A project launched by Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg will see commercial property firms and charities invited to bid for a payment-by-results scheme to try to get “Neet” youngsters into training or work.
The £126 million scheme is targeted at 55,000 young people in England with poor qualifications who are at present not in education, employment or training.
Mr Clegg says it will aid youngsters “into the world of work”. However Labour strongly disagrees and said the project is “too small and too late”.
Leader of the Nasuwt teachers’ union, Chris Keates, accused Mr Clegg of being responsible for a rise in Neets by scrapping the Education Maintenance Allowance.
Mr Clegg described the problem of growing youth unemployment as a “ticking time bomb”. He said: “Sitting at home with nothing to do when you’re young can knock the stuffing out of you for years. We urgently need to step up efforts to ensure some of our most troubled teenagers have the skills, confidence and opportunities to succeed.”
He further added: “Many of them will have complex problems: truancy, teenage pregnancy, a lack of GCSEs and health problems.”
Mr Clegg said to see young people who have left school with no qualifications “slumped on the sofa in front of the telly is not only tragic for them…but it stores up huge problems for the future if we don’t help them now”.
He believed it was also about getting “crucial early years in a child’s life at school right” to “save on so much heartache later. If you start early it then allows children to start their school career with a sense of enthusiasm for learning.”
The initiative, part of the coalition’s Youth Contract Scheme announced in the autumn, will invite tenders for contracts worth up to £2,200 for each young person who can be sustained in work, training or education for 12 months.
The target group will be 16-to 17-year-olds who have not one GCSE at grades C or above. The goal is for long-term savings form an early intervention.
The announcement comes less than a week after the most recent unemployment figures revealed that the numbers of 16 to 24-year-olds not in work increased dramatically by 22,000 to 1.04 million in the three months to December.
The current Neets figures, for the third quarter of last year revealed that more than a million 16-24 year-olds (1,163,000)-almost one in five-were considered as “Neet”. This response from the government is targeted at teenagers at the lower end of this age range who are already at risk of “disengagement” from the world of work.
The Department for Education (DfE) said by the age of 42, someone who has been repeatedly unemployed as a youngster is likely to earn 12-15 per cent less than their peers.
The commercial property organisations that win these contracts will have a free hand to decide their approach-with the emphasis on rewarding a successful result. Payments will be staggered, so that the full sum will be paid only to contractors when young people have stayed in training or work for a year.
The funding will mirror the highest level of Neet young people in this age group-with £14 million available in the West Midlands, where 11.5 per cent of 16-to-17-year-olds are in this classification.
The initiative has been defied by the ATL teachers’ union, which blamed the Government of damaging the chances of young people “by dismantling the careers and advice service and abolishing the education maintenance allowance”.
ATL officer Adrian Prandle said: “We have deep misgivings that getting charities and businesses to provide support for unemployed youngsters outside the education system will undermine the likelihood of success.”
Liam Byrne, Shadow work and pensions secretary also said the Youth Contract scheme would not help most young jobless people. Mr Byrne said of Mr Clegg: “He promised big answers to the problem of youth unemployment yet what we have got today is something that won’t help 95 per cent of Britain’s young unemployed.
“This is much too small and much too late to tackle the problem that is likely to cost out country £28 billion over the next 10 years.”
He further added: “The government needs to bite the bullet and put in place a sensible tax on bankers’ bonuses in the next budget to help get 100,000 young people back to work.”
Meanwhile, Iain Duncan Smith, Work and Pensions Secretary, has branded critics of the Government’s different work experience scheme for young jobseekers as “job snobs”.
The scheme offers voluntary work placements in commercial property stores such as Maplin and Tesco to 18-to 24-year-olds who have not had a job for more than three months.
Whilst speaking to the Daily Mail, Mr Duncan Smith said: “The implicit message behind these attacks is that jobs in retail, such as those with supermarkets or on the High Street, are not real jobs that worthwhile people do.”
Mr Smith further added: “How insulting and demeaning of the many thousands of people who already work in such jobs up and down the country.
“I doubt I’m the only person who thinks supermarket shelf-stackers add more value to our society than many of those ‘job snobs’ who are pontificating about the government’s employment policies.”