Young, female and forgotten? How Young Women’s Trust are giving a voice to workless young women

Posted on January 18, 2017

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Sara Halliday

Young Women's Trust supports and represents women aged 16-30 struggling to live on low or no pay in England and Wales and who are at risk of being trapped in poverty. 

In this blog, Emma McKay – a Senior Policy Officer at the charity (@EmsMckay), writes about their latest research and its value to policy makers. 

In November 2016, Young Women’s Trust and Professor Sue Maguire, with the support of Barrow Cadbury Trust, published Young, female and forgotten about young women who are ‘economically inactive’ (EI). This rather off-putting term comes from government statistics. It defines those who are not in paid work, education or training, and who have neither recently sought work nor are able to start within 2 weeks. 

At the most recent count, there were 428,000 young women aged 16-24 in the UK who were Not in Education, Employment or Training (NEET), with 285,000 of them EI. Being EI is slightly different to being ‘unemployed’. To be classed as unemployed, you must be actively looking for a job and able to start work straightaway.

A voice in the conversation

It’s tough to be out of work regardless of how government statistics define you. But at Young Women’s Trust we’ve been concerned for a while about the vacuum of information which exists around what it means to be EI. Our research has begun to change this and – most importantly – has started to give young women a voice in the conversation.  

In the course of 2016, we analysed large datasets and interviewed policy experts and service providers. We also began to make links with organisations connected to EI young women such as local branches of Jobcentre Plus, Worth Unlimited and Symphony Housing. We interviewed several young women about their daily lives, their future hopes and the support they would like to receive. 

We also involved young women in presenting the research to MPs, in blogging and speaking to the media about their experiences, and in taking part in events to promote the research. Next year, we will conduct 40-50 more interviews with young women and bring them together with policy makers to discuss the support they want to receive.

Participation and policy development

These activities reflect Young Women’s Trust’s core approach to participation. Including young women in shaping their own support is not only ethical but good practice for stronger results. Thanks to combining multiple types of evidence, including from young women, Young Women’s Trust have been able to point out that 29% of EI young women want to work now even if they are looking after a family. The limited contact they have with employment services like Jobcentre Plus isn’t presently enough to help them. We have recommended that one-to-one support, affordable and accessible childcare, and better mental health provision are explored as solutions.

Isolation and exhaustion

Having young women at the forefront of their own stories also brings alive complex and potentially dull policy issues. For example, the experience of Young Women’s Trust trainee Glynn was central to BBC coverage of the report. In the research, the isolation and exhaustion of a 21 year-old mum we interviewed was summarised when she said “I don’t have any friends… By the time it comes to the weekend and (the baby) is away, I’m absolutely shattered. I’d rather sit at home with a cup of tea and a colouring book.” 

Finally, an EI young women’s desire to manage work and family – with the help of someone who has the answers – is captured in the testimony of this 19 year-old single mum:

“I do not want someone else to be closer to my baby than me. I do not know how I am going to do it. It would be helpful if I could sit down with someone to help me go through things when I am ready. I don’t know how it works. I would love someone to tell me how it works. I have not got a clue. Make me understand how I can do it, how I can cope. The kid, me, work etc. My family would say ‘you are better off with your mum, it is too hard to move out’. Someone external, who has been in our situation and done it. A young mum who is working now and has a house.”

Working for change

Young Women’s Trust supports and represents women aged 16-30 struggling to live on low or no pay in England and Wales and who are at risk of being trapped in poverty. Our Work It Out service provides individualised, empowering support for young women seeking work and was designed with young women to fit around their lives.

Emma McKay has been a Senior Policy Officer at Young Women’s Trust since 2015, working on issues including welfare, employment support for young women and the gender pay gap.

If you want to put the charity in touch with young women to interview or simply want to hear more about their research, please contact her at: Emma.mckay@youngwomenstrust.org / @EmsMckay