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UK’s Kickstart jobs scheme underdelivers, says audit office


The UK government’s flagship youth employment scheme has been undersubscribed and may be subsidising jobs that would have been created anyway, according to a report by the National Audit Office.

The Kickstart scheme, launched in September 2020, aimed to avert a pandemic-related surge in youth unemployment by funding employers to create six-month work placements. With per person funding of £7,000 it was twice as costly as any other employment support scheme.

With a budget of £1.9bn, the aim was to create 250,000 placements. But the scheme went live just before new lockdowns took effect — while job centres were only able to meet young people face to face from the following April.

By that time, the economy was reopening, employers were rushing to hire and many who offered Kickstart placements drew no candidates: the government now expects to fund 168,000 jobs at a cost of £1.26bn.

The NAO said there was a “clear rationale” for the scheme at the outset, but that the Department for Work and Pensions had no way of checking whether its work coaches were targeting those most likely to benefit. It also had “limited assurance over the quality of the work placements created by the scheme, or whether jobs created by employers are truly additional and would not have existed without the funding provided”.

While the threat of mass joblessness has receded, the government is still doing too little to help young people stuck on the margins of the labour market, according to a separate report published on Friday by the House of Lords Youth Unemployment Committee.

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The committee said young people’s job prospects were held back by underfunding of further education, a “narrow” national curriculum, and apprenticeships that did not reach those who needed it.

While UK youth unemployment has returned to pre-pandemic levels, it remains high at 11.7 per cent. More than one in eight under-25s are neither working nor in full-time education, despite widespread labour shortages.

“These numbers are simply too high given the demands of the economy,” Lord Shipley, chair of the Lords’ committee, said. “Young people are not getting the opportunities and employers are not getting the skilled workforce they need.”

The report urged the government to develop a long-term national plan for meeting skills gaps, especially in digital and creative industries.

It said the government must roll out improved careers education and require employers to spend two-thirds of funding for apprenticeships on under-25s starting their careers, rather than existing older employees.

Lord Baker, a committee member who has campaigned for greater vocational training in schools, said the committee also heard “overwhelming” evidence against the national curriculum. “There’s a skills mismatch that schools are not teaching what British industry and commerce want,” he said.

Since last year the government has promised to improve access to vocational training and further education as part of a “skills revolution” including policies such as targeted 12-week boot camps training people for specific industries, and free access to A-level equivalent courses.

The Department for Education said tackling skills gaps was “at the heart” of education and training reforms and said the number of young employees was back above pre-pandemic levels.

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“We are taking action by giving young people the opportunities they need to secure a job,” it added.

But Shipley said the government’s policies did not add up to a “national strategy” needed to fill the skills gap.

Sam Windett, deputy director of the Learning and Work Institute, said measures like furlough and Kickstart had avoided a spike in youth unemployment, but failed to tackle long-term joblessness.



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