How can we reduce the risk of LGBT young people becoming NEET?


28th February 2020

Family rejection, bullying, and a lack of tailored support are increasing the risk of LGBT young people becoming NEET, according to a new report released this week by the charity Stonewall.

Nearly 12 per cent of all 16-24-year olds in the UK – some 800,000 young people = were not in education, employment or training (NEET) between October and December last year, according to the Office for National Statistics. We know from previous studies that certain groups of young people are more likely to find themselves in this situation than others, including those who are disabled, from BAME backgrounds, or who have caring responsibilities.

Employers need to ensure they not only operate inclusive policies, but actively send out the message that they welcome and support LGBT employees Share on X

However, according to Stonewall, no research currently exists into the experiences of LGBT young people who are not in education, training or work. This is a significant gap in understanding the needs of young people in education settings and the workplace, so it is really encouraging to see the charity exploring this area and providing a voice to LGBT young people who have become NEET.

In this research, Stonewall explored the experiences of 30 LGBT young people not in education, training or work. The study involved in-depth interviews with 18 LGBT young people and four non-LGBT young people for comparison, who were aged 16-24 and were NEET. A further 12 NEET LGBT young people participated in a workshop to explore how some of the challenges they faced could be addressed.

Training must be provided to ensure staff in schools, primary care services, sexual and reproductive health services, and mental health services understand how to meet the mental health and wellbeing needs of LGBT young people Share on X

I hope that Stonewall’s findings from this work will lead to LGBT young people receiving better support and guidance, which will improve their experiences of the UK education system and help them to access meaningful and sustained destinations in the future. I would especially like to see more being done in the area of mental health, which comes out of the report as one of the biggest challenges that LGBT young people are grappling with – impacting on many different areas of their lives.

As Stonewall recommends, it is vital that further training is provided to ensure that staff in schools, primary care services, sexual and reproductive health services, and mental health services understand how to meet the mental health and wellbeing needs of LGBT young people. This should include a special focus on the needs of trans young people, who face the greatest risk of suicide when compared with their LGB peers.

Alongside this, employers need to ensure they not only operate inclusive policies, but actively send out the message that they welcome and support LGBT employees. These messages should be picked up by careers advisers and flagged to young people at every opportunity. LGBT young people need to be able to see role models at school, college, university and in a wide range of industries. It is important that teachers, lecturers, counsellors and employers are all sending the same message that whatever their chosen career path, LGBT young people will be safe, included, and encouraged to achieve to their full potential.

What changes would young people like to see?

Stonewall’s report outlined a series of changes that the LGBT young people involved in the research felt would improve their experiences and reduce their chances of becoming NEET:

  1. Improve mental health support for LGBT young people
    This should be face-to-face, phone and online services. Any in-person support should be available in an overtly inclusive space.
  2. Deliver specific careers support for LGBT young people
    Case studies of LGBT people in work, including young people in the early stages of their career and people in senior roles would be helpful. Advice should also cover how to prepare for interviews, how to find LGBT-inclusive employers (with examples from a range of sectors), how to explain workplace rights and how to respond to discrimination. The young people involved in the research also said they would like to see an LGBT-specific careers advice website, and felt that a residential programme that offered opportunities to meet sector leaders and inspirational figures in person and build professional and social networks with other LGBT young people would be useful.
  3. Ensure young LGBT people can access support from their LGBT peers
    Young people want information on how to set up an LGBT student group at school or college. Some said they wanted access to specific groups for LGBT young people, to talk about their experiences and support each other in a safe space with a teacher present, while others preferred the idea of wider equalities groups that advocate for all forms of equality, including gender, race and disability equality.
  4. Create LGBT-inclusive college environments
    Participants called for LGBT-inclusive teaching, such as inviting in LGBT guest speakers and ensuring textbooks include case studies about LGBT people and relationships. They wanted strong policies to tackle homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bullying, accompanied by clear complaints procedures and a requirement for colleges to inform the reporter about the outcome of their complaint. Young people also called for inclusive facilities, including gender-neutral toilets and changing rooms, and practical and accessible college policies on how trans people could update their information on their college records.

The challenges

Stonewall’s study identified a number of specific challenges that put LGBT young people at greater risk of becoming NEET. These take place in both education and work settings:

At home

  • Strained family relationships
  • Struggles with accepting own identity/low self-esteem
  • Being forced to leave home
  • Isolation from peers
  • Difficulty meeting other LGBT people/a lack of LGBT role models
  • Mental health challenges

“A few of my friends know but I haven’t told my family [that I’m a lesbian or about my girlfriend]. I’ve been out since I was about 13/14. I’ve thought about telling my parents about it but I’m really not sure how to.”
Aisha, lesbian, 16, BAME, Scotland

In school

  • Homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bullying
  • Lack of visible LBGT people (among staff and pupils)
  • Social rejection
  • No LGBT content in SRE or elsewhere in the curriculum
  • Inadequate or non-existent LGBT-specific pastoral care
  • No careers guidance focused on LGBT-inclusive workplaces

“At school, the bullying was really related to me being gay…I had to have a lot of time off when I was in school because of this discrimination. When I turned 18, I just stopped going full time as I felt I had free rule.”
Aidan, gay man, 21, white, Scotland

In college

  • Homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bullying
  • No consequences for poor attendance making it easy to skip lessons
  • Inadequate or non-existent LGBT-specific pastoral care
  • A lack of guidance on future destinations
  • Trouble achieving basic qualifications

“When I went to college, I thought I was going to be happy to be there and it would’ve made my life so much easier. But there were people who I didn’t see eye to eye with there, who made my life difficult.”
Dylan, trans man, 23, white, Wales

In university

  • Inadequate or non-existent LGBT-specific pastoral care
  • Lack of visible LBGT people (among staff and pupils at the university, and in the chosen field more widely)
  • Course content that is not LGBT-inclusive
  • Little provision for trans, non-binary or bi people in peer-run LGBT support organisations
  • LGBT societies too focused around drinking/bars and clubs
  • A lack of support for mental health challenges
  • A lack of training on trans issues in university counselling services
  • Poor signposting to appropriate medical advice

“I told them I was trans and they went “Hey, we don’t know how to help you with this – go look elsewhere. We’ll do what we can but this is not our paygrade, we’re sorry”.”
Rachel, trans woman, 23, white, location excluded for anonymity

In work and apprenticeships

  • Anxiety or lack of confidence around finding work experience/training opportunities
  • Experiences of anti-LGBT abuse, language and discrimination
  • Gendered workplaces and those which were not LGBT-inclusive
  • Poor mental health support at work
  • Poorly implemented inclusion policies – leading to lack of trust about how inclusive an organisation is in practice, compared to what their policies say
  • Little social or emotional support among colleagues
  • Limited opportunities to progress into new roles or access professional development
  • Limited knowledge of apprenticeship opportunities
  • Feeling unsafe in the local area, making travel to work difficult

“He was a dodgy boss. He made me feel unsafe. He was anti-LGBT, and said that if any employees were gay, he’d fire them. So I left… I felt unsafe as an LGBT person.”
Jamie, non-binary person, 19, white, England

In response to these findings, Stonewall makes a number of specific recommendations for a range of stakeholders, to help achieve the changes the young people would like to see. These are available in the full report.