‘Chaotic’ Kickstart scheme supporting fewer young people than expected, MPs say

Employers also ‘frustrated’ at slow progress of finding suitable candidates, parliamentary committee finds

The government’s Kickstart scheme has helped far fewer young people into work than originally intended, a group of MPs has said, describing the programme as “chaotic”.

A report from the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) has said the scheme, which was launched a year ago to tackle a forecasted surge in unemployment among young people, will support less than two-thirds of the numbers initially predicted.

The committee of MPs also said employers who created Kickstart vacancies had been “frustrated at the slow progress” in finding suitable candidates to fill roles, and that the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) had no way of monitoring what money given to employers through the scheme is being spent on.

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A government spokesperson said the Kickstart scheme had “categorically delivered, giving more than 130,000 young people opportunities to work, earn and improve their prospects”.

However, Meg Hillier, Labour MP and chair of the PAC, said that while the DWP had created the scheme with “good intentions”, there was no way to measure how successful it was for young people looking for work.

“There are very unfortunate similarities across [the] government’s Covid response schemes: rushed implementation and too little track kept of whether a scheme was delivering what it promises,” said Hillier.

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“In this case the department simply has no idea whether this scheme was worth the money, not least because it has little idea what was delivered for it.

“Employers were frustrated by how hard it was to find suitable candidates for the jobs they created – and ultimately the scheme reached far fewer people than predicted,” she added.

The DWP initially predicted the scheme – which offered employers grants of £1,500 for every young person aged 16-25 they hired on a six-month placement – would create 250,000 jobs.

However, the PAC report said that, despite stronger-than-expected economic growth in the UK, the DWP is now forecasting that just 168,000 young people will be helped by the scheme.

It also said that many young people who started claiming Universal Credit at the start of the pandemic remain on the benefit, with the DWP unable to explain why these individuals have not been helped into Kickstart jobs.

In September 2021, there were 144,000 young people claiming Universal Credit who had been searching for work for more than a year, the report said.

Because of the lower-than-expected uptake, the scheme is now predicted to cost less than expected, at £1.26bn instead of the £1.9bn initially forecasted. However, the report said the scheme’s “early delivery was chaotic” with the DWP “neglecting to put in place basic management information that would be expected for a multi-billion-pound grant programme”.

“As a consequence, the department has not monitored and does not know whether it is putting the right people onto Kickstart, why people who are not taking up Kickstart jobs are not doing so, or what employers are providing with the £1,500 employability support grants awarded for each young person taken on through the scheme,” the report said.

The government spokesperson said the Kickstart scheme had “responded to extraordinary circumstances at unprecedented pace”, adding that its wider plan for jobs had “defied forecasts of unemployment rising to 12 per cent”. The most recent official figures put unemployment at 4.1 per cent.

“We will consider the PAC’s conclusions as we continue our mission to get people into work so they can take home more money,” the spokesperson said.