Amid confirmation that the overall unemployment rate in Scotland was now higher than the UK average, official statistics estimated yesterday that nearly a quarter of 16- to 24-year-olds – 105,000 people – are out of work, up 2.8 per cent over the year.
Job Centre figures for August also revealed that 7,400 18- to 24-year-olds had now been claiming unemployment benefit for more than a year, up from just 2,100 in the same month last year.
Labour warned the “hopes and aspirations of an entire generation of young Scots” were being threatened by worklessness in their teens and twenties.
It comes a month after SNP ministers used more recent data to claim their efforts to help young people back into work were beginning to “pay off”.
However, SNP ministers insisted that the employment rate remained higher than in the rest of the UK, and turned the attack on the coalition government’s economic policy, as they repeated calls for George Osborne to borrow more cash to invest in a new wave of building works.
The disappointing overall figures, which showed the first rise in unemployment in Scotland for six months, prompted warnings from economists that the country’s economic recovery had stalled and was now “languishing” some way short of its pre-crash position.
The new figures show that, overall, unemployment rose by 4,000 to 223,000 in the period May to June. The Scottish unemployment rate is 8.2 per cent, just above the average of 8.1 per cent for the whole of the UK.
But, while job rates remain higher than the UK average, Scotland’s 0.1 per cent increase was far lower than the UK’s as a whole, which had an Olympic-boosted increase of 0.5 per cent.
Unemployment among 16 to 24-year-olds, according to the most recent estimates, is now running at 24.3 per cent, below previous highs from last year, but up on the early part of this year. This includes people in full-time education.
Figures on youth employment showed that 323,000 18 to 24-year-olds were in work in the year to March 2012, down from 373,000 in the year to March 2009.
Youth employment minister Angela Constance has recently pointed to estimates which suggest employment is now rising among the young. She claimed the figures demonstrated “that our efforts are starting to pay off”. However, yesterday’s figures showed a lower year-on-year increase in youth employment than last month’s figures.
Margaret Lynch, chief executive of Citizens Advice Scotland, warned last night that graduates were among those feeling “frustrated and disillusioned”, either at not being able to find a job or having to accept jobs for which they were overqualified.
She said: “Young people from all walks of life are faced with a jobs market that seems to hold no hope for them. We would urge the governments in Holyrood and Westminster to create more job opportunities for young people and graduates by extending schemes such as Community Jobs Scotland to more people and to ensure that all young people are better supported to take those opportunities.”
Scottish Labour’s shadow minister for youth employment, Kezia Dugdale MSP, added: “One of the really alarming aspects in today’s unemployment figures is for those who are long-term unemployed, especially amongst young people.
“The number of young people on the dole for over a year has shot up by two and half times, with a very large proportion of young men in this age group entering long-term unemployment. These are not faceless figures but the hopes and aspirations of an entire generation of young Scots.”
However, finance secretary John Swinney said the Scottish Government would maintain its pledge to offer every 16- to 19-year-old in Scotland a place in education or training .
He added: “There is no doubt that with the full fiscal powers of independence, the Scottish Government could do even more to strengthen our economy. But, in the meantime, we call on the UK government to help, rather than hinder, the process of economic recovery.”
Scottish Secretary Michael Moore, however, pointed to the coalition’s wider economic strategy, saying that efforts to cut borrowing would “maintain investor confidence” and keep interest rates low while the economy is rebalanced.
Union chiefs said the overall rise in employment hid a marked increase in part-time jobs, up 13,000 over the year. The figures also showed that the number of people working part time because they cannot get a full time job is on the up.
Grahame Smith, general-secretary of the Scottish Trades Union Congress, said: “The key message is that, north and south of the Border, unemployment trends are similar, because they are primarily driven by George Osborne’s failing austerity measures.”
On the wider economic picture, Professor Brian Ashcroft, of the Fraser of Allander Institute at Strathclyde University, said: “The Scottish and UK economies are still incredibly weak. We are still languishing in a fairly stagnant position. And in Scotland there is as yet no indication of a bounce-back.”