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Covid-19: Youth Unemployment

Volume 809: debated on Tuesday 2 February 2021


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the employment of young people; and what steps they are taking to address youth unemployment.

Let me assure the House and the noble Lord that the Government are committed to providing support to help young people move into work in these difficult times. Such support will help avoid the scarring effects of unemployment, and our £30 billion plan for jobs includes specific interventions targeted at young people. The Youth Offer and Kickstart schemes have been designed to move young people towards meaningful and sustained employment.

I thank the Minister for her reply. The unemployment rate for young people aged between 16 and 24 is, at 14.2%, almost three times higher than the general rate of 5%. I applaud the Government for their Kickstart and apprenticeship programmes, which will, I hope, supported by industry, provide work-based learning and experience to give our young people the skills and confidence necessary to be successful in gaining work. Will the Minister join me in applauding the Fashion Retail Academy? Also supported by industry, it provides employer-led training and qualifications relevant to the current and future needs of our beleaguered retail sector.

I agree with the noble Lord that young people today face an unprecedented challenge in accessing the world of work, as well as the skills they need to help them succeed. We are working closely with DfE to clarify the relationship between skills and employment provision. The DWP and DfE have put guidance in place to ensure that young apprentices made redundant due to Covid-19 can continue their learning. I thank the noble Lord for raising the excellent work of the Fashion Retail Academy. There are many other sector work-based academies doing great work to help young people in these difficult times.

I declare an interest as a vice-president of the National Autistic Society. Just 15 in every 100 people with autism get a job, so good education is vitally important. Since the Covid outbreak, seven in 10 autistic children are having difficulty understanding or completing schoolwork and around half—half, my Lords—will see their academic progress suffer. Can the Minister say something about what the Government are doing to mitigate this, so that in the years ahead we do not see even fewer people with autism getting a job?

The noble Lord is well-known and well-respected for his commitment to this particular difficulty that people face. I would like to assure the House that we are committed to helping everyone into work, including those who need extra and intensive support due to autism. In respect of educational input, I will speak to my noble friend Lady Berridge, and we will jointly come back to him to answer the specifics of that question. However, I can tell noble Lords this: we have recruited 150 employability coaches across Great Britain, and I have heard a number of success stories. These work coaches work particularly with vulnerable people. I can tell noble Lords that a youth employability coach in Dartford has supported a claimant with Asperger’s syndrome, helping him to secure an apprenticeship in tech support. We understand the challenge and we are on the case.

My Lords, in a recent survey by the Prince’s Trust, 21% of those aged 16 to 24 said that they felt their skills and training were no longer useful as a result of the pandemic. Given that about only 2,000 young people secured roles out of 120,000 approved placements in the Kickstart scheme, can the Minister say what action Her Majesty’s Government are taking to increase the numbers enrolled on placements and to ensure that they are all high quality?

I thank the right reverend Prelate for his question, which is really valid. We have over 100,000 vacancies in Kickstart and I can assure him that everyone in the department is working at pace to secure good-quality outlets for young people. We are doing everything we can. We are working with the Prince’s Trust and all sorts of other organisations, and noble Lords will see Kickstart come into its own in the near future.

[Inaudible]—apprenticeships concerned, 70% were postponed or cancelled. Can I be heard or not? It says: “Your internet connection is unstable”. Shall I continue?

I am afraid there is a problem with the connection, so we will move to the next speaker. I call the noble Baroness, Lady Janke.

My Lords, businesses in the creative, media and digital industries are typically very small and do not have the resources to support apprentices, internships and work experience. What plans do the Government have to support and enable these businesses to provide skills, training and experience to young people in this essential area?

The creative industries are very important to our economy. I was in a meeting only yesterday with some people who are very significant in the industry and they told us about the number of jobs they need to fill, which is quite significant. We were talking about getting people skilled, not just in the big cities but across the board, so that we can meet our levelling-up agenda. This is another thing that we are focusing on.

My Lords, while our focus has been rightly on trying to save the lives of those most vulnerable in our society, we are in danger of forgetting the huge sacrifices we have asked from young people. They have been shut up at home, had exams cancelled and missed out on precious university experiences. Now they face a grim economic outlook as they look to start their working lives. I first commend the Government on their Kickstart initiative and echo other questions in asking why the rate of take-up has been so low. Also, while we support existing jobs through the furlough scheme, I wonder if we could be doing more to encourage businesses not to press cancel on a generation of young recruits. These are relatively low-cost hires who are nevertheless the future of their businesses and our country.

I have already referred to Kickstart and the progress we have made. Another point I will make is that there is a very intensive quality assurance programme for the vacancies to go through, but employers are doing their bit and falling into line with the programme, and we have great hopes for it. I agree with the noble Baroness that, as a country, we need to do all we can to help the younger generation to progress. I would be delighted to see business continue to work alongside government to achieve this aim, particularly in relation to internships.

Is the Minister aware that youth unemployment was discovered to be at 20% by the Resolution Foundation last September? The Sutton Trust has said that graduate unemployment is at 45% and that the number of apprenticeships this year has been reduced by 70% or postponed. A recent government White Paper never mentioned youth unemployment. When will the Government realise that this is a major crisis that is rising and is going to get much worse, and that measures are needed?

The noble Lord is right to point out the level of unemployment among young people and graduates; I take no argument with that. But he asks when the Government will recognise this: we are working flat out to ensure that young people get the help they need to get a meaningful job and the skills they need to compete effectively in the job market. I can assure the noble Lord and the whole House that we are working at pace to achieve this.

My Lords, one thing that has become apparent during Covid is that initiatives work best when they are local rather than national. Needs for skills and therefore for training are also often local rather national. For instance, the noble Baroness, Lady Janke, referred to the creative industries. In this country film production is thriving in Yorkshire, while Leamington Spa is the capital of video games. So can the Minister reassure me that local authorities will have much more say in what training schemes are made available and how they will be funded locally?

My noble friend raises a number of relevant points. As I have said, we are working with local authorities and businesses. There is absolute mileage in all my noble friend says about things being done locally, because people know one another best in their local community. My strapline for all that we are doing is “To be known nationally but felt locally”.

[Inaudible]—about the scale of the crisis. The Government want 250,000 placements but, as the right reverend Prelate pointed out, not even 2,000 young people are in place and, by November, nearly 600,000 young people were claiming unemployment benefits. So when will 250,000 young people actually be in jobs and what are the Government doing to help the other 350,000 young people who cannot access Kickstart?

Let me be clear again that we are working at pace with employers to get the vacancies we need in Kickstart. We have started people, and that take-up will accelerate in the coming days. There is no lessening of effort on that. In terms of our offer, we have the youth unemployment programme; we have youth hubs—which are helping people; and we have our youth employability coaches as well as work coaches in jobcentres. With all those efforts combined we will do as much as we can to get as many as possible of the young people referred to by the noble Baroness back into work.

My Lords, the time allowed for this Question has now elapsed. I apologise to those whom I was unable to call. We now move to the fourth Oral Question.