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Kickstart Scheme

Volume 710: debated on Tuesday 15 March 2022

Some 130,000 young people across Great Britain have benefited from the kickstart scheme so far, including in my hon. Friends’ constituencies. That is lower than the 250,000 jobs that the scheme could have funded, but the scheme was designed at a time when unemployment was expected to peak at 12%. The reality is that, thanks to the intervention by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor, the economy has recovered better than expected and unemployment peaked at 5.2% in 2020.

I am grateful for that response. Last week, I went to visit Sigma, a great local business in Warrington South, which has employed nine people under kickstart, and that has made a massive difference. Can my right hon. Friend tell me what steps the Government are taking to help businesses retain young people as we approach the end of the six-month kickstart programme?

It is great to hear about my hon. Friend’s visit to Sigma, and I know that 180 kickstart jobs have been created in his constituency as of December. For those on universal credit who do not immediately continue into full-time unsubsidised work, support will continue to be available from the young person’s work coach to help them use their newly gained skills, and support will also be available from the wider DWP youth offer.

Last week I visited the jobcentre in Truro where they told me that kickstart has been a huge success. We have had around 620 kickstarters across Cornwall, providing urgently needed jobs for our young people. Given that the scheme will end this month, can my right hon. Friend expand on what the Department will do to support skills and apprenticeships, particularly for young people across Cornwall, so that we can be at the heart of the levelling-up agenda?

Spreading opportunity by levelling up our skills base is at the heart of our wider levelling-up White Paper—it is one of the core missions that it sets out. The Government will invest £3.8 billion in skills by 2024-25, which is equivalent to a cash increase of 42% compared with 2019-20. On apprenticeships, I am happy to say that last year more than 3,000 people started apprenticeships in my hon. Friend’s county of Cornwall. We want to see that work continue.

Over recent months, many young people in Crawley have benefited from the kickstart scheme. In contrast to every Labour Government, which have all left office with unemployment higher than when they started, does my right hon. Friend agree that the way to recovery for our economy and the cost of living is the multi-billion pound plan for jobs that the Government are delivering?

My hon. Friend is right about the Government’s record on employment, just as he is right about the Labour party’s record on unemployment. To continue to boost employment, wages and living standards, he rightly references our plan for jobs, which is proving to be an enormous success. In total, the Department for Work and Pensions spend on labour market support will be more than £6 billion over the next three years.

I recently visited the Dyserth Falls holiday park in my constituency, which is under renovation, to speak with some of the 40 members of the public who have been employed there under the kickstart scheme. Will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating all those who have taken part in the scheme, especially those who have been given permanent jobs, and set out what ongoing support there will be for those who have completed their placements?

As my hon. Friend knows, I know Dyserth very well. In fact, I will be there the weekend after next. I join him in congratulating all those who have taken part in the kickstart scheme, especially those who have secured full-time jobs. Kickstart is, of course, only one part of the wider package of support for young people that is under way. The DWP’s youth offer, which runs until 2025 and is worth £60 million, includes a 13-week youth employment programme, supported youth hubs and, crucially, specialised youth employability coaches.

Just in case colleagues in the House did not quite hear the Chief Secretary, he admitted that kickstart has failed. It promised young people 250,000 jobs and got barely half of that. But it is worse than that. The National Audit Office said about kickstart that there was

“limited assurance over the quality of the work placements created by the scheme, or whether jobs created by employers would have existed anyway”.

So in relation to the failed kickstart scheme, what does the Chief Secretary make of the following economic expression: “dead weight loss”?

With respect to the hon. Lady, of whom I am a great admirer, that is an unfair characterisation of the success of the scheme. It clearly needs to be situated in the wider context. In fact, the British economy has performed much better than anyone expected when the scheme was set up. There are robust processes in place that make sure that we genuinely are adding additional value. So work coaches have to certify that the people on the scheme are eligible for it and would have been unlikely to find work without it. Employers need to demonstrate how the jobs created are additional. Finally, it is important to contrast this scheme with the last Labour Government’s future jobs fund, which reached its total far more slowly and was far less effective. This scheme has got 130,000 and rising young people into work. It has been a great success.

It is interesting that the Minister can call kickstart such a resounding success, given that last month the Public Accounts Committee said that the Department that runs the scheme does not know what success looks like because it launched the scheme without any idea as to what the success criteria would be. It also has no way of knowing whether the young people who are referred to kickstart jobs are the right young people and it is not properly evaluating the longer term support that employers give to those young people. Does the Minister agree with the PAC report, which was endorsed by a Committee consisting of a majority of Conservative MPs?

No, I do not agree with that report. It is an unfair characterisation of a response that was put in place at pace to meet an unprecedented crisis in our employment market. The wider success of our policy on youth employment is best measured by the fact that in January there were 500,000 more employees aged under 25 than there were in January 2021. The kickstart programme has played its full part in helping to make that possible.

Businesses in the steel industry are more likely to be able to support the kickstart scheme if the Government manage to get Donald Trump’s unfair tariffs of 25% on British steel exports lifted, as the Japanese and the EU have already achieved. Has the Chancellor spoken to the Chief Secretary about this issue, and if not why not?

The hon. Gentleman makes a very good point about tariffs. Obviously, the Government believe in free trade and it is something that we want to see happen too. As a Member of Parliament who represents a steel-making constituency, I am keenly aware of this as an issue. The Department for International Trade leads on the issue, and I know that the Secretary of State and her predecessor have had long and ongoing conversations with their American counterparts about getting those tariffs lifted.

With the scheme failing to attract the numbers that were predicted by over 80,000, will the Minister outline what structure is in place to attract those who have lost out, to ensure that those young people have opportunities to find a life career? Will the new scheme be UK-wide?

Youth unemployment is lower today than it was pre-pandemic, and the wider success of the scheme has to be judged in the context that the worst-case scenario that we were looking to offset never came to pass because of the interventions that we made. If a scheme does not achieve the headline numbers that were anticipated at the time it was established because the wider economic performance of the country was so much better than anticipated, that is a success, not something to bemoan.