NEETs: Newry and Armagh

Oral Answers to Questions — Economy – in the Northern Ireland Assembly am 2:30 pm ar 3 Mehefin 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of William Irwin William Irwin DUP 2:30, 3 Mehefin 2024

T3. Mr Irwin asked the Minister what measures he will take to reduce the number of young people in Newry and Armagh who are not in education, employment or training (NEET). (AQT 333/22-27)

Photo of Conor Murphy Conor Murphy Sinn Féin

I recognise that one of the greatest challenges that we have is getting people who have fallen through the cracks in the system back into training and education. Previously, support for those programmes — I am sure that the Member is aware, as I am, of many groups that work effectively on that in our constituency — came through European funding. That funding ended with Brexit and was not replaced by the Government in London. The Department has been trying to find ways to supplement that funding. Some of those groups received funding through the Levelling Up Fund or Shared Prosperity Fund, but those will also come to a cliff edge in the near future.

We want to ensure that the groups that assist young people to come back into the education system, achieve necessary skills or, indeed, achieve confidence in themselves in going out to work are supported to do that. That is a challenge, because the funding has been lost to us. We will, however, continue to work with the Departments in London to ensure that we get better, more reliable access to some of the funding from the Shared Prosperity Fund and the Levelling Up Fund so that we can give certainty to those groups and to all the young people who are in need of support in education and training.

Photo of William Irwin William Irwin DUP

I thank the Minister for his response. Does he accept that the recent figures showing that 14,000 16-to-24-year-olds in Northern Ireland are not in employment, training or education are too high?

Photo of Conor Murphy Conor Murphy Sinn Féin

Yes, they are. Many of us who have been here for many years, as the Member and I have been, pride ourselves on having a world-class education system. It is world-class for those it works for, but, unfortunately, there are far too many people it does not work for. In the situation that we are in, with almost full employment but a high level of economic inactivity, that is clearly an area that, we have to ensure, gets some attention. I would like to see that number reduced and young people, particularly from areas of deprivation, be they rural or urban, having opportunities to upskill, get education, find their way in the workforce and get decently paid jobs and a sense of fulfilment out of the work that they get so that they can live better lives. It is a challenge for all of us to support not just the economy but those young people.