Politics

Government youth scheme funding jobs which ‘could have existed anyway’, says watchdog

Boris Johnson’s government cannot be sure of the quality of jobs created by its Kickstart scheme – or whether the roles would have developed anyway without public funding, a watchdog has said.

The National Audit Office (NAO) said the government has only “limited” assurances about whether its Kickstart scheme to help young Britons into work is having a positive impact.

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) launched the £1.9bn programme last September following a rise in youth unemployment in the early months of the Covid crisis.

Last week the DWP claimed that over 100,000 young people have started jobs through the scheme, which gives employers £1,500 per six-month work placements for those on Universal Credit.

But the NAO’s latest report found there were concerns that jobs might have been created through the scheme which would have existed anyway as the economy reopened.

The spending watchdog also said more could be done to ensure the scheme for 16 to 24-year-olds, which has been extended to March 2022, is “targeted at those who need it the most”.

Gareth Davies, head of the NAO, said: “At the start of the pandemic, DWP acted quickly to set up Kickstart to help young people into work when youth unemployment was predicted to rise significantly.”

He added: “However, DWP has limited assurance that Kickstart is having the positive impact intended. It does not know whether the jobs created are of high quality or whether they would have existed without the scheme.”

Labour MP Meg Hillier, chair of the Committee of Public Accounts, said the “jury was still out” on the Kickstart scheme will end up being value for money.

The influential backbencher said: “DWP moved quickly to set up the scheme, yet in many ways it has already been overtaken by events. The opening-up of the economy has meant the taxpayer may just be subsidising jobs that would have existed anyway.”

Ms Hillier added: “Given the cash that government has pumped into the scheme, DWP has taken a worryingly light-touch approach to setting targets or tracking performance.”

It comes as Labour pointed to figures which show that as many Kickstart placements have been created in the south of England as in the north and Midlands combined – despite demand for the scheme being 50 per cent higher in the latter regions.

Figures shared by the Tory employment minister Mims Davies show that just under 39,000 young people have started jobs in the south, and in the north and Midlands combined.

“The chancellor’s ‘plan for jobs’ has failed to plan for the jobs our country actually needs in the places that need them most,” said Jonathan Reynolds MP, Labour’s shadow work and pensions secretary.

He added: “Just like their broken promises on rail, and their working-class dementia tax when it comes to jobs the government’s promises to the north and Midlands ring hollow.”

Chancellor Rishi Sunak said last week that he was “so proud” that 100,000 young people have started Kickstart jobs. “I’ve seen first-hand how it has transformed people’s lives,” he said.

Responding the NAO findings, a government spokesman 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 – as this report acknowledges.

“The scheme has already delivered over 100,000 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.”

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