Fair start Scotland provides intensive support for our most vulnerable unemployed people. Participants are treated with dignity and respect, and, unlike for some United Kingdom Government approaches, participation is voluntary. We continue to work towards the target of supporting 38,000 people. Covid has presented challenges to engaging new participants in delivering services, and the numbers of referrals and starts have dropped since lockdown started. Most referrals come from the Department for Work and Pensions, but those were suspended during lockdown in response to increased demand for benefit claims. Also, lockdown restrictions on face-to-face interactions meant that fewer people were able to engage with services. However, since 2018, fair start Scotland has supported more than 24,300 people, and, pre-Covid, referral to start rates were increasing.
We remain absolutely committed to the service. We have extended delivery to March 2023 so that we can continue to work with partners to support the vulnerable.
I acknowledge the chancellor’s announcement of a job subsidy scheme, but I fear that there will still be a significant number of job losses before the end of the year. I accept that the pandemic has disrupted delivery of the programme, but, given the likely scale of unemployment, it is disappointing to miss the target by some 14,000 people. Will the First Minister give a commitment that any money that is saved as a result of missing the target will be spent on employment support programmes to help a generation of young people who may find themselves out of work?
We have already given a commitment to significant investment in support for young people who face unemployment. The commitment to fair start Scotland that I talked about is unchanged, and that includes the financial commitment to it. The situation is disappointing for us all, but, when referrals and face-to-face interaction are suspended, it is unfortunately unavoidable. The challenge now is to get that back on track.
Because I was on my way to the chamber, I did not have the chance to see all the detail of the chancellor’s announcements on the intended replacement for the furlough scheme, but I hope that it is positive. The snippets that I heard just before I came down to the chamber suggest that it is a step forward, but it perhaps does not go far enough to prevent the increase in what I would describe as avoidable redundancies and unemployment—because they are avoidable if proper support is put in place. I look forward to being able to look at more of the detail of that later.