Rishi Sunak’s flagship youth unemployment scheme is on track to deliver fewer than half of the jobs promised, according to figures obtained by Labour.
The government claimed its £1.9bn Kickstart scheme would “create hundreds of thousands of high-quality six-month work placements” for 16- to 24-year-olds on universal credit.
However, just 111,820 people have found work through Kickstart and the number of young people on universal credit has nearly doubled since the start of the pandemic, up from 450,000 in January 2020 to nearly 840,000 now.
As recently as January this year, the chancellor said he aimed for “at least” 250,000 young people to get into work through the programme, which was due to end this month but has since been extended. When questioned recently by the National Audit Office, the government claimed that 250,000 jobs was “not a formal target”.
In a report published late last month, the NAO found ministers had “limited assurance” that Kickstart was having the positive impact intended because Department for Work and Pensions staff carry out little monitoring of applicants once they start jobs.
Labour found that in some parliamentary constituencies, as few as 20 young people have found work through the scheme, which pays employers to take on young people. In 300 parliamentary constituencies, less than 100 jobs have been created under the scheme.
London and the northwest are set to miss out on the most jobs, with shortfalls of 29,559 and 17,523 jobs respectively, according to Labour’s analysis.
Jonathan Ashworth, shadow work and pensions secretary, said: “The government’s employment policies are failing to rebalance the economy, tackle economic insecurity and their Kickstart work programme has created nowhere near the 250,000 opportunities promised even though employers are desperate to get help finding staff.
“The Tories are doing nothing for young people in need of urgent jobs support.
“Eleven years of Tory economic failure has trapped us in a low growth, high tax economy – with families now facing rising heating bills, rising prices in the shops and higher taxes. Yet again it’s working people being hit with one thing after another under the Tories.”
While the UK’s overall unemployment rate remains low, young people have seen their career prospects hit hardest by the pandemic and repeated lockdowns.
The Department for Work & Pensions (DWP) launched Kickstart in September 2020 in response to a significant forecast rise in youth unemployment.
In October 2021, it was extended so that new job placements could start up to the end of March 2022, with the scheme closing in September.
The National Audit Office found that the effectiveness of Kickstart could not be assessed until the DWP conducts reviews in several years’ time.
The NAO said: “The Department relies heavily on its work coaches to target the right young people for the scheme, and on pre-award checks to make sure the jobs created are additional and include an appropriate level of training and support.
“However, it conducts relatively little monitoring of these aspects after it has funded each job. This means it has limited assurance that Kickstart is actually having the positive impact intended.”
A DWP spokesperson said: “We acted quickly and decisively to establish Kickstart at the start of the pandemic when it was feared unemployment levels would more than double, and youth unemployment is now below pre-pandemic levels.”
“The scheme has already provided over 110,000 new life-changing jobs for young jobseekers on Universal Credit who were at risk of long-term unemployment and will continue to deliver opportunities for young people.”