How does disability influence young people’s experience of the job market?

Guest post from Katy Jones who is a researcher within the socio-economic programme at The Work Foundation.

Today’s young people face a tough jobs market. Almost one million 16-24 year olds are unemployed in the UK, with crisis levels persisting since the recession hit half a decade ago. For the individuals involved, this often means a personal crisis, but youth unemployment is profoundly damaging both to our economy and wider society, with an estimated cost of around £28 billion.

However, young people’s experiences will be different according to a range of factors including demographic characteristics, qualification levels and the jobs available in local areas. The Work Foundation’s new report for the TUC – The Gender Jobs Split – investigates how young people’s labour market experiences differ by gender and how this interacts with other characteristics including disability.

Whilst small sample sizes mean we cannot draw any firm conclusions, our analysis suggests that disability acts to further constrain young men and women’s labour market experiences. Our report finds much higher levels of unemployment amongst young disabled people compared to their peers without a disability – and this is particularly the case for young disabled men. In 2011, 19% of disabled young men were unemployed, compared to 15% of non-disabled young men.

Barriers to work

Looking at differences in the benefits claimed by young disabled men and women can give us some idea of the different kinds of barriers to work faced. We found the reason more young men claim ESA, incapacity related and other disability benefits than young women is largely explained by higher numbers reporting learning difficulties and hyperkinetic syndromes (e.g. ADHD). In a previous report from The Work Foundation we also found evidence of an increasing incidence of mental health problems among young people not in employment, education or training (or NEET), with the proportion of those reporting a health problem and citing depression/bad nerves almost doubling from 8% in 2001 to 15% in 2011.

The occupational divide

Getting into work is only part of the story. The kind of jobs which young people start their working lives can have a big impact on their future opportunities. Again, our data suggest the occupations young people work in are constrained by both disability and gender. Young disabled men, for example, are more likely to be in lower skilled and lower paid work than non-disabled young men – the evidence shows they are overrepresented in elementary (unskilled) and caring and leisure occupations, and underrepresented in skilled trades, other manual work and professional occupations. Young disabled women are also most under-represented in professional occupations, but are less likely to be in unskilled work compared to their non-disabled peers. Instead, young disabled women are more likely to work in sales and customer services, caring, leisure and administrative and secretarial occupations.

From our data, it is difficult to understand what is driving these differences. But previous research finds that whilst disabled and non-disabled young people have similar career aspirations, outcomes are more likely to fall short of these for young disabled people.

It is vital that young disabled men and women are able to access the support they need to make a successful transition into the labour market. We argue that this must be tailored for different groups of young people, including those with disabilities and caring responsibilities. Any help which allows young people to enter and sustain work should recognise and challenge the different barriers often faced by young women and men. In addition, we think young people should be supported in the first few years of employment, rather than just focusing on getting them into any job.

Young people’s early labour market experiences can have a huge impact across working life. Whilst today’s youth labour market is a particularly harsh place to be, our research suggests that young people with disabilities appear to be even more restricted in their choice of occupation and ability to take up work. To echo Scope, “disabled people need specialised support but they’re not getting it”. It is vital that support to help young people enter and sustain work recognises and effectively challenges the different barriers often faced by young women and men.

Read the report from the Work Foundation. Scope runs a career training course for young disabled people in east London.