A major international study has revealed that the literacy and numeracy skills of 16 to 24-year-olds in the UK are among the lowest in the developed world.
In England, young people were 22nd for literacy and 21st for numeracy in a list of 24 countries, falling far behind countries like Japan, Finland and the Netherlands in the basics.
Those in Northern Ireland did slightly better.
The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development warned that despite facing a tougher labour market, the UK's young people have skills similar to those who are retiring from the workplace.
Young people in the UK spend nearly two-and-a-half years out of work, one of the highest rates amongst developed countries, according to new OECD research.
The organisation’s Andreas Schleicher said many young people have “given up, more or less” and warned that the "biggest challenge" to the UK was to help those youngsters who do not have decent qualifications.
The figures, for 2011, show that people in the UK aged 15 to 29 expected to spend 2.3 years on average either unemployed or out of the labour force entirely – higher than the Netherlands (1.1 years), Iceland (1.2 years), Norway (1.3 years), Australia (1.7 years) and Germany (1.7 years).
In the graph below, which is based on figures for the whole of the UK rather than England, the blue bars represent the number of children per single carer permitted.
Despite the downgrading of the OECD's forecast, Chancellor George Osborne this evening insisted there were "positive signs" in the UK economy.
Mr Osborne told a CBI Scotland dinner in Glasgow:
The economic outlook remains uncertain but there are some positive signs.
Our economy is healing - jobs are being created, manufacturing and exports have grown as a share of our economy, our trade with the emerging world is soaring, inflation is down, much of the necessary deleveraging in our banking system has been achieved, and the world is once again investing in Britain.
Britain must shift to a more highly skilled economy in a bid to ease the burden on the squeezed middle, Labour leader Ed Miliband said today.
The next Labour government would not be able to simply increase tax credits for the less well-off as it did during the Gordon Brown years, he said.
Instead, the UK had to move away from its "low-wage economy" so that workers were better paid and could help stimulate economic growth, Mr Miliband told a conference at the London Stock Exchange.
"The redistribution of the last Labour government relied on revenue which the next Labour government will not enjoy," he said.
"The option of simply increasing tax credits in the way we did before will not be open to us."
Responding to the growth forecast published by the OECD, Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury Rachel Reeves said: "These very concerning forecasts show just how badly the Government's economic policies have failed. Britain's growth forecasts have been slashed by more than any other major economy.
"And while Ministers desperately try to blame allour problems on the Eurozone crisis, the OECD says France and Germany are doingbetter than us.
"In fact Britain is one of just two G20 countries in adouble-dip recession.
"David Cameron and George Osborne need to stop clinging on to their failed economic plan and change course now. Without a serious plan for jobs and growth we won't get the deficit down and yet more long term damage will be done."
Commenting on the OECD forecast, which put the UK's growth forecast at -0.7%, the Prime Minister's official spokesman said:
Those figures demonstrate what we know which is that these are very difficult times in the world economy.
The OECD highlights the euro area crisis as the single biggest global economic risk and in addition to that problem that UK is dealing with some deep-rooted issues at home.
All the evidence shows that recovery from financial crisis takes a long time and there is no doubt we still have an impaired banking and financial system in this country.
Clearly it is going to be difficult for us in this country while there are continuing problems in the eurozone.
The Bank of England has also left the scale of its quantitative easing programme to boost the money supply unchanged at £375 billion.
The Bank of England kept interest rates at 0.5% today.