This week, the Government launched their new Kickstart scheme, a £2 billion initiative to pay for 6-month work placements for 16-24-year-olds to help protect young people from the economic consequences of the pandemic. Today I called on the Government to provide crucial details on the scheme and how it will lead to meaningful job opportunities for young people across the country.
In July, there were already over one million young people not in full-time not in full-time employment or education. There is no doubt that the threat of a youth unemployment crisis is an urgent problem.
The last Labour government created a similar job creation scheme following the 2008 financial crisis – the Future Jobs Fund – that was incredibly successful in helping protect 100,000s of young people against unemployment. Since the coronavirus pandemic began, I have been urging the Government to introduce a new Future Jobs Fund to help gets as many people into work as possible. I therefore welcome the Kickstart scheme, but we need assurances that it will be delivered in a way that maximises its impact.
Labour believes that the three key tests for the Kickstart scheme are that it:
- Delivers high-quality placements with training opportunities built in;
- Supports smaller businesses not just large employers;
- Transitions into long lasting employment for participants.
There are still too many issues left unresolved following today’s Urgent Question in the House. We still do not know how the Government will be able to ensure that the new jobs created by the scheme are genuinely additional. Aspirations for more private sector involvement are laudable but experienced staff being laid off and replaced by government-funded roles would be unacceptable. We have to get clarity on this.
Given the existing scale of need from young people, we need to know how the Government will try and make sure that these jobs go to those who need them most. Even if 200,000 new jobs are created by this scheme, we could reasonably expect over a million eligible applicants. We have no answers on how jobs will go to where they will have the biggest impact.
I fear that the Government has shown no willingness to acknowledge the response from small businesses who are clearly worried about the fact that the minimum number of jobs required to be created from a participating bid is 30. The Government must listen and have a meaningful dialogue with the small businesses we need to see participating in this scheme.
Equally, Kickstart jobs will be a minimum of only 25 hours a week, but the Government has brought back conditionality and sanctions expecting people to find work for 35 hours a week. I still cannot understand why the Government believe everyone should be spending a minimum of 35 hours a week looking for work in a crisis, yet they themselves are only willing to offer 25 hours a week from the jobs they are directly creating and funding.
Finally, while welcoming this scheme, I was alarmed by the Prime Minister’s presentation of Kickstart yesterday during PMQs as an alternative to providing continued targeted furlough support. The furlough scheme was about ensuring people had jobs to return to, when the alternative would have been redundancy if employers simply did not have the revenue to meet their payroll. These circumstances still apply for some business; not all, but certainly for some. This is why countries such as Germany, France and Ireland are continuing their furlough schemes for some sectors until 2021.
Needed as this scheme is, the Government must understand that some sectors are simply not in a position to retrain and recruit staff yet. Kickstart offers nothing to them and the Government must acknowledge this.