Is There Any Hope for Britain's Jobless Youth?

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Andy Rain / EPA

A pedestrian passes an office of the government employment agency Jobcentre Plus in London on Oct. 12, 2011. It is estimated that 1 in 5 British young people ages 18 to 25 years old are out of work

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Sometimes, the psychological burden of unemployment becomes too much to bear. Earlier this year, a study in the Lancet medical journal showed that suicides across Europe spiked in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis. The worse the economic impact in a country, the greater the increase in people taking their own lives. In the U.K., suicides surged by 10% — with rates soaring as high as 29% in some parts of the country.

"One of the great success stories of British health intervention was that suicide rates among young males had been coming down," says Burchell. "We had a long-running, considerable decline. But that's just started to go up again."

That has not been the case in countries like Sweden, where government spending on job-training programs and career counseling has prevented suicide rates from climbing, despite increased unemployment. Studies have shown these "active labor market" policies are the best remedy a government can apply to unemployment, short of simply creating more jobs.

Britain's coalition government has recently announced an initiative along these lines: a new Work Programme that will offer training and job interviews to 50,000 people. Earlier this year, the government rolled out a plan to secure eight-week internships for unemployed 18- to 21-year-olds and support them financially while they complete the programs.

Yet Prime Minister David Cameron has also come under fire for sweeping austerity cuts that have forced the closures of libraries, charities and youth centers in Britain's most vulnerable areas. While some on the left traced the riots to local shutdowns, ultimately it may be the cuts' effect on the wider economy that has the greatest impact on Britain's unemployed youth. James Carrick, chief economist with leading investment manager LGIM, warned recently that the coalition's austerity measures risked "the U.K. tipping back into recession." And that means there will be even fewer jobs for disaffected youth, even if they want them.

Without a turnaround in the economy, it's hard to envision a quick path out of unemployment for the young men living in Block 55. Smith, however, says he now has a good reason to try. After a stint in jail for robbery, he's looking for a real job to support his fiancée and his 2-week-old daughter. "I love her to bits," he says, proudly displaying a picture of his baby on his BlackBerry. So far, employers have been reluctant to hire Smith because of his criminal record. He's hopeful, however, that he'll land a job soon. "I've got an interview on Tuesday," he says proudly, before leaping over a railing and disappearing into the night.

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