Education, employment and training

There is a strong association between being in education and improved health outcomes in young people, with better access to services, support and resources.

This indicator was published in March 2020.

In May 2021 we updated our graphs and charts where new data had been published, and we reviewed our policy recommendations by nation.


  • Education, employment or training opportunities for young people are important outcome measures with consequences not only for social and economic policy, but equally vitally as an upstream determinant of health.
  • Young people who spend more time not in education, employment or training (NEET) have higher risk of poor physical and mental health, as well as a higher risk of unemployment and lower quality of work and lower incomes in later life.1,2
  • Causes for being NEET are multifactorial, and a one-size-fits-all approach does not work. Risk factors include deprivation; prior educational attainment; physical disability; substance abuse; being a young carer; being a looked after child; or being a parent.3
  • Data for NEET are not comparable across the four UK nations. Definitions of NEET differ across the UK, as does school-leaving age.3 In England, the September Guarantee policy was implemented in 2007, guaranteeing that all school leavers at 16 years of age must be offered further education or training. In 2013, this was strengthened to mandate the participation in education, training or employment until 18 years of age by 2017. The age of school leaving remains 16 years in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
  • Being NEET may be a temporary or dynamic situation for a substantial proportion of young people. However, the labour market, especially for young people and especially for those without higher qualifications, is precarious. Even though many young people are not long term NEET, nonetheless they may find themselves in a cycle of unemployment/low-paid employment which can perpetuate into later life.4
  • The National Living Wage (the statutory minimum hourly wage for workers) does not apply to those under the age of 25 years. For people aged 25 year and older it is currently £8.21 per hour, but those aged under 25 years are instead subject to a lower, tiered national minimum wage, which falls to as low as £4.35 per hour for those aged 16-18 (and £3.90 for those on apprenticeships). This was designed so as not to deter young people from remaining in (or entering higher) education, and to incentivise employers to recruit younger workers and reduce youth unemployment.

Key findings

  • The proportion of young people NEET in the UK is 4.1% for 16-17 year olds, and 12.9% for those aged 18-24 years in 2018.
    • Rates have been steadily declining since 2006 and 2011 respectively. However, for 16-17 year olds this decline seems to have plateaued since 2015.
  • Rates of young people NEET in all four nations are not directly comparable with each other, or with the overall UK figures
    • England: The proportion of young people aged 16-18 years NEET has been on a downward trend for the past decade, and in 2018 was 6.3%. This had fallen from 7.6% in 2014 and was the lowest since consistent records began in 1994.
    • Northern Ireland: The proportion of young people aged 16-24 years NEET has fallen from 2016 to 2018 from 11.5% to 10.7%.
    • Scotland: The proportion of young people aged 16 to 19 years NEET was 6.5% in 2015 and 3.1% in 2019.
    • Wales: From 2014 to 2018 the proportion of young people aged 16 to 18 years NEET has remained stable (from 8.1% to 8.3%). For 19-24 year olds, it has fallen from 19.7% to 16.1%.
  • Employed young adults are three times more likely to be employed on “zero hour contracts” (contracts that do not specify a minimum number of hours) than the population as a whole – 36% of 16-24 year olds compared to 11.4% of all ages.5

UK: Percentage calculated using the total number of young people who were NEET and the number of total people in the relevant population group. The data used was seasonally adjusted.

England: Percentage calculated using the total number of young people who were NEET and the number of total people in the same age population group, both population numbers were provided in the dataset. Data used was for the end of the calendar year.

Scotland: Percentages used are the total not participating (includes unemployed seeking and not seeking, economically inactive – e.g. caring responsibilities, pregnancy, ill health and custody). The data used was over 1st April – 31st March. Unconfirmed status: 16-19 years who have individual records within the participation measure but despite multi partner data sharing and attempted tracking by Skills Development Scotland (SDS) and their partners, it was not possible to identify an up to date status for reporting.

Wales: Percentages used are from the Annual Population Survey 2004-2018 and is for each calendar year.

Northern Ireland: Percentage calculated using the average of the quarterly rates provided.

