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Wed 3 March 2021

The Chancellor’s programme to help 16 to 24-year-olds find employment is currently falling well short, reports Sam Bright

A flagship Government scheme designed to create 250,000 jobs for young people has only signed up 1,800, Byline Times can reveal.

Launched in September, the Government’s Kickstart scheme provides paid job placements for 16 to 24-year-olds who are claiming Universal Credit, or are at risk of long-term unemployment. The Government will fully fund each of the placements for six months, with an additional £1,500 available to employers to cover training and recruitment support.

The Government hopes to create 250,000 jobs by the end of 2021 through this scheme, and Byline Times understands that 50,000 vacancies have now been opened up. However, a written parliamentary question from Labour MP Stephen Morgan earlier this week revealed that only 1,868 young people have so far found employment through the programme.

The Kickstart scheme is part of a £1.6 billion Government investment in apprenticeships and new employment, introduced during the Coronavirus pandemic. The Government claims that a number of leading organisations have supported the scheme so far, including Bloomberg, the British Chambers of Commerce, Network Rail, Barnardo’s, YMCA, LADbible Group, Tech Nation, The Royal Mint, KFC, and Farrow & Ball.

However, there appear to be blockades preventing young people from currently taking up these positions. The main one, the Government seems to suggest, is the continued high transmission of COVID-19 in the UK, and the renewed lockdown this has necessitated. This is ironically the very thing that the Kickstart scheme – in an economic sense – is designed to counteract.

“We know that this is a challenging time for many businesses and workers as we continue the fight against the virus,” a Department for Work and Pensions spokesperson told Byline Times. “Many young people have been able to safely start their placement and we are confident that this will ramp up as we re-open our economy and build back better.”

In October, a London School of Economics study found that people under the age of 25 were twice as likely to have lost their jobs during the pandemic, compared to their older colleagues. In the previous two months before the release of the study, 11.1% of people under 25 had lost their job, compared with 4.6% of those aged 26 and over.

The Government’s hapless response to the COVID-19 pandemic has inflicted the UK with the fourth highest death total in the world – only behind the United States, India, and Brazil. And, as a result of repeated waves of the virus, borne from half-hearted and contradictory lockdown measures, the UK economy was the worst affected among major countries between April and June last year. During this period, UK GDP fell by 20.4% compared with the previous three months – the biggest quarterly decline since comparable records began in 1955.

Consequently, to stave off mass unemployment, Chancellor Rishi Sunak has been forced to pump billions of pounds into the economy in the form of furlough schemes and income support for the self-employed. The Office for Budget Responsibility predicted in November that Government borrowing would be £394 billon for the current financial year – a peacetime record.

Though there is little doubt about the wisdom of a Government-funded scheme to ward off mass unemployment among young people, it seems that more needs to be done to ensure that they can take advantage of this act of generosity, before the Chancellor tightens his belt.

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