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Axe Jobcentre Plus and let councils help jobless youth, says LGA chair David Sparks

Axe Jobcentre Plus and let councils help jobless youth, says LGA chair David Sparks

🕔29.Oct 2014

The scourge of youth unemployment is so serious that the Government should scrap the “failing” Jobcentre Plus and hand powers to town halls to help young adults find work, Britain’s councils said today.

Local Government Association chairman Cllr David Sparks said 16 to 24 year olds were being left behind by an inefficient maze of national schemes and unveiled a four-point plan to tackle the crisis.

Sparks, who is the leader of Dudley Council, said school leavers who were unable to get a job and faced years on the dole were at risk of “losing faith in the system and themselves”.

The number of 16 to 24-year-olds out of work for more than two years has quadrupled in the past decade and new analysis reveals 90,000 of the nation’s youngsters have been jobless for two years or more – up from 21,000 in 2005.

The problem is bad in the West Midlands and particularly so in Birmingham which has one of the highest rates of youth unemployment anywhere in the country.

A youth unemployment commission set up by the city council estimates there are at least 15,000 young unemployed people in the city and 3,000 of these have been claiming Jobseekers Allowance for over a year.

In a report a year ago the commission said youth unemployment could cost Birmingham well over £1 billion in the coming decade, weakening the local economy, adding to the burden on local taxpayers, reducing the city’s attractiveness to investors and adding to social problems.

Problems are made worse by a poor record of school leavers going on to further education. While Birmingham has the largest cohort achieving five A*-C GCSES of any major English city, it has the lowest rate of 17-18 year olds in training or education.

In a speech to the National Children’s and Adults Services Conference Cllr Sparks called on the Government to:

  • Establish a job subsidy programme to fast-track the 220,000 unemployed for over a year – delivered by councils working with local employers to give youngsters furthest from work experience of a real job with a real wage.
  • Scrap Jobcentre Plus and the maze of national reengagement schemes – to be replaced with a locally-led Youth Transitions Service giving every 14 to 24-year-old the advice, experience and support to participate in education, training or work.
  • Introduce a national Youth Transition Allowance to replace Jobseekers Allowance – removing youngsters from the adult benefits system and supporting 18 to 24-year-olds to earn or learn.
  • Devolve further education and apprenticeship support funding for partnerships of councils, employers, schools and colleges – to deliver Transition to Work strategies ensuring young people get skills for jobs that actually exist locally.

Estimates suggest youth unemployment will cost the economy £28 billion over the next decade – at least £689 million a year on benefits, £2.2 billion in lost tax and £6.3 billion in lost economic output.

Cllr Sparks said: “Unemployment is falling but we cannot get complacent. Hidden beneath this overall fall, thousands of our vulnerable youngsters are being left behind by growth and councils fear that they may never recover. They are being failed by an inefficient maze of national schemes and are fast losing faith in the system and in themselves.

“For a young person out of work for two years or more, one more trip to the Jobcentre or an extra CV-writing course just won’t make any difference. They are falling into a benefit system designed for adults that have lost their jobs rather than to help young people start careers.

“As a result too many have become long-term unemployed or underemployed in jobs with too few hours or low pay.

“Councils are best-placed to identify the most disillusioned young people as early as possible and to work with partners and communities to give them the help they urgently need.

“But we need radical change so we can equip future jobseekers with the skills, confidence and real-life experience they need to find work and rapidly help those 220,000 youngsters looking for work for over a year.

“Young people need a new kind of service, one that is joined-up locally around their needs and the needs of local employers rather than remote national institutions and bureaucracies. Government cannot afford to spend inefficiently on 40 different schemes that compete, duplicate and conflict locally and must commit to devolving nationally-run education, skills and employment schemes to local areas able to join-up and target services so that our vulnerable young people are not left behind.

“This would allow councils to halve youth disengagement and reduce long-term unemployment by a third by the end of the next Parliament.”

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