We cannot afford for Kickstart to be a false start for young people and employers
Young people must not be left behind, and that’s why we need to see Kickstart be as effective as it can be, writes Seema Malhotra MP. | PA Images
Two months since Kickstart was announced, the Government still has yet to set out what the targeted objectives of the Kickstart scheme are and the criteria for success.
Over a million young people are not in full-time education nor employment, accounting for one in six young people.
The number claiming unemployment-related benefits has risen by 125% since lockdown, yet another sign the Government’s handling of the health crisis has put us on course for the worst recession in Europe.
As economic activity begins to pick up, the focus must be on an inclusive recovery. Young people must not be left behind, and that’s why we need to see Kickstart be as effective as it can be, rolled out as soon as possible and lead to meaningful job opportunities for young people across the country.
That’s why it is surprising that the approach the Government has taken so far risks starting the scheme off on the wrong foot, with damaging consequences for young participants and the wider economy.
The scheme is now open to applications, a month later than the Chancellor initially promised. But employer engagement demands clarity, which the Government has yet to provide.
Two months since Kickstart was announced, the Government has yet to set out what the targeted objectives of the Kickstart scheme are and the criteria for success and continued to avoid answering this question when challenged in the House today.
I raised with the Employment Minister back in July the importance of conditions of success for the Kickstart scheme – crucial for the effectiveness of this vital programme.
That’s why Labour has called for assurances on the implementation of the Kickstart scheme, setting out three key tests. The scheme must deliver high-quality placements with training opportunities built-in; support smaller businesses, not just large employers; and provide a transition for participants into long-lasting employment.
Kickstart must not be just a matter for 6 months, but the seeds of investment in young people for their future and their family’s future.
Firstly, the Government must ensure that Kickstart placements are high-quality and provide an opportunity for skills development leading onto longer-term employment.
Research from Hope Not Hate revealed in July that more than half of young people think coronavirus will cause huge long-term disruption to their future prospects. Intervening early and with quality support can make all the difference. If the Government creates lots of short duration jobs with limited scope for progression, it will be to the detriment of young participants and the wider economy.
Success isn’t just in starting placements but in setting up the pathway into sustained employment, providing both opportunities and value for money for the taxpayer. Kickstart must not be just a matter for 6 months, but the seeds of investment in young people for their future and their family’s future.
Secondly, the Kickstart scheme must work for smaller employers if it is going to help young people in all corners of the country into work.
Small and medium enterprise makes up 60% of all employment and are often innovative and entrepreneurial environments. The Government has announced that employers able to offer fewer than 30 placements will need to partner with others in order to apply.
The National Chair of the Federation of Small Businesses has said, “Small firms, who are the largest employers across the business landscape, have long expressed interest in this scheme and will be disappointed to find it harder than expected to take part. To put it bluntly, this scheme has not been designed with small businesses front of mind.”
If the Government hasn’t been listening to small businesses, it needs to start now. Careful consideration must be given to how small businesses can easily connect with intermediaries, particularly through local government, to reach that threshold.
This crisis has had a regionally unequal impact and engaging all sectors and sizes of businesses will be crucial. The share of 18-24 year olds claiming unemployment-related benefits is already 11% in the North East and 10.6% in North West, higher than other parts of the country. The Government says it is committed to levelling up. If it wants to succeed, it needs to reach out.
Finally, the Kickstart scheme must aim to produce positive long-term outcomes for participants and the wider economy.
Labour’s Future Jobs Fund was found by a DWP Select Committee Inquiry in 2012 to have produced a net benefit though tax receipts and a reduced benefits bill, with participants more likely to be in unsubsidised employment and less likely to receive benefits two years after starting their placement. Kickstart must strive for similar results. Joining up the work of local authorities, employer engagement, youth hubs and training opportunities will be key to success on the ground.
The Government should also plan now for how it is including the voice of young people nationally and locally. Their confidence in the programme and engagement too will be critical to its success.
With the Kickstart scheme now beginning, it is time to set strategic goals to make sure the journey ahead and the community engagement it will need delivers long-term benefits to young people that they deserve and contributes significantly to the speed of our economic recovery.
Seema Malhotra is the Labour MP for Feltham and Heston and shadow employment minister.