Young people: civil society needs YOU

Young people are facing an economic recession that could set them back for years. Richard Brabner calls on government to form a civic army to rebuild communities.

As the UK gradually eases the lockdown it is becoming increasingly clear that young people are faced with a combination of challenges unseen in peacetime.

Much commentary has focused on the short-term educational impact, such as school and college closures. While this is important, whether it is the job market disappearing, apprenticeship starts plummeting, or disruption to university terms, the economic and educational impacts on young people go much further. This needs a comprehensive and collaborative response from local and national governments, businesses, universities, colleges and charities.

In previous recessions the UK has been too slow and too modest in its response, which has had long-term negative consequences. For example, young people unemployed during the late seventies and early eighties earned up to 15 per cent less by the time they were 42 as a result of unemployment in their formative years.

More recently, the cohort who entered the labour market in the middle of the 2008-09 financial crisis continued to face higher unemployment, lower pay and worse job prospects up to a decade later. Yet, this crisis threatens to dwarf the recessions of the last 40 years in size and magnitude. So, what can be done to ensure the economic scarring for young people doesn’t happen again?

A civic army

Through the furlough schemes and other measures, the government has recognised that an unprecedented challenge requires an unprecedented response, but for the “corona generation” the government must go further.

I believe the answer lies in what Covid-19 has also revealed about our collective appetite to support each other and the communities around us. While I wouldn’t want to call it an opportunity or even a silver lining given the catastrophe, the renewed civic action inspired by the crisis is a real positive. Up and down the country people in extraordinary numbers are helping their local communities. And whether it is volunteering in local NHS hospitals, feeding the hungry, or delivering prescriptions to those self-isolating, students and young people have been at the heart of the national response.

To help overcome the unprecedented challenges faced by young people – and as a mark of gratitude for the support they have shown their local communities – we should support youth employment and educational opportunities by extending this renewed civic endeavour. To do so, the UPP Foundation, with the backing of a coalition of charities, recently published a short report setting out four ways in which this could happen.

Our central recommendation is the creation of what we term a Community Leadership Academy. The Academy – a £500m scheme – would fund coalitions of organisations, including universities but also charities, local government and social enterprises, to directly employ a “civic army” of up to 75,000 young people for six months, paying them a real living wage as well as providing the participants with skills, and support to progress into higher education at college or university should they wish to. The scheme would be available for disadvantaged young people who are unemployed on a full-time basis, or students from poorer backgrounds for up to ten hours a week – helping them get through their studies at a time when the part-time jobs market is likely to be decimated.

The intention is that such jobs would be wide ranging but would have a broad civic purpose – carrying out projects in local communities, such as supporting residents in care homes, mentoring school aged pupils, providing administrative tasks to local government and so forth. The participants would spend a period of time – perhaps as much as 20 per cent of the week, mirroring an apprenticeship – engaged in off the job training and support focused on building their skills and helping them, if they wish, to apply to or remain in higher education.

The role of education

Alongside this, schools and colleges should get funding to provide ongoing catch up support for young people continuing into 2021– above and beyond extra tutoring over the summer period this year, which we support. To make sure it’s targeted, this should be funded by increased Pupil Premium funding – with an extension of eligibility for disadvantaged post-16 students in schools and, crucially, FE colleges.

For universities, we put forward two priorities. First, the Department for Education should fund a relevant sector body to coordinate and design a Covid support programme that all universities and colleges are encouraged to offer. This will address academic disruption but also welfare issues from this September. Second, for those young people thinking about applying in 2021, universities will need to redouble their efforts to create all-encompassing virtual open days that show what going to university is really like.

Over the course of the last few weeks the whole country has gone above and beyond the call of duty to support the NHS, vulnerable individuals, and local communities. Let this be the starting point for a national programme to ensure young people do not face the long-term negative consequences of previous recessions. By providing a new safety net for young people to work in their local area, we can tackle the educational and employment challenges caused by Covid-19, while supporting local communities to get back on their feet.

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