YET ANOTHER CASUALTY OF THE RECESSION - LONDON'S JOBLESS YOUTH WHO ARE NOT IN EDUCATION OR TRAINING, ARE AT RISK OF TURNING TO CRIME. WHAT CAN BE DONE TO HELP? AIDAN JONES INVESTIGATES
As more people lose their jobs, the few employers with vacancies will enjoy the luxury of dipping into an ever-deepening pool of skilled, keen and experienced staff.
Newcomers to the threadbare jobs market are facing a struggle to find work.
This week the alarm was sounded on behalf of university graduates, tens of thousands of whom will leave education armed with a degree but no job.
But where does that leave people further down the food chain?
Neets - young people not in education, employment or training - are particularly vulnerable especially as many have poor qualifications, little job experience and a sometimes questionable work ethic.
"Young people are very exposed to this downward pressure on the jobs market," warns Tricia Hartley, head of the research organisation Campaign for Learning.
"Many who leave school after Year 11 lack the soft skills to appeal to employers... we're worried what will happen to those already on the fringes of the system."
Policy makers say what happens to Neets should be a vital concern for us all.
Figures suggest Neets are 20 times more likely to commit crime and 22 times more likely to become a teenage mother, at an estimated cost of £100,000 to the taxpayer over the course of their lives.
A majority of the youngsters who end up in front of Youth Offending Boards do not go to school - or work - instead spending their days on the street with fellow Neets, out of reach of the system which is meant to protect them.
With the focus on knife crime and youth marginalisation across London, all eyes are on Neets.
The government believes raising the mandatory age of school attendance to 18 by 2015 will go some way to keeping them within the system.
It is committed to reducing the number of Neets to zero over the next three years, by a raft of measures such as paying small businesses to hire apprentices and sticking to the 'September Guarantee' - which promised a suitable place in college for all post-16 school leavers from September last year.
But critics, including shadow skills secretary David Willetts, say that is rose-tinting the picture, citing the rise in Neet figures as evidence of the Government's inability to tackle the issue.
"It's tragic that ministers have done so little to help Neets during the fat years. Now that we're entering the lean years, it'll be harder than ever to tackle this urgent social problem," he said this week.
It is not all gloomy, says Chris Heaume, chief executive of central London Connexions youth service, precisely because Neets are a disparate bunch with a range of needs, they can be picked off group by group and brought back into earning, or learning.
"A third have really troubled lives, living in chaotic, complex conditions often in - or verging on - homelessness. They are the ones who may, if left alone, end up involved in crime," explains Mr Heaume.
"Another third are not fully engaged with school for one reason or another, and may well want to earn a salary working in the right environment, the final third are late starters who have the will to learn, but are just not able to fully commit at the moment."
Carefully-targeted courses for Year 12s are one solution, mixing vocational courses with work experience.
In the last five years in central London the number of Neets has been slashed from 4,000 to 2,230.
But, says Mr Heaume, inroads need to be made into the lack of job opportunities open to school leavers in London.
"Competition is simply too great. In Kensington and Chelsea, for instance, only 1.8 per cent of 16-18s are in work so at the minute job opportunities are almost irrelevant to them.
"Finding ways to get youngsters onto apprenticeships, courses and part work, part study schemes is key to reducing the numbers."
For the 'hardcore' of Neets in Westminster and K&C, Connexions has two dedicated advice workers to help them back into some form of education.
Connexions says the 'Something for Something' scheme, which provoked guffaws from the right wing press for paying Neets £30 a week to attend specialist job and education training, has yielded results.
Around 70 per cent of those who complete the 20 week course return to some form of education.
"For the others... we now are able to literally knock on their door the moment they don't appear on a sixth form college register.
"We need to get to Neets early if we are to help them."