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Kickstart Scheme

Volume 811: debated on Thursday 29 April 2021


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they are the taking to increase the number of jobs created by the Kickstart Scheme.

My Lords, I thank the Lord Speaker for his service, and I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper.

I am very pleased to advise the House today that we have now approved 195,000 vacancies on the Kickstart scheme. During the pandemic and the lockdown, employers were very keen to become involved in the Kickstart programme and make opportunities available for young people, but they wanted to wait until we came out of lockdown, when their businesses could start to trade. I can say to the noble Baroness and the whole House that progress is being made day by day and the number of young people going into vacancies is accelerating fast.

My Lords, is it not the case that only 16,500 young people have actually started work? That is out of some 575,000 who are unemployed. Last June, Ministers said that Kickstart would create new jobs for a quarter of a million young people. Can the Minister tell the House two things? First, what is the new target date for getting 250,000 young people into jobs? Secondly, given that only 490 placements have happened in the whole north-east of England, what is the plan for making sure that poorer regions are not left behind?

As I originally said, we have 195,000 vacancies and more are still coming in, so we are positive that we will create hundreds of thousands of jobs for Kickstarters. We are well aware of the difficulties associated with the north-east. We are doing a deep dive on Friday with departmental officials, and we are working at pace to secure adequate opportunities for the plan for jobs. I am confident that we will meet our target in the timeframe allocated for Kickstart.

Can I press the Minister on my noble friend’s question? When will the Government report what direct action they are taking now to ensure they deliver equity across the regions on Kickstart placements? Sentiment is fine, but could we have the evidence of what the Government are doing to ensure equity? Secondly, unemployment of young black people started high and is rising faster than that of their white counterparts. What measures are the Government taking now to stop potential bias and discrimination in the hiring process for Kickstart jobs?

I can confirm to the noble Baroness that each region in the country has a regional director for Jobcentre Plus completely focused on ensuring that there are equitable vacancies across the country. The noble Baroness is absolutely right to raise the issue of the BAME community and the need for us to work very hard to ensure that they are not left behind. We are encouraging organisations that work with BAME young people to take part in the Kickstart scheme, which can include acting as a gateway organisation for employers in their networks. We understand the challenges faced, and our work coaches are working hard to use the £90 million investment that we are putting in to address the disparities in youth unemployment, especially in this group.

My Lords, I encourage the Minister also to consider the 2021 cohort of undergraduates and combine their need for employment with the needs of SMEs. Would it not make sense to create paid internships of three to six months whereby those undergraduates work in SMEs and thus kickstart not just their employability but the SME sector?

The noble Baroness suggests a very good idea. Let me be clear: Kickstart is there to help young people who are disadvantaged and at risk of being permanently excluded from the labour market. I will take the option of undergraduates and SMEs back to the department and write to the noble Baroness. At the moment, there are no plans to change the eligibility for Kickstart.

My Lords, vulnerable people display vulnerabilities in many different ways. What measures are in place to ensure that vulnerable people can participate in the Kickstart scheme?

We are encouraging employers to make opportunities available for vulnerable young people. Our Jobcentre Plus work coaches are identifying those people and working with them through a support package to make sure that they are not excluded in any way from taking part in the Kickstart scheme. Of course, we have our wonderful stakeholders and partners working particularly closely with these young people, who we are working with too.

My Lords, the Minister will be aware that many unemployed young people have a particular career interest and the financial support from their family to take on an unpaid internship. This is not an option for young people from deprived communities. Have the Government considered making the Kickstart programme available to these people so they too can take an internship in their chosen career?

I think I answered that question when I answered the question of the noble Baroness, Lady Stuart. As I said, I will take that back to the department, write to the noble Lord and the noble Baroness and place a copy in the Library. However, as it stands, there are no plans to change the eligibility.

My Lords, what are the Government doing to ensure that the Kickstart scheme meets the needs of understaffed sectors of the employment market which are well suited to this age cohort and therefore more likely to sustain young people’s employment once subsidies end? I am thinking particularly of both large and small hospitality employers, which are struggling to fill vacancies as pubs and restaurants gear up to reopen fully.

We are working closely with a whole range of employers in sectors impacted by the pandemic, particularly the hospitality sector, where we have enabled employers to create Kickstart opportunities sooner than the economy might otherwise allow. We have seen a strong response from the hospitality sector, with involvement from the national academy of food and drink and major employers like Greene King offering Kickstart jobs across the country, and we will continue to do so.

My Lords, over half the people who have lost their jobs since March 2020 are young people. Kickstart is a fantastic scheme to help young people and businesses prevent the scarring of long-term unemployment. Will the Minister acknowledge that although, as she said, almost 200,000 placements have been approved by the scheme, only 16,500 have actually started—as the noble Baroness, Lady Sherlock, said—because of delays caused by the third lockdown and bureaucracy? The CBI, of which I am president, is calling for a six-month extension to the excellent Kickstart scheme until June 2022 to allow many young people to participate. Will the Government please agree to this?

I understand the noble Lord’s question exactly. I am advised at the moment that there are no plans to extend the scheme, but we never know what might happen in the future. I pay tribute and thanks to the noble Lord in his capacity as chairman of the CBI, which has been an outstanding supporter and helper in the establishment of Kickstart.

Even given the difficulties created by the Covid pandemic, a 6% success rate is an abject failure. The Minister knows more than most the importance of work experience for a young person. Calling on 195,000 approved vacancies does not add up to actual jobs. If the target of 250,000 placements is not reached by December 2021, will the scheme be extended, or will the cash be grabbed by the Chancellor when he announces a new age of austerity?

I do understand the concern about the 16,500 placements but, as I tried to explain, during the lockdown employers have shown great commitment to involvement in Kickstart but wanted to do it when the lockdown ended. I say again to the noble Baroness that we are seeing day by day vast increases in the number of vacancies being filled, and we are confident that we are going to create hundreds of thousands of vacancies and place young people in them. On moving money around, I dare not get involved in that; I think I would be going a bit too far if I confirmed anything in that regard.

Sitting suspended.