UK faces lost generation as youth unemployment hits record

LONDON Wed Nov 16, 2011 2:11pm GMT

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LONDON (Reuters) - Fresh-faced and in preppy clothes, a steady stream of young people strolling in and out of a job centre in north London this week are part of a growing army of more than a million young unemployed Britons.

A visit to the Barnsbury Road job centre in North London to claim government benefits has become routine for around 900 people aged under 25. Some waited outside for their friends to come out, hands pushed into their pockets against the chill November air, making the job centre something of a social hub.

Smoking a cigarette outside, customer service agent Moses Njie, 61, shook his head sadly when asked about the unemployed youth he deals with every day.

"Some of them are very determined, they'll get jobs. Some of them start when they're 18 and keep coming back year after year," he said.

"Some of the girls coming in here, they don't even look 14. I tell them: you've got to think of your future. Don't wait until you're old," he added, encouraging youngsters to stay motivated and not settle for scraping by on benefits.

The unemployment rate among under 25s is 21.9 percent, against a national unemployment rate of 8.3 percent for the population as a whole.

To keep up government payments of 53.45 pounds a week, unemployed youth must regularly come and apply for jobs on the centre's computers, demonstrating that they are actively looking for work.

Some people's efforts go far beyond this, however.

Aged 25, Sean Anker has been largely unemployed for the last four years.

He says he spends about 20 pounds a week in internet cafes, trawling the web for jobs.

This week, he applied for 87 positions. "That's below normal actually," he told Reuters.

A qualified gardener licensed to operate pruning machinery, over time Anker's search has become less and less picky.

This week, for the first time, he applied for work in fast food restaurants.

"It's nigh on impossible," Anker said. "Practically everyone I know is in a similar situation. When I first left school it was easy to find work, but everything's changed."

The programme through which Anker earned his vocational gardening qualification, the Future Jobs Fund, was shut down in March in government cost-cutting.

The scheme offered businesses up to 6,500 pounds to give a young unemployed person a job for at least six months.

On Wednesday, Business Secretary Vince Cable announced the launch of a similar scheme that will give 1,500 pounds to small firms who take on a young apprentice. The announcement coincided with confirmation that youth unemployment had topped the one million figure.

"Youth unemployment is a very deeply embedded problem. It's been with us for many years. It hasn't suddenly erupted this morning. It is very serious," he said.

Some of the young people at the job centre, in a typically mixed area of London where social housing stands close to expensive gentrified property, had made questionable decisions, quitting school or a job because they felt it wasn't for them.

Others, however, were doing everything they could, and finding the constant rejection a struggle.

Shantell Lewis, 22, is a graduate with a BA in Advertising and an ambition to work in fashion marketing.

She has applied for about 20 jobs a week since graduating one year ago. She has done two unpaid internships, but has not yet been offered a job. At this point, she says she is willing to take anything.

"You put a lot into it, get your hopes up. Then it comes to nothing. It's daunting," she said. "Three years of hard work for my degree. It seems like a waste of time."

Olie Rahman, 19, is discouraged by the fact that although they both have qualifications, neither of his older brothers, aged 20 and 27, have found jobs.

"No emotional talk here, but I want to get up and do something," he said. "It's hopeless. It's like, what's the point in waking up?"

Economist Vicky Redwood said young people who fall out of work or education will find it hard to get the skills needed to make them employable in the future.

"The youth unemployment figure reaching one million feeds into what people are saying about a 'lost generation'," she said.

(Reporting By Naomi O'Leary)

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