To ask Her Majesty’s Government, further to the Office for National Statistics’ Employment in the UK data, published on
My Lords, through the Government’s plan for jobs, we have provided unprecedented support to young people at risk of long-term unemployment, with access to the skills and training they need to progress, including through expanded traineeships, sector-based work academies and the Kickstart programme. In the longer term, we are placing employers at the heart of our skills reform, including through the Skills and Post-16 Education Bill currently being considered by your Lordships’ House.
I thank the Minister for her reply. Sadly, the reality is different from the Government’s rhetoric. Employers and the Fashion Retail Academy have done what the Government have asked of them: they have worked together to design courses that will equip young people with the skills that this hard-hit retail industry needs as it adapts to the changes in the way people are shopping—changes accelerated by the Covid pandemic. Yet the Education and Skills Funding Agency seems oblivious to the need for change. It has refused point blank to help fund student places for these courses. Will the Minister please instruct the ESFA to change its out-of-date policies and join the real world?
My Lords, it goes slightly beyond my powers and remit to instruct the Education and Skills Funding Agency, but I will certainly take the noble Lord’s comments and those of his sector back to the department to have that conversation.
My Lords, during their working lives this generation will face the full implications of not only the Covid pandemic but the fourth industrial revolution and the need to transform our economy to net zero. Young people will need to build meaningful careers, not simply survive from gig to gig. Can the Minister therefore explain where strategic thinking is happening and where policies interlock to provide the skills, employment safeguards and quality jobs, linked to national priorities, which young people will need?
My Lords, a key part of the lifetime skills guarantee supported by the lifelong loan entitlement is that people will have access to skills progression throughout their lifetimes. That can be used flexibly and to deliver those skills, we are building on the successes of apprenticeships and T-levels to ensure that high-quality qualifications meet employer-led standards and that training is directly linked to the skills they need for high-quality jobs.
My Lords, from my time at the DWP, my current work analysing data and metrics at the Legatum Institute and as chair of the Social Metrics Commission tackling the depth and persistence of poverty, it has become abundantly clear that, if you cannot measure it, you cannot manage it. The Government’s ambitious levelling-up agenda is to be applauded but, as they look to build back better, what tricks are they using to assess the success of that agenda? What targets have they set, particularly for the education, skills and training that employers will require in the post-pandemic world?
My Lords, it is our ambition to ensure that people of all ages and in every part of the country have the skills they need for a high-quality well-paid job in the post-pandemic world. I am sure noble Lords will hold the Government to account on delivering that.
My Lords, young people need impartial, independent careers education and guidance to learn what employers are looking for, what opportunities might suit their own interests and abilities, and what education and training they need to pursue them. Will the Government build on the progress made by the careers strategy that ended last year by introducing a follow-up strategy that includes extending the network of careers hubs to cover the entire country and providing extra funding to schools and colleges to employ the expert, highly qualified careers professionals they need?
The noble Lord spoke passionately on this issue yesterday, as well. Both the skills White Paper and the accompanying Bill seek to build on the work of the careers strategy to deliver a high-functioning national careers system for all ages. During the pandemic the Government have provided additional funding of £32 million to support the delivery of individual careers advice for over 500,000 people. That has included funding to employ more careers advisers.
My Lords, the ONS report confirms that most of the young people made redundant were in gig-economy jobs. We know that those most in need of new skills and retraining often fail to take up these opportunities if the appropriate financial support is not available. Loans do not take that trick and the current schemes are simply not working. What plans do the Government have to ensure these young people get the financial support they need to level up as the economy recovers?
My Lords, we have a wide range of support schemes in place to focus on young people, particularly those at risk of long-term unemployment. I mentioned a few of them and one of the largest is the Kickstart scheme, which will continue even as we lift the restrictions of the pandemic and support young people into high-quality supported workplaces.
My Lords, the Kickstart scheme that the Minister mentions excludes young people with disabilities who claim employment and support allowance, rather than universal credit. What action will the Government take to ensure that young people with disabilities are not excluded from the high-quality skills education and training that they need to get employment?
My Lords, people on employment and support allowance should receive the personalised and tailored support back into the workplace that is appropriate for the needs associated with their disability. The Government’s commitment to provide that support continues.
My Lords, has my noble friend read the report from the Economic Affairs Committee of this House on the employment consequences of Covid, in particular the recommendation that access to Kickstart should not be limited to people who have been on universal credit for six months? That effectively means that young people who have lost their jobs, who are suffering the worst effects of Covid, have to wait for as long as nine months before they have the chance of training. That cannot make sense and will be demoralising to young people. On apprenticeships, does my noble friend accept that the basic problem with providing apprenticeships is the cost? The apprenticeship levy is a complete disaster and needs reform.
My Lords, I have read the work of the noble Lord’s committee and reassure him that, before accessing the Kickstart scheme, young people get other support to help them back into the workplace—for example, through work coaches provided by the DWP, the number of which we have massively expanded during the pandemic. We have had significant success in improving and reforming apprenticeships, but I know that work is ongoing to ensure that the apprenticeship levy is flexible and meets employers’ needs.
My Lords, the ONS figures also show that the unemployment rate for black, Asian and minority ethnic people is more than double that for white people. Sad to say, that also applies to the failing Kickstart scheme to which the Minister referred. According to her colleague, DWP Minister Mims Davies, in a Written Answer two weeks ago, the scheme has helped only 20,000 people into work since it was launched nine months ago. The Government like to talk levelling up, so what action will they take to overhaul the Kickstart scheme, not just by widening access—the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth—but by beginning the drive towards equalising its impact on black, Asian and minority ethnic people, and women?
My Lords, the noble Lord made a number of points. The economic support provided by the Government to hard-hit sectors such as retail and hospitality has helped to protect jobs in those sectors, the workforces in which are disproportionately young, female and from ethnic minority backgrounds. The Kickstart scheme has been adapted and improved in a number of ways to improve take-up. For example, in February we removed the 30-vacancy threshold for a direct application to Kickstart. The figures I have show that there are more than 140,000 approved vacancies under the Kickstart scheme. We hope that take-up will improve as it goes on in delivery.
My Lords, has the Minister had a chance to read Kingston University’s recent Future Skills report, which surveyed 2,000 employers across all sectors? It found that the priority skills businesses will require to prosper beyond the pandemic are problem-solving skills: a mix of logical, social, creative, intuitive and analytical abilities. These are exactly the skills gained from arts and creative industries degrees, so can she explain why the Government seem so determined to drive students away from these courses, which were described by the Education Secretary himself as “dead-end”? Will the Government consider a creative and innovation skills strategy to promote creative subjects and deliver the skills that we know businesses want?
My Lords, I am afraid that I have not read the report the noble Baroness referred to, but I absolutely agree on the value of the skills she mentioned. I reassure her that the Government support the development of skills in the arts, as well as in the sciences and technical skills, and will continue to do so.
My Lords, the time allowed for this Question has elapsed. We now come to the fourth Oral Question.