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Youth unemployment at ‘critical moment’ as job market shows recovery signs

Young people returning to work played a big part in the jobs market’s recovery between February and April, but youth charities say furlough deadline may unmask the hidden problem
More young people are returning to work but they have still been worst hit by the pandemic on the whole. Image credit: Andrea Piacquiadio/Pexels

Youth unemployment is at a “critical moment” as the end of the furlough scheme approaches, charities have warned, despite the labour market showing “signs of recovery” overall.

Unemployment fell to 4.7 per cent between February and April, according to new Office for National Statistics figures, down on 4.8 per cent in the previous three months as the number of payrolled employees increased for the sixth consecutive month to 28.5 million.

Three of the hardest–hit sectors during the pandemic – accommodation and food services, people living in London, and people aged under 25 – rallied the most during the period but are still seeing employment rates well below pre-pandemic levels.

With a higher proportion of 16 to 24 year–olds out of work – 13.2 per cent compared to 4.7 per cent across the working population – charities have called for a plan to ensure recovery signs are maintained beyond the end of the furlough scheme and the £20 universal credit increase. 

I think in the educational system, we’re not taught to be business owners, we’re taught to be people that clock in from a job work for someone else

Steve Haines, director of public affairs at youth charity Impetus, told The Big Issue the end of support risks could be a crisis point and young workers needed targeted support for the prime minister’s “opportunity guarantee” promise to come to fruition.

“This is a critical moment for youth employment. While today’s labour market statistics show positive signs for the economy, we mustn’t fall asleep at the watch and allow an uneven recovery,” said Haines.  

“A deeper problem is being masked: hundreds of thousands of young people who are still on furlough face yet more time out of the labour market, many more will be leaving education and looking for work and those young people furthest from the labour market risk getting stuck out of education and employment in the long term.”

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The latest figures showed the work opportunities are beginning to appear in the jobs market as restrictions eased in the last few months with vacancies at 758,000, down only 27,000 down on pre–pandemic levels.

But despite the signs of recovery, young people have been forced to adapt to stay in work during the pandemic.

Londoner Brookemorgan, 22, has turned her experiences of unemployment and homelessness into a mentoring scheme for other youngsters in her community interest company ‘She Oath’. 

She told The Big Issue that education is key to get more women like her into work and starting their own businesses.

“It’s just trying to put all of my bad experiences into a pot, I’m just trying to be what my peers need and what I needed when I was a vulnerable young woman,” said Brookemorgan, who preferred not to give her surname.

youth unemployment
Brookemorgan - She Oath
Londoner Brookemorgan launched her own business during the pandemic after losing work. Image credit: Supplied

“I think in the educational system, we’re not taught to be business owners, we’re taught to be people that clock in from a job work for someone else.

“I’m not knocking that. But we’re not taught that if we want to do anything else there are other options, which is why people struggle so much.”

The youth homelessness charity that supported Brookemorgan, Centrepoint, has also called for education to be the way for youngsters as the furlough scheme is due to end in September despite coronavirus restrictions being extended on Monday.

A Treasury spokesperson told The Guardian the department “deliberately went long with our support to provide certainty” with the furlough scheme and had no plans to extend it or the £20 increase to universal credit which also ends in September.

But Paul Noblet, head of public affairs at Centrepoint, said: “We know that under 25s have been hardest hit by the pandemic and our helpline has seen calls from many young people who are homeless, or on the brink of homelessness, due to their lack of employment.

“With furlough schemes ending in September, it’s now more important than ever that the government ensures that training schemes are appropriate for all young people, to stop further vulnerable people falling victim to unemployment.

“The government also needs to reform the benefits system, including universal credit, which often discourages young people on zero-hour contracts from accepting more hours of paid work, as it financially puts them out of pocket.”

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