This morning we heard from Nick Riddle, Deputy Director of the Kickstart Programme at DWP about how they hope the programme is going to work. While they have done some amazing work to get it to where it is now, there are quite a few fundamental problems still to sort out, to say the least. I wouldn’t like to see the state of Nick’s inbox right now!
I took away half a dozen key points that were raised in discussion that need to be sorted out:
- A rolling FAQ on the DWP website would be really helpful. This would provide a way of feeding in, sorting out and sharing solutions to problems that are coming up.
- There was clearly confusion about whether you can be your own Gateway. I don’t know if this is similar to being able to scratch your own elbow with the same hand or what! At first it was a “no”, then a “maybe” and then “I’ll check”. It seems to me that you must be able to do so, if you think of how many placements a council could provide within their own services as well as being a gateway?
- DWP seem to be using various criteria for automatic knock-outs to reject applications within the black box of their bureaucracy but it wasn’t clear whether these are transparent to gateways or employers. This would be useful information to share more widely.
- DWP need to get gateway applications sorted ASAP. Employers have been the priority to get going first, which is fair enough, but this has a knock-on effect on kinds of roles that are available. If a lot of smaller employers are only going through gateways, then it’ll skew what jobs come up at what point.
- There is a five-way set of relationships going from DWP to jobcentres and work coaches to gateways to employers with the young person involved throughout. This is complex but if these links don’t all work then the programme as a whole is going to fail.
- The impact of lockdown and remote working means the local aspect of placements via a local JCP doesn’t make much sense for lots of jobs. So, how is that going to be addressed? It’s an opportunity to cast the net more widely.
Overall, though, the scale of need is large and growing. As at the end of September, there were nearly 1m 16-24 year olds on UC. A lot of the increase since May has been in those who are working; and about 1 in 3 overall are counted as being in work. About 4/5ths of the increase since May has been among those who are working. But as was pointed out – many young people are not in touch with Jobcentres at all; some are on legacy benefits and 16-17 year olds who are unemployed are by and large unable to access UC easily.
We must focus on and help first and foremost the more disadvantaged young people – but balance that with employer needs: and we need to consider disabled young people and what assistance they might need to access vacancies on a level playing field.
This means we need to find the ‘goldilocks’ zone that’s “just right” between preventing deadweight and avoiding inappropriate referrals of those who would need much more support before benefiting from a work placement.
We are not going to get that balance just right straight away. We need to give this time to bed in and get through all the opportunities that have been lined up – and vitally, get responses out to the gateways.
My big hope therefore is that the evaluation being done by DWP will have results early enough to adjust the policy and the operation of it quickly in the new year. I think Kickstart will stand or fall on how flexible it is and how it adapts to the unpredictable economic context over the next 12 months.
Join the next ERSA Kickstart Forum on 10 December, 10am – 12pm, more details and how to register at https://ersa.org.uk/youthemployment.