Applications to a jobs scheme for young people hit by the pandemic are stuck in “a backlog”, business groups are warning – forcing Rishi Sunak to rework it.
Now the chancellor has ripped up a requirement that only companies offering at least 30 placements can apply to the scheme, “to help more employers get involved”.
A total of 120,000 six-month placements – funded by the taxpayer – have been made since it began three months ago, against a target of helping 300,000 16- to 24-year-olds by the end of this year.
But the Youth Employment Group charity warned many employers had put offers on hold because of the fresh lockdown, calling for the deadline to be extended.
“It will be very challenging for businesses to meet the intended number of placements in such a reduced period,” the organisation said.
Meanwhile, business groups united in criticising the slow response of the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), who were accused of taking weeks to acknowledge offers.
Many were made through joint bids – to reach the limit of 30 – and there are fears those will now be pushed to the back of the queue, as the restriction is abandoned.
“It is imperative that the government focuses immediately on unsticking the blockages stopping young people starting placements with those small businesses already in the system,” he said.
“Despite headline figures, delays in the current system have meant only a small number of roles have gone to Jobcentre Plus and even fewer young people have yet made it through to work in a small business. The government must scale this, and fast.”
Adam Marshall, director general of the BCC, said the DWP must “commit to clearing the backlog of approvals needed”.
“Chambers across the country stand ready to support small businesses who want a helping hand navigating often complex bureaucracy,” he said.
But Mr Sunak said: “Young people are among the hardest hit in times like these, which is why we’re doing everything we can to ensure they’re not left without hope and opportunity.
“We’ve worked with some of the most exciting companies to create more than 120,000 Kickstart jobs – which is a huge vote of confidence in our young people at a challenging time.”
In October, The Independent revealed criticism that the programme is a “sticking plaster” that will fail to provide proper work or training, or prevent mass youth unemployment.
That was echoed by Ruth Davidson, the temporary Tory leader in the Scottish Parliament, who said young people have been “shafted” by Covid-19 and were not receiving enough help.
A scheme offering only six-month placements, with only “basic” training, was “not going to transform young people’s job prospects”.