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There’s plenty of hope for Neets. I should know – I was one (Helena Kiely)

Official figures released today show that more than one in 10 young people in the UK are not in education, employment or training (Neet). There are 407,000 young women who are Neet, and for a while I was one of them. Now I’m using my experience to help others like me find work.

I left school at 11 with no qualifications. Brought up in a family of Irish Travellers in London, this is what most people my age did. The schools I attended did not understand or appreciate my ethnicity. I was stereotyped. Their view that all Irish Travellers were bare-knuckle boxers or antisocial meant me and my siblings were made to sit in the dinner hall during playtime because we were “too streetwise” in case we played too hard with the other children.

I went back into education at 16 and studied functional skills, English and maths before applying for and completing an NVQ in childhood studies. I began campaigning at the London Gypsy and Traveller Unit to raise awareness of the barriers Gypsies and Irish Travellers face in accessing and sustaining mainstream education. During this time I completed an access course and went on to become the first person in my family to go to university. I graduated in 2014 with a first class degree in youth and community work.

In my final year of university I began working at the Really Neet Project and, at 28, I am now the joint director. Every day I meet people with low aspirations and barriers that prevent them achieving their dreams. Homelessness, substance misuse, lone parenting and mental health problems are all commonplace. Our work aims to empower each individual and help them to break down those barriers, before supporting them to gain qualifications and jobs. We offer support such as spending the day finding them accommodation or applying for a birth certificate with them, so they have the proof needed to apply for benefits or work.

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