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Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s flagship pandemic £ 2bn jobs program to bring young people to work may not be cost effective, the spending watchdog has said.

A report by the National Audit Office (NAO) and another by a peer group have highlighted concerns that youth unemployment policies are either insufficient or flawed.

The Kickstart program, launched by Sunak in September 2020, offers “high quality” government-funded job placements for 16-24 year olds who have universal credit and are at risk of long-term unemployment.

A report from the NAO, which monitors value for money in public spending, said the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) had “limited assurance” that the scheme was working as intended.

Private sector companies that received state grants to hire young people could very well have done so anyway, the NAO said, as the economy was reopening just as the program started to pick up steam.

The report also found that there had been relatively little early adoption of Kickstart due to successive lockdowns that have driven down demand for workers, so far the program has created 96,700 jobs instead of the 250,000. targeted.

When companies started hiring, the NAO said, the government had little oversight to verify that the jobs it funded were of good quality, that young staff offered training and support, and that they were offered to the right people.

Gareth Davies, the head of the NAO, said: “At the onset of the pandemic, the DWP moved quickly to set up Kickstart to help young people work as youth unemployment was expected to rise dramatically.

“However, DWP has limited assurance that Kickstart is having the positive impact it is hoping for. It does not know if the jobs created are of good quality or if they would have existed without the scheme. It could also do more to ensure that the program targets those who need it most. ”

Labor said its own analysis found the program to be heavily south-oriented, with as many jobs created as in the north and the Midlands combined, despite higher youth unemployment in those areas.

“The Chancellor’s ‘jobs plan’ has failed to plan for the jobs our country really needs in the places that need them most,” DWP shadow minister Jonathan Reynolds said.

Frances O’Grady, general secretary of the TUC, said Kickstart was “not perfect” but had an important role to play.

“The government should now work more closely with the unions on the next phase so that we can give a voice to young workers in improving the regime,” she said.

A government spokesperson said: “We acted swiftly and decisively to establish Kickstart at the onset of the pandemic amid fears that the unemployment rate could double – as this report acknowledges.

“The program has already created more than 100,000 new life-changing jobs for young job seekers with universal credit who were at risk of long-term unemployment and will continue to provide opportunities for young people.”

The NAO’s assessment of Kickstart was accompanied by a separate but equally critical multi-stakeholder committee report on youth employment, which stands at 11.7%.

The peers accused the government of leaving hundreds of thousands of young people languishing in unemployment when they could learn new skills or take apprenticeships.

Lord Shipley, chairman of the youth unemployment committee, said the government must overhaul England’s national curriculum, make career guidance more sophisticated, improve vocational training and reform the failed apprenticeship tax, with the aim of match the youth employment levels observed in Germany.

The report produced 71 recommendations for closing a skills gap that left many young people trapped on low incomes without the skills to change their circumstances.

Shipley, a liberal peer and former head of Newcastle City Council, said 631,000 young people were not in education, work or training (NEET) and 475,000 were unemployed.

“This means that 21.8% (141,000) of 18-year-olds are neither in full-time studies nor working with training,” he said. He added that the Kickstart program has been undermined by the government’s failure to integrate its training component into a larger skills program.

Co-author Kenneth Baker, the conservative peer, who as education secretary in the 1980s pioneered computer training, said it was a mistake to cancel GCSE TIC in 2016 when digital skills were essential. That meant that only 11% of students under 16 were studying computer science – a drop of over 40%, he said.

A government spokesperson said: “We are acting by giving young people the opportunities they need to find jobs – and with the number of young employees on the payroll back above pre-pandemic levels. – it is clear that our employment plan is working.

“We have announced additional funding of £ 1.6bn by 2024-25 to support more children aged 16-19 through high-quality education, on top of additional funding in 2020- 2021 and 2021-2022. This has contributed to the record proportion of 16-18 year olds in education or apprenticeship since the start of consistent records. “

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