Young people who are not in education, employment or training (NEET) are construed by policy-makers as a pressing problem about which something should be done. Such young people’s lack of employment is thought to pose difficulties for wider society in relation to social cohesion and inclusion, and it is feared that they will become a ‘lost generation’. This paper draws upon English research, seeking to historicise the debate whilst acknowledging that these issues have a much wider purchase. The notion of NEETs rests alongside longstanding concerns of the English state and middle classes, addressing unruly male workingclass youth as well as the moral turpitude of working class girls. Waged labour and domesticity are seen as a means to integrate such groups into society thereby generating social cohesion. The paper places the debate within it socio-economic context and draws on theorisations of cognitive capitalism, Italian workerism, as well as emerging theories of antiwork to analyse these. It concludes by arguing that ‘radical’ approaches to NEETs that point towards inequities embedded in the social structure and call for social democratic solutions veer towards a form of comfort radicalism. Such approaches leave in place the dominance of capitalist relations as well as productivist orientations that celebrate waged labour.