Scotland’s young unemployed of the 1990s ‘still struggling’

Scotland’s young unemployed of the 1990s ‘still struggling’





‘I had just done two years of a college course and wanted to do something useful, but you are sitting in the house. All you’re doing is writing to job adverts and you’re getting a small forest of ‘thank you but we will keep your letter under review blah, blah, blah’ letters.’ (Interview with Dale, age 27)


Young men in Scotland who found themselves out of work for more than a year after they left school in the 1990s have described how they are still struggling to find steady, long-term work more than five years later. Despite the Government’s New Deal for Young People and falling levels of unemployment, many have found themselves trapped in a series of insecure and casual short-term jobs.


Researchers at the University of Glasgow carried out a series of in-depth interviews with young men they had first contacted in 1996 as part of a study of unemployed 18- to 24-year-olds. Most had left school with few qualifications and spent time on Youth Training schemes – mostly for an occupation that held little interest for them.


Their experience of long-term unemployment had typically been followed by a wide range of low-skill jobs and further periods without work. The opportunities available tended to be temporary, with few opportunities for further training. Redundancy was usually the result of changes in their employer’s demand for labour rather than any dissatisfaction with their work.


Yet in spite of having spent extensive periods out of work, most of the 32 men interviewed remained committed to finding employment. This was apparent in their willingness to go on accepting temporary jobs, even when the financial benefits of leaving the unemployment register were negligible and the work involved unsocial hours, inconvenient journeys or poor working conditions. However, most interviewees also saw nothing wrong with taking a ‘wee job on the side’ while claiming unemployment benefits, especially those with children, who argued that they needed the money to survive.


The research also highlighted the importance of family and friends in surviving unemployment and finding work. The minority of young men who had established fairly secure careers not only tended to have stronger qualifications, but also came from families that had been able to help them financially or with contacts among potential employers.


Fred Cartmel, co-author of the report, said: ‘The family was crucial to these young men’s experiences of unemployment and to the prevention of social exclusion. The support and encouragement they received from other family members helped to prevent despondency and keep them actively looking for work. However, the parents of many of the young men we spoke to were relatively unskilled themselves and, therefore, poorly placed to help their sons to move into more secure sectors of the labour market.’


Prof. Andy Furlong, co-author of the report, added: ‘Although most of the young men had experienced long and frequent periods without work, their main problem was not finding jobs, but keeping them. Their job insecurity was not a consequence of negative attitudes to work or even lack of skills so much as the temporary or ‘flexible’ nature of much low-skilled work available in modern Britain.


‘These jobs rarely provided training beyond the immediate demands of the tasks to be performed, making it even harder to break free of the vicious cycle of short-term work followed by unemployment. The message for government is that the trend towards more casual employment may need to be thrown into reverse before disadvantaged young people can escape from the trap in which they currently find themselves.



Vulnerable young men: case histories


Murdoch lives with his parents on a quiet street in a working class area of Glasgow. Although bullied throughout his secondary school career he never played truant, mainly due to having a tough father who forced him to attend school every day. He achieved several Standard Grade passes at the foundation level before leaving school at the minimum age. On leaving school, he tried to find unskilled work but eventually had to settle for a Youth Training (YT) placement in a warehouse. He left after six months, partly because his poor numeracy skills prevented him from doing the stock control that was a major component of his placement. He then started a YT placement as a commis chef, but left early. There was no college training provided on either of the YT courses. Murdoch has had few jobs since, but has taken part in the Environmental Task Force option on the Government’s New Deal for Young People. He planted trees for six months, but gained few transferable skills. Murdoch, when interviewed, was due to have a meeting with an over-25s New Deal Adviser, but did not expect any of the other options available to lead to a full-time job.


Tim truanted extensively during his last year at school and left at the minimum age with no qualifications. He began work as a van boy delivering electrical goods, but then started a YT course as a landscape gardener until the company went out of business. A second YT placement led to a City and Guilds qualification in painting and decorating. He has, however, been unemployed for five years. The only job he has held was for eight months as an assistant in a pet shop. He enjoyed this and has since tried to get similar work, including volunteering at Glasgow Zoo. He began an adult literacy course, but he had to give it up to look after his mother who has schizophrenia. Tim now fills up his days looking after his mother and providing occasional care for one of his children from his second marriage. In his spare time he has taught himself programming skills which he uses to adapt computer games.


Eric lives on a deprived estate in a town outside Glasgow. He left school at the minimum age with no educational qualifications and although he has had many temporary jobs, has never held a permanent post. After leaving school he started a YT as a painter and decorator but was sacked due to poor attendance. He found a YT placement in a kitchen at a community centre where he gained health and hygiene certificates. At the end of the course he was told that there was no further work for him. He considered going to college to study catering, but he found he could not afford the equipment required. Since then he has worked on numerous fixed term contracts, and been employed through agencies. While unemployed he has had various unskilled jobs ‘on the side’. When interviewed, Eric was unemployed, although he was enrolled with two employment agencies, and was hoping to get a little work on the side with a local builder.


Vulnerable young men in fragile labour markets: Employment, unemployment and the search for long-term security by Andy Furlong and Fred Cartmel is published by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and available from York Publishing Services, 64 Hallfield Road, Layerthorpe, York YO31 7ZQ (01904 430033), price £11.95 plus £2 p&p.


Source: Joseph Rowntree Foundation,