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Liberate new youth employment programme from Universal Credit

29 March 2017

The Work and Pensions Committee report says the Government's new youth employment programme, the Youth Obligation, must be unlinked from Universal Credit. The link makes an important source of employment support for young people dependent on the postcode lottery of Universal Credit's troubled and much delayed rollout. Given the strength of evidence of the importance of getting unemployed young people into work quickly, the Government should roll out the Youth Obligation on a more ambitious timescale from April 2017, prioritising areas with high levels of youth unemployment.

Achieving "full employment"

The Government has set a goal of achieving "full employment" in this Parliament. That will mean ensuring that all young people are in employment or education - either "earning or learning". Good progress has been made on youth unemployment in recent years, but the youth unemployment rate is still more than double the general unemployment rate, and some groups of young people remain particularly vulnerable to unemployment. Youth unemployment rates vary starkly across educational attainment and ethnic and social groups. Even when unemployment is temporary, it risks creating a permanent scar on young people's future careers. The Committee says young people constitute a special case; one that warrants targeted support.

Supporting young people that lack requisite skills

-Some young people are ill-prepared for work and lack the requisite skills to find employment on leaving school. For young people who have left education and are unemployed, support programmes delivered in and via JCP - for example, through initiatives such as the Work Programme and Youth Obligation - can be vital in helping them to prepare for and find work

Effective collaboration between JCP, employers, schools and apprenticeship providers

-JCP must work more effectively with employers, schools, colleges and apprenticeship providers to understand local vocational opportunities, and to ensure that young people have the skills and attributes needed to fill them

Increase the number of apprenticeships to reduce youth unemployment

-There is an urgent need for careers advice and guidance that emphasises the value of vocational education and employment; something that the Jobcentre Plus Support for Schools programme could play an important role in providing. The Government's aim of achieving 3 million new apprenticeship starts by 2020 is ambitious and welcome. Increasing the numbers of young people in apprenticeships could further reduce youth unemployment, while setting young people on the path to a rewarding career. It will also be crucial in addressing skills shortages in the UK economy, particularly post-Brexit.

Avoid counter-productive placements

-Young people on the Youth Obligation are expected to move onto one of three options - an apprenticeship, traineeship, or JCP-arranged work placement - if they have not found work after six months on the programme. The Committee says Work Coaches should not mandate young people to attend placements that are not appropriate for the stage that they are at in moving towards work. Such placements could be counter-productive for both the young person and for the placement host.

Improve JCP's image among young people

-JCP has a poor image among some young people and is in some cases seen as intimidating and unwelcoming - particularly by those who need its support most. This may discourage young people from engaging with JCP or even lead to them avoiding its services altogether. While this saves on benefit payments, it cuts off access to employment support and opportunities. Work Coaches in JCPs must be better prepared to offer targeted, timely, specialist support, tailored to the needs of different groups. If I is to achieve its ambition of full employment amongst young people, the Department must take steps to revamp JCP's image and young people's perceptions of the support that it has to offer. Government is not using the most obvious ways of reaching young people, through social media campaigns for example, well enough.

Chair's comment

 Frank Field MP, Chair of the Committee, said:

"The Government should prepare to implement the Youth Obligation in all Jobcentres and be ready to offer much better targeted, specialist support, accompanied with better access to apprenticeships and traineeships and improving its image among the young people who need it most. Young people must not be forced to take counter-productive, ill-suited placements just to tick a benefits box - this will only damage their prospects and the reputation of the programme among young people and business alike.

All the evidence points to the importance of getting young people into work quickly, otherwise they are at great risk of getting stuck in long-term unemployment and facing impediments to life chances and economic dynamism. It therefore makes absolutely no sense to link a potentially very good programme to the Universal Credit roll-out, especially at it bears no relation to the areas where youth unemployment is worst. The Government must ensure that young people's access to this potentially valuable programme is not determined by postcode lottery, or dependent on the repeatedly delayed Universal Credit roll-out."

Further information

Image: PA