Given the numbers were steady across all other age groups, this is grim enough, but estimates from The Resolution Foundation point to the pandemic leaving more than 10 times this number out of work. This is on top of the 800,000 people aged 16-24 who were not in education, employment or training before Covid-19 struck.
Although young people have been least susceptible to the virus itself, they will arguably be most impacted by its economic consequences on account of the fact that the under-25s were two and half times more likely than others to have been working in the parts of the economy that shut-down in March. Add to this the fact that many large companies have suspended their graduate intake programmes and the outlook is bleak for many.
It’s no surprise then that the Chancellor’s summer statement majored heavily on measures to help young jobseekers, with more incentives to recruit apprentices and support traineeships and the promise of temporary jobs through a new Kickstart scheme.
Will these measures be enough to prevent a whole generation being scarred by the effects of long-term unemployment, and will they help young people who were already struggling to make the transition into work, and who now risk being stuck at the back of an even longer queue?
Incentivising employers to create jobs is one part of the equation, but if young people aren’t equipped with the skills and confidence they need to be recruited, and then to be successful, the outcome could be doubly demoralising.
This support seems to be lacking in the schemes announced so far, which will completely bypass those young people not in the Universal Credit system. Given the collective experience we have of what works in supporting those furthest away from the labour market, this is a major oversight. A report published this week looking at the lockdown experiences of young unemployed people supported by Groundwork’s Progress programme in Coventry and Warwickshire, highlights the value participants place on mentoring and coaching to help them reach their goal. Supportive conversations and daily tasks have helped participants stay positive and motivated while in isolation, even though the prospects of finding a job have receded and mental health issues have, for many, come to the fore.
One way to fix this is to ensure the Kickstart scheme is attractive and accessible to employers more likely to provide this wraparound support – charities, social enterprises and community businesses - and enable them to apply for top-up funds for recruiting young people facing more significant barriers. Funds could be used to engage expert youth support organisations to provide coaching in work and at home, helping young employees make the most of their opportunity and signposting to other specialist services. Not only will this level the playing field for those young people likely to be overlooked by employers, it will also help stimulate new economic activity in our most disadvantaged communities – which are precisely the areas that have been hardest hit by the pandemic.
Ensuring the investment of public funds brings with it additional social value is now standard practice when building roads, schools and hospitals. We should apply the same principle to the task of rebuilding our broken economy.
Graham Duxbury is chief executive of Groundwork UK