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Flagship employment scheme failing vulnerable young people

New research by FirstPort’s charity partner Centrepoint and Warwick University has found that the government’s flagship employment scheme for 18 to 21 year olds is failing some of the most vulnerable groups that it is meant to be getting into work.

Created by the government in 2017, the Youth Obligation was designed to provide intensive, personalised support to young jobseekers over a six month period. The young people who took part in Centrepoint’s study had a range of complex needs including experience of homelessness or being in care; a disability or learning difficulty; and a history of drug or alcohol use. Just over three quarters of those surveyed have more than one disadvantage or vulnerability.

The report shows that after 12 months:

  • 35% of vulnerable young people had dropped out of the welfare system completely, becoming ‘hidden NEET’ (not in education, employment or training)
  • Only one out of the 80 young people on the cohort had obtained a permanent employment contract
  • Participants were more than 10% more likely to be sanctioned than their peers who were not on the Youth Obligation
  • 24% were engaged in some form of employment, however 44% of this group were engaged in informal, cash-in-hand work
  • Of those in formal employment, 44% were claiming Universal Credit to top up their average annual wages of £6,000

The findings from the report indicate that vulnerable young people are being rushed onto the programme when they are evidently not ready or able to benefit from it. These young people are expected to remain on the programme despite significant barriers to participation. This results in the young people who are most in need of support being subject to increased sanctioning, dropping out and consequently losing access to any support they might have received through the programme.

Once these young people have dropped out, it becomes increasingly difficult to re-engage them, and they become people who live outside the system until a crisis forces them to seek much more immediate and costly interventions.

Currently the government does not evaluate whether the Youth Obligation is working for the most disadvantaged young people. The research, which is the first longitudinal evaluation of the Youth Obligation to be published, also found that 20% of the young people who took part in the research did not realise they were even taking part in the programme.

In response to the research, Centrepoint is calling for:

  • A national impact evaluation to examine whether the Youth Obligation has brought about change for those participating, what worked effectively, and for whom;
  • An overhaul of training for Jobcentre staff and the ‘explicit consent’ rules within Universal Credit to help work coaches and advocates work more closely with claimants to support them into work;
  • Improved communication with young people to ensure they know what support is available, what their responsibilities are, and what role other agencies can play in helping them into training and employment

Commenting on the report, Centrepoint’s Chief Executive Seyi Obakin OBE said:

“The government’s flagship Youth Obligation programme should be an opportunity for 18-21 year olds to gain new skills and grow their confidence, but this report shows it is failing to help the most disadvantaged young people.

“Our research raises serious concerns about the high drop-out rate and increased risk of benefit sanctions for disadvantaged young people. Without the right safeguards in place there is a large risk that those with complex needs will not only fail to gain the new skills they need, but will be actively pushed away from support in other areas of their lives”.

“Centrepoint is calling on the government to undertake a full impact assessment of the programme, ensuring that it is properly funded and goes beyond simply identifying individual needs, to actually start addressing them.”

Centrepoint commissioned the first evaluation of the Youth Obligation due to concerns about the potential impact of the programme on the most vulnerable young people.
These findings are based on longitudinal research in London and Manchester from April 2017 to January 2019. Interviews and surveys with young people participating in the Youth Obligation were conducted across three waves, alongside a comparator group of young people not on the Youth Obligation.

The research included a survey of 80 Youth Obligation participants and 70 non-Youth Obligation participants alongside interviews with 22 Youth Obligation participants and 8 non-Youth Obligation at three different research waves:

  • Wave 1: start of Universal Credit claim and Intensive Activity Programme
  • Wave 2: six-month point, at the end of the Youth Obligation programme
  • Wave 3: 12-month point, assessing the longer impact of the Youth Obligation

Interviews were also been undertaken with 13 stakeholders including Jobcentre representatives and organisations providing advice and support for unemployed young people.

The young people who took part in this study had a range of complex needs including a history of offending, drug or alcohol misuse, a disability or learning difficultly, experience of homelessness or being in care. Just over three quarters of those surveyed have more than one disadvantage or vulnerability.

In December 2017 the mandatory aspect of the post-6-month activities was removed. Instead, participants can voluntarily participate in a work placement, training or attend a sector-based skills academic at any time while participating in the Youth Obligation.

About Centrepoint

  • Centrepoint is the leading charity for homeless young people aged 16-25.
  • Centrepoint supports over 10,000 homeless young people a year.
  • It provides accommodation-based and floating support services in London, Yorkshire, Manchester and the North East. It also runs the Centrepoint Helpline.
  • The freephone Centrepoint Helpline is for any young person aged 16-25 who is worried about homelessness. It is open Monday to Friday from 9am to 5pm. The Centrepoint Helpline number is: 0808 800 0661.
  • Centrepoint’s work is about more than just providing a safe bed for the night; Centrepoint helps young people to turn their lives around by gaining essential life skills; tackling their physical and mental health issues and moving into education or employment.
  • Through policy work, Centrepoint aims to influence public policy, campaigning on behalf of the young people it supports and homeless young people throughout the UK.
  • HRH The Duke of Cambridge became Centrepoint’s Patron in 2005.