revealed that disadvantaged young people in the West Midlands are more likely to not be in education, employment or training (NEET) than in England as a whole, although, positively, this gap has been closing in recent years.


Today’s research on youth unemployment: ‘Youth Jobs Gap: Establishing the Employment Gap in the West Midlands’ published by charity Impetus based on research undertaken by the Centre for Vocational Education Research and the National Institute of Economic and Social Research (NIESR) and in partnership with KPMG, reveals that in some places in the West Midlands you’ve got a better chance of getting a job if you’re from a better-off background than if you’ve got good qualifications.


However, the study finds that every locality in the West Midlands has its own story, with areas where young people fare well and other areas where they’re falling behind. This is true even within the combined authority areas - for example, young people from Sandwell are still 75% more likely to be NEET than those from Solihull, both parts of the West Midlands Combined Authority. In order to tackle the challenges faced by disadvantaged young people in the West Midlands, it is important to use this data to consider solutions to youth unemployment at a local level.   

The Youth Jobs Gap report uses new LEO (Longitudinal Education Outcomes) data from the Department of Education to explore the impact of growing up in the West Midlands on life chances, by connecting people’s school records with their journey into employment. It analyses data to present findings at local authority area level, including the West Midlands Combined Authority area.


The report is being launched at a roundtable today, attended by Julie Nugent, the Director of Skills and Productivity at West Midlands Combined Authority, and cross-sector leaders to analyse the report findings and develop a set of recommendations for change in the West Midlands.


Findings include:


  • The NEET rate for disadvantaged young people in the West Midlands is higher than the national average for this group – by around half a percentage point.
  • In the West Midlands 27% of young people who were eligible for free school meals were subsequently NEET after leaving school. Comparatively, only 13% of those not eligible for free school meals ended up NEET. This “Employment Gap” is equivalent to approximately 10,600 extra disadvantaged young people aged between 18 and 24 ending up NEET.
  • The report also found that where you grow up in the West Midlands affects your life chances; a disadvantaged young person from Sandwell is around 50% more likely to be NEET as a disadvantaged young person from Solihull.


  • Low qualified young people in the West Midlands are more likely to be NEET than in England as a whole.
  • The ‘doubly disadvantaged’ group – young people with low qualifications and from disadvantaged backgrounds - is the main driver of the higher NEET rate in the West Midlands.


  • In Worcestershire, Stoke-on-Trent, and Herefordshire it is better to be better-off than to have qualifications.
  • And in some local authority areas, such as Telford and Wrekin, disadvantaged young people with five GCSEs are still more likely to be NEET than their better-off but worse qualified peers from places like nearby Shropshire or Warwickshire.


  • Disadvantaged young people with top GCSEs in the West Midlands are still much less likely to go to university than their better-off peers.
  • While 72% of disadvantaged young people with top GCSEs from Wolverhampton access university, only 45% of equally well qualified young people from Shropshire do so.


  • The West Midlands has above average take-up of apprenticeships.
  • Overall, 7% of young people in the West Midlands undertook an apprenticeship, including 11% of disadvantaged young people compared with 9% nationally.


High quality employment support is vital to help young people overcome these gaps. Impetus supports a number of charities, such as TwentyTwenty which helps some of the country’s most vulnerable young people get the academic qualifications and work ready skills they need to find a good job and keep it. As part of this research, Impetus is helping its charity partners and others to benchmark their programmes and build on what works for young people who are NEET.


Dr Julie Nugent, Director of Productivity and Skills at West Midlands Combined Authority, said: “I welcome today’s report on unlocking the labour market for disadvantaged young people in our region. Tackling youth unemployment is a key priority for us.


“Many new jobs are coming to the region in a range of sectors, such as digital, construction and business and professional services. Local people need to have the skills to take advantage of these opportunities, and we are working with colleges and training providers across the area to make sure this happens.


“We have already launched the Beat the Bots fund to help workers at risk of automation, pledged to help train those with English as a second language, and recently taken control of the £126 million adult education budget.


“This shows our commitment to help people from all our communities find worthwhile jobs that improve their quality of life, regardless of their background or where they live.”


Sam Windett, Director of Policy at Impetus, said: “People talk about the North-South divide but when it comes to job prospects for young people the divides within regions matter just as much. Our new West Midlands data shows that opportunities can be very different for disadvantaged young people living just a bus ride apart.


People working in or with communities in the West Midlands can now use these findings to see how their area is performing compared to their neighbours. We hope it helps them to build more effective, local solutions for those young people who need it the most.”

Karl Edge, Midlands Regional Chairman and Birmingham Office Senior Partner at KPMG, said: “As a working class local lad, this is an issue that is really close to my heart. It’s clear that work needs to be done to address and reduce the ‘youth jobs gap’ to ensure the next generation has equal access to opportunities, regardless of background, socio-economic status, age, ethnicity, gender, disability, sexual orientation or religion.


“I believe that we all have a part to play in improving the opportunities for our young people and through investing both time and money, as well as businesses, educational institutions and local government working together, we can make some real improvements. In a richly diverse region, such as ours, we need to be a true reflection of society both in and outside of the workplace, and this will only happen by breaking down some of the barriers to social mobility.”


Dr Stefan Speckesser, Associate Director at NIESR and node leader in Centre for Vocational Education Research (CVER), said: “As with other English regions, a look into local authority data offers a complex picture how local conditions influence opportunity for young people coming from disadvantaged families. Although disadvantaged young people show higher NEET rates everywhere, the gap is smaller in urban areas. We need to understand what works relatively better in the cities, how the barriers of young people in rural areas are distinctive and how good practice from across the West Midlands can improve the situation of young people everywhere."




Notes to Editors


The report is available online at: https://impetus.org.uk/assets/publications/Report/Youth-Jobs-Gap-The-Employment-Gap-in-the-West-Midlands.pdf


Methodology: https://impetus.org.uk/assets/publications/Report/Youth-Jobs-Gap-Establising-the-Employment-Gap-methodology.pdf



The report uses the Longitudinal Educational Outcomes (LEO) dataset to explore the impact of growing up in a poor family on later life. LEO connects people’s school records with their jobs record, enabling the determination of whether there is a correlation between school outcomes and employment prospects. In particular, it allows for the analysis of how disadvantaged young people –classified as those eligible for free school meals (FSM) in year 11 – fair after leaving compulsory education. 


The data used in this report looks at six groups – or cohorts - of students who all sat their GCSEs in the same year, from 2007 to 2012. Young people are classified as NEET if they have been out of education, employment or training for at least three consecutive months up to and including March 2017. 


Impetus transforms the lives of young people from disadvantaged backgrounds by ensuring they get the right support to succeed in school, in work and in life. We find, fund and build the most promising charities working with these young people, providing core funding and working shoulder-to-shoulder with their leaders to help them become stronger organisations. In partnership with other funders we help our charities expand and we work to influence policy and decision makers so that young people get the support they need.


To arrange an interview with Andy Ratcliffe, please contact Sam Windett on samantha.windett [at] impetus.org.uk | Tel: 020 3474 1017 | Mob: 07414406754


About KPMG in the UK

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The National Institute of Economic and Social Research (NIESR) aims to promote, through quantitative and qualitative research, a deeper understanding of the interaction of economic and social forces that affect people's lives, and the ways in which policies can improve them.

To arrange interviews with Stefan Speckesser please contact the NIESR Press Office: Luca Pieri on 020 7654 1931 / l.pieri [at] niesr.ac.uk  


The Centre for Vocational Education Research is a world-class research hub with the potential to generate a step-change in our understanding of the nature, significance and potential contribution of vocational education to individuals and the wider economy.



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