A few weeks ago, Stephen Timms said to a relatively empty House of Commons “I cannot believe that the Department has forgotten the importance it attached to evidence about effectiveness” of employment programmes. And yet, believe it or not, the Government’s flagship youth employment programme, the Youth Obligation, continues to be rolled out across the country providing patchy services to over 15,000 people age 18-21, operating in a vacuum of scrutiny.
For many, the term Youth Obligation is a misnomer. There is only an obligation to provide training or employment opportunities to the 18-21-year olds who are claiming Universal Credit and have been unemployed for 6 months(1). For those unemployed for less time, or in areas without Universal Credit, the levels of support are less clear.
In a recent report, Young Women's Trust and 4in10 found that in London understanding of the Youth Obligation by Jobcentre Plus staff is poor, is patchy in its implementation, and there is little record of employment outcomes or plan for support for young jobseekers beyond six months.
Almost three in four youth employment service providers interviewed had never heard the term Youth Obligation, while 75% wished to work more closely with their local Jobcentre Plus to provide support for youth.
A lack of awareness and understanding of the programme is one of many reasons why it is failing in its intended outcomes to provide “intensive training and support” to young job seekers, but it is not the sole cause. Youth Obligation managers define this specialist support differently in each borough. The “postcode lottery”, is ever more apparent in the quality of service provision and support provided by Jobcentre Plus centres in London. Where a young person grows up not only determines their employment outcomes but also their training opportunities.
In speaking to 26 DWP staff across four London boroughs, it’s clear that there's a disconnect between people working in Jobcentre Plus, and those using their services. The short timeframe in which a centre staff must meet a user, on average 10 minutes, fails to provide young jobseekers with in-depth support needed to help them achieve longer term career goals.
Although there is a large amount of buy-in for this policy from Jobcentre staff, who told us that they see Universal Credit as "the future" of welfare; less than half (48%) young Jobcentre Plus users interviewed found “JCP gave me useful information about work or training opportunities”. Wider findings of the research found that commissioning of programmes through third parties does not always meet local needs, or Jobcentre Plus users may not be eligible for training in the Jobcentre Plus operating district.
Managers in all the boroughs studied acknowledged that they do not monitor referrals, and there is no effective monitoring system in place. The Youth Obligation policy suggests clients should be enrolled in a mandated apprenticeship or work experience programme - something that doesn’t appear to be happening in many cases.
If after six months’ support young jobseekers still have not transitioned into employment, this clearly shows that the Youth Obligation is not meeting its mandated criteria. This is a critical issue not just for the earning potential for the jobseeker, but also poses a longer-term risk for the jobseeker’s future employability. The longer a person is unemployed, the more deskilled they become. This means that entry points in the job market become reduced and their job options narrow.
So, in answer to Stephen Timms, yes, the insufficient monitoring of outcomes of the Youth Obligation makes it impossible to measure effectiveness of the program. Perhaps more worryingly, is one Youth Obligation Manager telling us that the outcome after six-months training is that “they become a regular Jobcentre Plus client”.
Nicole Dulieu is Research & Evaluation Manager at Young Women's Trust
(1) That is a proportion of the 78,837 people age 18-21 searching for work, unemployed for more than 6 months.