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One million youngsters ‘locked out of work’ through Covid-19, says think tank

The Learning and Work Institute has set out a £4.6bn blueprint for the future to skill up youngsters and avoid a lost generation

The Covid-19 pandemic could leave one million young people locked out of education, employment and training, according to think tank Learning and Work Institute, which has set out a plan to avoid a youth unemployment crisis.

The organisation has laid out a £4.6 billion blueprint to prevent the devastating impact of the pandemic leading to a “lost generation”.

Maggie Galliers, youth commissioner and chair of Learning and Work Institute, said: “By avoiding damaging individual life chances of young people we will not only enrich their lives but make an immensely positive impact on our future economy and wider society.”

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Young people have been hit hard by the Covid-19-driven closure of restaurant and non-essential retail across the UK. Between January and October 2020, unemployment rose by 73,000 among young people – a 14 per cent increase according to Office of National Statistics figures – with increased coronavirus restrictions across the UK putting more jobs at risk.

Disruption to education has also taken its toll with schools, colleges and universities forced to close their doors for large parts of 2020. There is no sign of an end to difficulties in 2021 with exams cancelled and the new Covid-19 strain causing chaos as schools return following the Christmas holidays.

The Institute’s Youth Commision report is calling for greater ambition in education to help three quarters of young people gain an A level-equivalent qualification by the age of 25, up from the less than two-thirds of people who achieve that today.

The think tank also wants a guarantee for all young people to be offered a job, training place or apprenticeship as well as a reverse in the decline of the latter. The organisation has set a target of getting one in three young people into an apprenticeship to boost work opportunities.

A minimum wage increase and an assurance that benefits rise by the fastest of growth in earnings or prices are required while the Institute is also asking for a youth allowance in Universal Credit to help youngsters juggle work and study.

With the threat of 290,000 young people becoming long-term unemployed in the next 12 months, the Institute’s chief executive Stephen Evans insisted the proposed £4.6bn cost of the reforms is much less than that paid for failing to act.  

“Young people have been hard hit by the pandemic and to avoid a lost generation we need to tackle underlying weaknesses in education and employment support,” said Evans. “That includes investing in technical education, a renaissance in apprenticeships, and urgent action to respond to the youth employment crisis.”

“The cost of inaction is high, and extra investment will more than pay for itself. Let’s make the 2020s a decade for recovery and renewal.”

The think tank’s report found that the impact of Covid-19 has compounded existing shortfalls in terms of higher education and employment support.

The UK already lags behind other countries when it comes to A level-equivalent qualifications, and the pandemic has set things back further, leaving young people facing a “double whammy” of a disrupted education and a shrinking labour market.

The cost of inaction is high, and extra investment will more than pay for itself

The resulting youth unemployment crisis means that a rethink on education and employment is required, the report’s authors say, with half of the £20 billion education budget spent on higher education before the pandemic.

Shadow Secretary of State for Education, Labour’s Kate Green MP, said: “Without action now, a generation of young people will be condemned to insecure, low paid and unfulfilling work which wastes individuals’ talents and economic potential. This cannot be allowed to happen.”

The UK Government has already announced a £2bn Kickstart Scheme to help young people at risk of long-term unemployment or claiming Universal Credit into subsidised jobs in a bid to avoid a unemployed youth crisis.

However, the Institute’s report warns young people could face a “lottery of support” if they are not claiming benefits and urged Chancellor Rishi Sunak to focus on job quality and joining up training and apprenticeships in his Plan for Jobs.

A Treasury spokesman said: “As part of our Plan for Jobs, we’ve invested £280bn to protect millions of jobs and businesses across the UK.

“But our plan goes further than just supporting jobs; we’re also creating jobs through our £2bn Kickstart Scheme, tripling traineeships, incentives for firms hiring apprentices and doubling the number of work coaches, so that nobody is left without hope or opportunity.”