Presented by Sioned Pearce (Cardiff University):

The steady decline of youth unemployment since the 2008/9 global economic recession was sharply reversed across Western Europe during the Covid-19 pandemic with lockdowns impacting the sectors most likely to employ 18-24 year olds. Although, youth employment rates are now declining, research shows that any period of unemployment has long-term negative impacts on the future wellbeing, health and job satisfaction of young people, increasing their chances of being unemployed in later years and impacting future earnings (Bell and Blanchflower, 2011; 2021). Added to this, work insecurity amongst young people has been steadily increasing in all its forms, as more young people work zero hours contracts, in the platform economy, part time, temporarily or casually with no prospect of progression. This trend is part of a Europe-wide move towards flexicurity, activation and work first as globalised neoliberal policy choices erode workers’ rights and welfare, and governments focus on raising employment figures.

In the UK a ‘work first’ policy orientation emanating from Westminster brings with it increased conditionality on receipt of benefits, rapidly increasing use of sanctions and the push to get (young) people into work (and off benefits) regardless of job quality, pay or their mental and physical wellbeing, partially explaining the significant rise in in-work poverty. The Scottish and Welsh Governments led by the SNP and Welsh Labour respectively have been pushing back against ‘work first’ in both the devolved (education, skills and training) and non-devolved (welfare and work) domains since the welfare reforms of 2010/12.

Against this backdrop the project examines and presents devolved differences in social policy approaches between England, Scotland and Wales and the impact of these differences on support networks for young people, most notably civil society, in this broader context.

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