New research explores why young unemployed people are turning their backs on the benefit system
by Dr Katy Jones, University of Salford
There is growing concern about so-called ‘hidden young people’ – those young people who are neither in employment, education or training, nor claiming the benefits they are entitled to. There are approximately 21,890 hidden young people in Greater Manchester. Recognising the issue, Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA), in its strategy ‘Our People, Our Place’, commits to ‘ensuring that fewer young people are ‘hidden’ from the essential support and services they need’. However, the evidence base relating to this group is incredibly limited – this is the case both locally and nationally.
In response to this, and as part of the Salford Anti-Poverty Taskforce, Salford City Council commissioned researchers at the University of Salford to undertake a qualitative study exploring the experiences of ‘hidden young people’. From interviews with 14 young people with experience of being both ‘not in employment, education or training’ and ‘Hidden’, and a series of focus groups involving 25 stakeholders from across the city, this research has uncovered some of the stories behind the statistics – and a range of reasons why many young people are shunning the benefits system.
The research shows that a lack of knowledge about benefit entitlements is widespread. As one young woman explained:
“I didn’t know that I could claim… until I was told by the people from [accommodation provider]… If not, I
wouldn’t have known. You hardly hear it from anywhere, these things.”
Others are deterred by the ‘stigma’ associated with the Jobcentre. In the words of one young person:
“Like if someone said to me, ‘Where do you get your money from?’ I think I’d be a bit embarrassed to tell
However for others, an increasingly ‘conditional’ welfare system, combined with poor experiences of the Jobcentre, made them reluctant to engage with the benefits system. As one stakeholder explained:
“Why would you continue to engage with a system that treats you so overtly badly and has all the power in
that situation? You would just withdraw from it.”
Negative perceptions of Jobcentre Plus services were widespread amongst both young people and practitioners involved in the research.
Whether or not young people need or want to claim benefits, not engaging with the social security system excludes them from mainstream support and service provision – as most youth unemployment interventions are routed through the Jobcentre and related contracted providers.
The report makes a series of recommendations for policy and practice, some of which apply at a Greater Manchester level – namely – that the GMCA should continue to monitor the issue, updating and measuring progress in meeting its strategic commitment against the estimated number of hidden young people in the sub-region (currently 21,890). Furthermore, in line with its commitment in the Greater Manchester strategy, we call on the GMCA to outline the steps it is taking to ensure effective support is provided to all hidden young people across Greater Manchester.
The report was launched at the University of Salford on 31st October, with a presentation from lead author Dr Katy Jones, followed by a response from Salford City Mayor Paul Dennett, and representatives from Salford City Council, Greater Manchester Combined Authority and the Greater Manchester Talent Match Youth Panel. A copy of the report can be accessed here.