Baseball bats were not the only commodity to experience a sharp increase in demand as a result of last week’s rioting. Sensible explanations for the country’s social problems were also highly sought after. Consumerism, lack of parental responsibility, inequality, hatred of the ‘feds’ and the breakdown of traditional values have all been cited as possible reasons for last week’s riots. While the resulting rhetorical deluge has done little to clarify the causes, it has settled over some common ground: disadvantaged young people need help, ASAP.
Earlier this year, youth unemployment in the UK reached a record high of 20.5%. The private costs of youth unemployment are significant and depressing. Young people who are unemployed have a greater chance of long-term unemployment, benefits dependency, ill health, depression and criminality than their peers. When they do get work, they are more likely to enter low paid jobs.
These facts seem to coincide neatly with the rioters’ responses that have emerged from the courts over the weekend. Whatever their goal was, the feeling that they had nothing to lose and no future to put at risk seems to be the underlying and uniting sentiment. Braving the odds as a youth unemployment statistic is not a very exciting prospect and does little to encourage community spirit. With few opportunities to enter the mainstream of education, training or employment, they are more likely to disengage. They have few ties and little interest in their communities; communities which, ultimately, they feel offer them no future. One young person interviewed in the Financial Times said “lots of people at my school don’t have ambition. No self-esteem… They just don’t care. They’re not going to uni. They’ve got nothing to lose, so they just do stupid stuff- like nicking trainers. Mugs, utter mugs. But what have they got to look forward to?”
In May 2011, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) announced a package of measures to help address youth unemployment. This package includes the £30 million Innovation Fund, to pay for 5-20 programmes over the next three years on a Payment by Results basis. The charitable organisations that are awarded the DWP tenders will work with some of the most hard to reach 14-24 disadvantaged young people in the most deprived areas of the country. They will aim to equip their participants – often with multiple physical or physiological barriers- with the necessary skills for getting a job. These may be soft skills – self-confidence, goal setting abilities – or hard skills – qualifications, CV writing and interview skills. The hope is that by moving disadvantaged young people closer to the job-market and improving their future opportunities, they will be less likely to disconnect from society.
The Innovation Fund aims to use outcome-based payments to explore innovative programmes tackling complex problems. It represents a potential opportunity to learn what works and may create an evidence base for possible roll-out of the best interventions. Social Finance is engaging in DWP’s Innovation Fund process as an investment intermediary to enable finance for social sector service providers.
If the Innovation Fund succeeds in giving disadvantaged young people something to lose, it will have taken an important step towards addressing at least some of the causes of last week’s events.
By Carlotta Mathieu, Summer Analyst at Social Finance