What does good look like?

Reduce proportion of young people NEET, through increasing both educational/training and employment opportunities. Particularly important are policies which target participation for young people from a deprived background.6 The continued investment in policies such as the 16-19 Bursary Fund in England and the Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA) in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland; the Adult Education Budget and the European Social Fund (whose funding is currently guaranteed only until 2020) is vital to reducing inequalities in NEET and any resulting impact on health inequalities.

Improve the quality of employment, and how much young people are remunerated for their work. NEET statistics only tell half the story. The government has pledged to introduce the Good Work Plan policy which is designed to better protect worker rights for those on non-traditional working arrangements.7 The tiered national minimum wage was designed not to disincentivise young people from continuing to further education and training. However, the gulf between the lowest minimum levels for those under 25 years and the rest of the population risks significant financial vulnerabilities and uncertainties for young people, and this inequity should be urgently addressed.

Policy recommendations

  • UK Government should resource Local Authorities to provide health and wellbeing hubs, designed for young people.
  • Local Authorities should provide health and wellbeing hubs designed for young people.
  • Local Authorities should be resourced to provide health and wellbeing hubs, designed for children and young people.
  • We welcome the Department for the Economy’s Pathways to Success strategy to prevent exclusion and promote participation amongst young people that are not in education, employment or training, or at risk of becoming so. The strategy should be implemented in full in 2020.
  • We welcome the Children and Young People’s Strategy 2019-2029 which includes young people in need of education, employment or training as one of the key areas on which departments will focus their attention during the lifetime of the strategy. Northern Ireland Executive should ensure that provision of support and services for this population of young people are available and that information and advice on how best to access health services is readily available.

What can health professionals do about this?

  • Ask young people aged 16 or above about their education, training or employment status – it may have an impact on their short and long term health, both physical and mental.
  • Statutory right to participation in England: Remember if your patients aged 16-17 years are NEET and live in England, you should direct them to the Local Authority to take advantage of their statutory right to participation in education, training or employment.
  • Help to signpost young people to sources of support. All young people would benefit from informal sources of advice and help from friends and family, but some young people may require from specialist support in related areas (e.g. housing, financial, social care, adult mental health, Special Educational Needs and Disabilities) and may need signposting to local services as needed.
  • Resources:
    • Association for Young People’s Health have published a toolkit to support young people with mental health problems to achieve and maintain employment.8

Contributing authors

  • Dr Ronny Cheung, RCPCH State of Child Health Clinical Lead
  • Rachael McKeown, RCPCH State of Child Health Project Manager
  • Dr Rakhee Shah, RCPCH State of Child Health Clinical Advisor

Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (2020) State of Child Health. London: RCPCH. [Available at:]


VisualV1 - Plus Created with Sketch. VisualV1 - Plus Copy Created with Sketch.

Public Health England/UCL Institute of Health Equity (2014) Local action on health inequalities: Reducing the number of young people not in employment, education or training. September 2014.


Feng, Z., Ralston, K., Everingto, D., Dibben, C. (2018) Long term health effects of NEET experiences: evidence from Scotland. J Epid Comm Health 2018: 72(suppl 1), A65-66.


Powell A. Houses of Parliament Library Research Briefing Number SN 06705: NEET: Young People Not in Education, Employment or Training. 2018.


Farthing R (2016) Chapter 2, “Uncertain transitions, turbulent labour markets and young people’s life chances”. In Tucker J (ed.) Improving children’s life chances. Child Poverty Action Group, UK.


ONS. Contracts that do not guarantee a minimum number of hours: April 2018.


Public Health England. Local action on health inequalities: Reducing the number of young people not in employment, education or training (NEET). 2014.


Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy. Good Work Plan. 2018.


Association for Young People’s Health, 2019. Closing the employment gap for young people: A toolkit for those supporting 16–25 year olds experiencing common mental health problems to gain and stay in work. Available from: Association for Young People’s Health (pdf)

VisualV1 - Arrow Created with Sketch. VisualV1 - Arrow Created with Sketch.