Start date:
December 2019
End date:
November 2021
Economic and Social Research Council


Against a backdrop of increasingly mixed economies of welfare, this project examines policy and civil society responses to youth unemployment in a quasi-federal or devolved state. It identifies the issues, progress and challenges associated with support for the young unemployed, facing unstable and uncertain working conditions; particularly given the disproportionate impact of the recent pandemic on young workers. 

Whilst youth unemployment has seen a steady decline across Europe since 2013 (peaking at 24% in 2013), currently at 15.1%, 16-25-year olds in the UK are still three times more likely to be out of work than the general population (11.7% at present compared with 3.8% of the UK population). In addition, increasingly precarious working conditions, in-work poverty affecting young people, the rising cost of further education and welfare reforms mean young people are facing a tougher and less predictable labour market than previous generations. Both unemployment and precarity for young people will likely worsen with the aftermath of Covid-19 with recent research by the Institute for Fiscal Studies identifying those under 25 as the group most hard hit by the shutdown of retail and leisure sectors following the government announcement on the 20th March. 

Civil society organisations (CSOs) do and will play a key role in mitigating this by challenging, shaping and implementing youth unemployment policy and performing advocacy and delivery roles. Where welfare provision is contracting, as it is in the UK, a mixed economy of welfare is more likely, thus emphasising the role of CSOs. Concurrently the most comprehensive studies of welfare provision to date are pitched at national, supra-national, federal or local/city levels of governance, with little attention given to devolution.

Qualitative interviews carried out with civil society organisation (with a prevailing youth unemployment focus) and policy representatives (civil servants and minsters) in England (N=25), Scotland (N=15), Wales (N=10) and Northern Ireland (N=10) will be analysed using a framework based on the work of Wallace and Bendit (2009) and Chevalier (2016) to categorise youth policy regimes for comparison across Western Europe. Building on international research into civil society, precarity and youth policy, the book will critique established welfare regimes referring to one UK welfare state in their categorisations of decommodification, social stratification and welfare pluralism (Bambra 2007). This critique will progress our understanding of the impact of decentralisation, devolution and territorial rescaling on welfare state retrenchment, recalibration and resilience in Europe and globally.

Research Questions

  1. How does civil society involvement in youth unemployment services compare between the four devolved territories of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland?
  2. How do civil society organisational structures intersect and interact with state and sub-state youth unemployment programmes and related policy within and between England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland?
  3. How do civil society and third sector actors perceive and interact with state policy and provision within different (devolved) policy contexts?
  4. How are the practices and interactions of civil society organisations and actors within them changing, or likely to change, as the UK negotiates its exit from the EU? And how do these changes differ by country?
  5. What implications do differences between the four devolved nations have for policy and governing approaches to youth unemployment?
  6. What implications do these differences have for future studies of welfare state formation in the UK and across Europe?


  • A series of blogs on the project as it progresses, every month from May 2020
  • Maps detailing civil society activity in the field of youth unemployment across the UK, August 2020
  • A UK-wide database detailing CSOs working in the field of youth unemployment and precarity hosted on the WISERD Data Portal, Summer 2020
  • Conference presentations at the Social Policy Association Annual Conference, June 2021 and the International Public Policy Association Annual Conference, July 2021
  • Project Report November 2021

Research team

Themes: Civil Society