Government programmes are failing young people, with almost one in five unemployed. Our youth jobs taskforce is fighting back
As Britain’s youth jobs crisis deepens, it’s time for ministers to hand local council leaders the tools they need to make a difference.
Britain’s youth unemployment crisis remains stark. Nearly 40% of people out of work are under the age of 25. That’s one of the highest rates in the western world. In the last jobs stats, youth unemployment rose again. Nationally nearly one in five young people is out of work and this is costing us a fortune. Over a billion pounds a year in dole bills. And the cost isn’t just short term. Acevo (the Association of Chief Executives of Voluntary Organisations) estimates that today’s rate of youth unemployment will cost us £6.3bn per annum in lost economic output.
But now it’s clear just who is leading the fightback. All over Britain it’s local Labour councils leading the way in building bridges for young people, from school or unemployment, into real local jobs.
Last year, as youth unemployment hit the million mark, I asked the leaders of 10 councils where youth unemployment is highest to come together, to share ideas, and to show Labour nationally what works to get young people into jobs. In the past 12 months, despite horrendous budget settlements, those leaders have begun to revolutionise the way we get our young people jobs in Britain’s 21st-century economy.
Cities such as Sheffield are transforming the way they identify young people at risk of graduating to a life of unemployment, so they can target special additional support. Bradford council is building “industrial centres of excellence”: small schools of 300 students aged 14-19 offering enterprise skills, paid work experience and business-led qualifications – all tailored to what’s actually available in the local jobs market.
Manchester is widening access to apprenticeships with its “apprentice ambassadors”, and a new Ucas-style clearing house to match students with apprenticeship offers well before they leave school, conditional on making the grades.
Wales, Glasgow and Birmingham are reinventing the highly successful future jobs fund to make sure that young people out of work are given paid opportunities as a springboard into local careers. Newham has even created Workplace, a one-stop job brokerage that places 5,000 local residents into jobs each year.
Liverpool, Leeds and Sheffield have created “apprenticeship agencies”, organising training and work opportunities for thousands of apprentices with their cities’ diverse business base of SMEs (small and medium-sized enterprises). Sandwell council in the West Midlands is guaranteeing three months’ work experience for every 16- to 24-year-old to ensure the borough’s young people are job ready.
Today, we publish these ideas and many more in the first report of Labour’s youth jobs taskforce, setting down just what can be done with a bit of can-do spirit.
But I can’t hide what disappointed me as I travelled round Britain listening to ideas that made a difference. The harsh reality is government programmes are failing. In fact, fewer than 6,000 young people have been helped into sustained jobs: that’s just 3.4% of young people on the Work Programme. The Youth Contract, launched with much fanfare by the deputy prime minister last year, is working so well that the government has decided to keep its results a secret.
Worse, I’ve heard loud and clear that the Department for Work and Pensions is now too often a handbrake on progress. Most council leaders I speak to have good things to say about their local jobcentre team – but Stalin-esque ministers are stopping people on the frontline getting on with what works best. “They’re good people, trying to do the right thing,” said one. “but they’re trapped in some very bad systems.” “DWP has been unwilling to engage locally,” said another. I heard the same story wherever I went.
The best thing we can give our young people is a chance. Labour councils are now showing day in and day out, that where there’s a will, there’s a way. With councils blazing ahead, and the national Work Programme in chaos, it’s time DWP ministers got behind local council leaders and took down the roadblocks to reform.