I am pleased to update the House that, after removing the threshold last month and allowing direct applications for any number of roles, we saw an increase of 3,000 employer applications throughout February, which is a jump of 75%. There will continue to be an important role for gateways as we progress to our ambition of 250,000 kickstart jobs, which we are well on the way to achieving, with almost 150,000 roles approved, more than 4,000 young people having started their roles and another 30,000 vacancies live right now.
I thank my right hon. Friend for her answer. Given the large number of small and medium-sized enterprises across the county, jobcentres in Bedfordshire, including the one in Biggleswade in my constituency, are raring to go to enable small businesses to take advantage of this change in Government policy. Can she advise me what she is doing to ensure that those small businesses are aware of the scheme and its benefits?
My hon. Friend should be aware that we have account managers working in all parts of the country to take up this scheme. In particular, we continue to work with a wide range of organisations closely connected to SMEs, including chambers of commerce and the Federation of Small Businesses, to get the message out there and make it straightforward to apply. We should recognise that, due to eligibility criteria, not all direct applications may be successful, and the support of a gateway is likely to be beneficial. We are also enabling applications through the gateway plus model, which will particularly help sole traders, and we will continue to advertise that.
I thank my right hon. Friend for her answer. I welcome the removal of the 30-person threshold, which will help even the smallest firm in my constituency. Since the launch of the kickstart scheme, our phenomenal Tees Valley Mayor Ben Houchen has been facilitating SMEs to access it, and he has helped 350 young people sign up. Will my right hon. Friend join me in commending Ben for the fantastic work he is doing to help young people in Darlington gain experience and employment?
I am very happy to agree with my hon. Friend that Ben Houchen is doing a fantastic job in his role as Mayor. In case people had not realised, as well as getting Treasury North in my hon. Friend’s constituency of Darlington—a project that I am sure my hon. Friend achieved with the Mayor—Ben Houchen is leading the way on making that difference to young people’s lives, which is really important. I have also seen it work well with Andy Street and, to be fair to other Mayors, I am confident that people like Steve Rotheram and others will continue to do so.
In Harrogate and Knaresborough, we have seen great organisations such as St Michael’s Hospice with North Yorkshire Hospice Care offer 30 roles in support services, from retail to catering, care and communications. Not everywhere is fortunate enough to have such a progressive organisation, so the policy change is welcome. I was originally going to ask my right hon. Friend about the increase that she has seen from this policy change, but she has answered that. Will she keep the House informed, so that Members of Parliament can help to promote this fantastic opportunity and see more people get the opportunities that kickstart can provide?
My hon. Friend is right to point out that removing the threshold has enabled a number of institutions to apply directly to kickstart. The example he highlights was already under way, but it just shows some of the fantastic opportunities that this scheme can offer young people. By creating so many of these roles, with the wider variety of roles that we are seeing, we are reducing the risk of long-term unemployment for hundreds of thousands of young people, and we will continue to keep the House updated on progress.
Kickstart is only for young people claiming universal credit. Many disabled young people claim employment and support allowance instead. Will the Secretary of State consider extending kickstart to include disabled young people who are not eligible for it at the moment?
The right hon. Gentleman will be aware that young people with disabilities can move on to universal credit, so there may be an incentive to do that, but this issue is under consideration. My hon. Friend the Minister for Disabled People, Health and Work has discussed this with me and the Minister for Employment, and we are considering it further.