As any baker will tell you, baking a cake is a precise science. Accurate measurement of ingredients, temperature and cooking time are essential to producing a successful end product.
Too often, policymaking is less like baking, and more like a bachelor’s meal for one – use whatever ingredients are in the cupboard, make sure they are cooked and hope for the best.
Despite the challenges of the pandemic, Rishi Sunak has shown himself to be a master baker. He’s cooked up a scheme big enough to help a large number of young people move into jobs or training, while including details to focus on those at greatest risk of long-term unemployment. If done right, this will help avoid the permanent labour market ‘scars’ caused by repeated or long-term spells of unemployment, which in turn saves costs to society in the long run.
Much of this announcement follows the calls of the Youth Employment Group, a coalition of over 140 charities, researchers and businesses focused on youth employment. We noted that DWP would need to boost capacity and double employment support. The Chancellor is putting £900m in to make it happen. We called for incentives to provide training and apprenticeships. The Chancellor made announcements on apprenticeships, traineeships, and work placements. We said some young people would need a guaranteed job with subsidised wages - the Chancellor announced the Kickstart Scheme.
In putting together this package of measures for young people, the Chancellor has achieved a huge amount. The reception amongst those in the charity and employment sectors has been extremely positive. The government machine must now work through the details, in partnership with external groups, to ensure that these schemes have the impact the Chancellor is hoping for.
Many of these schemes depend on employer take-up, and a priority will be engaging businesses both big and small to ensure rules are clear and application processes simple - a well-intentioned but little-used scheme won’t help. We must also be wary of the opposite supply and demand problem, and make sure young people aren’t finding the low apprenticeship wages or the expenses-only traineeship regime a barrier to entry and too difficult to live on.
For its many brilliant features, a couple of additional things would make a difference. We need to evaluate the impact of the various components to ensure we know what works. The learnings from the last recession in the evaluation of the Future Jobs Fund will be key to developing the Kickstart Scheme – evaluation is a legacy for the next generation. And this crisis has highlighted that the government’s long-term oversight of youth employment needs a reboot. This may be the Chancellor’s announcement, but a cross departmental taskforce, reporting to a cabinet subcommittee, would keep up the momentum from Wednesday’s statement to make a more lasting change to the system for young people.
The success of this package will depend on everyone putting their weight behind it to make sure it works for the young people that need it. Combined and local authorities must be involved to tailor the big picture to meet their local needs. Charities, housing associations and other experienced providers need to help turn this plan for action into an action plan. The Youth Employment Group members will be here to help ensure the cake tastes as good as it looks.
The media has christened the Chancellor “Dishy Rishi” and, true to the name, his announcement looks appetising. If the government can put the icing on the cake then hopefully everyone will join the Prime Minister in being pro cake and pro eating it.