Temporary youth job scheme is 'just a plaster over a gaping wound'
- Credit: DENISE BRADLEY/Archant2021
Young people forced out of their jobs and onto benefits by the pandemic have found work through a landmark government scheme — but say it's like "sticking a plaster over a gaping wound".
Daniel Baksi, 24, Asha Wilson, 22 and Loukas Avlonitis-Perrin, 23, spent months scraping by on Universal Credit before the government began directly funding their placements at Sustainable Business Magazine on St Benedicts Street in Norwich at the end of February.
The magazine's owner Toby Hutchins, 44, signed up to the Kickstart Scheme, which involves the treasury funding 16-24-year-olds on benefits in six-month placements at 25 hours a week on minimum wage.
Through the initiative, Mr Hutchins was able to take on 12 new employees — but September is fast approaching, and with that the placement's expiry date.
"In terms of cash flow, there's a limit to how many people I can keep on", he explained. "We're just a small company and scaling up from 8-10 employees to 20-30 is the hardest part.
"Hopefully we'll be keeping on four people for definite, but that all depends on how much we increase revenue in the next couple of months.
"It has been incredibly stressful and we're desperately looking for more funding through things like National Lottery grants. It's going to be hard having to let people go because they've been remarkable."
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The Kickstarters — who are all recent graduates — have been tasked with the creation and launch of their own magazine, Zero, aimed at young people and with a focus on "all things sustainable".
Ms Wilson said: "We've been given a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity here, and all at government expense. We do realise that, and I'm so grateful, but the six month time limit is a big source of anxiety for all of us.
"What's the point in us doing this simply to have to job hunt and go back on Universal Credit again when our six months are up come September?
"I'm so relieved just to have a job but it feels like a very temporary fix from the government."
Within months of the first lockdown being announced, almost one in 10 young people in East Anglia were claiming benefits.
But according to the Department of Work and Pensions, 20,000 jobs have now been created through Kickstart, with 1,320 in the East specifically.
A spokesperson said it had helped young people to "develop skills, confidence and experience" — and that "with new vacancies becoming available every day, the scheme continues to provide much needed support with many securing permanent roles.”
They added that JobCentre work coaches would "continue to help young people in need of further employment support" after Kickstart placements end.
Mr Baksi, however, is doubtful.
He said: "I agree that we're gaining experience, but there needs to be jobs to apply to when the placements end.
"Maybe in bigger cities like London the issue is candidates' lack of experience rather than job availability, but that's not the case in Norfolk where there are genuinely very few employment opportunities for young people.
"I was job hunting for nearly a year after being made redundant before the first lockdown, and there was nothing. It was pretty soul-destroying."
Mr Avlonitis-Perrin echoed his colleague.
"I'm loving working at SBM, but it's just sticking a plaster over a gaping wound", he explained.
"The temporary placement is a great idea but it doesn't deal with the bigger issue, which is that employment infrastructure in this country needs complete reform or there's going to mass unemployment when furlough and Kickstart both come to an end.
"If the government can afford to spend billions on defective PPE, they can definitely invest in more long-term and permanent jobs for young people who've been left in the lurch because of the pandemic.
"It's sad because we were all promised if we did well at school and racked up a huge amount of debt through a degree we'd end up with high paying jobs and be comfortable. I think we've been failed in that respect.
"There are frankly no jobs in Norwich for young people unless it's in hospitality or retail. There's nothing wrong with that, but that's not what everyone wants to do."