A Million Reasons to Act …

Unprecedented times demand unprecedented measures. That’s the gist of a new report on youth employment published last week by the Alliance for Full Employment. Youth Report: A Million Reasons to Act is based on a study by Professor Paul Gregg from Bath University. He warns that as many as one million young people will be unemployed by the start of November. Without urgent action we’ll see a Covid generation as lost as the 1980s YTS generation.

 

The economic havoc wreaked by the pandemic disproportionately targets the under-25s. We’ve had years of a gig-economy and zero-hours contracts. Too many young people have precarious jobs as bar staff, delivery workers, and other low paid work.

 

60% of post-March redundancies are 16 to 24 years old. The unemployment rate for young men is already three times the over-25 rate. In the North of Tyne we’ve seen the youth claim count rise from 3,700 to 7,000. That’s a near doubling between March and August. The real number unemployed is worse – many young people are ineligible for benefits.

 

When the furlough scheme finishes in a week’s time, a million 16-24 year olds will need a job. There’s a scarcity of new vacancies. Half a million more school and college leavers have joined the job market. Prospects are bleak. As in the 1980s, youth unemployment in the North and Midlands could exceed 20%.

 

Long term unemployment can scar a young person’s future. Decades later we see stunted careers, poverty, mental ill health and poor community engagement. Getting young people earning a living in secure jobs is good for all of us.

 

Since the onset of the pandemic, my officers have worked tirelessly to create opportunities for our young people. We’ve used our devolved Adult Education Budget to help 37,500 young people enrol for qualifications and training. We’ve funded projects like the Nurture, Nourish and Thrive programme at the Cedarwood Trust in North Shields. Youngsters in the local area can gain qualifications in childcare, and related skills.

 

We’re adapting the national £2 billion Kickstart scheme to have a local place-based approach. One that suits the needs of young people in North of Tyne. Kickstarters are for youngsters under 24 on Universal Credit. Under the scheme, employers get £6,500 per person to cover six-months’ wages. Plus £1,500 per person to pay for wrap-around support – training, coaching and the like.

 

However, only employers who can take 30 or more young people can apply directly. So the North of Tyne Combined Authority will become a “Gateway” organisation for the scheme. We’re investing an extra £500,000 to help our small businesses join the scheme.

 

We’ll support them to provide high quality placements leading to good jobs in the green economy and digital industries. And we’ll make sure the training is high quality, and the young people are learning valuable skills, not just doing grunt work.

 

The Alliance for Full Employment, which I’ve signed up to along with the other Labour Metro Mayors, is calling for the PM to live up to his pledge to do “whatever it takes”. The Alliance is calling for a UK wide jobs summit to provide a coordinated response. This dovetails with the TUC’s call for a Job Guarantee Scheme for young people, not just the “opportunity guarantee” the PM announced over the summer.

 

Work schemes and training are essential short-term measures to halt a long-term catastrophe. But the freedom to look for a job is no freedom at all. There have to be jobs to find. I’ve called on the government to fund our Regional Economic Recovery plan, to create 35,000 jobs in the North of Tyne alone. Unemployed, school-leaver, or graduate, young people need permanent jobs. Careers with prospects, and security. The pride that they’re earning a decent living and paying their way. The sense that their fate is in their hands.

 

We can prevent a repeat of the 1980s. We have a million reasons to act now to stop a whole generation of young people losing out.

 

Published originally in the Journal and Evening Chronicle 26.10.20