The UK government has opened its £2bn Kickstart jobs scheme to hundreds of intermediaries to act on behalf of businesses after criticism that many small companies would be excluded from the programme.
Unveiled two weeks ago, the Kickstart scheme will pay employers’ costs for six-month work placements for 16 to 24-year-olds, who are seen to be among the most vulnerable to unemployment given the tens of thousands of job cuts in sectors such as hospitality and retail.
Unemployment data published last week by the Office for National Statistics showed young people suffered the biggest drop in employment, compared with other age groups, in the last quarter. The chancellor wants to use the Kickstart programme to provide roles for as many as 250,000 young people on universal credit, the main welfare benefit.
But the scheme attracted criticism because companies taking on fewer than 30 new young workers were prevented from applying directly for funds. Instead, they were told to team up with other businesses or find a group that could do so for them, although at the time the government did not provide many further details.
The Federation of Small Businesses said at the time that the scheme had appeared “more aligned to the needs of larger businesses”. But on Monday FSB national chairman Mike Cherry said it had worked with government “to develop the new Kickstart scheme, and help small employers to be part of the solution”.
The federation said that it had become an intermediary to enable small businesses offering fewer than 30 vacancies under the scheme to apply for funding. One way it was doing this was through a portal it had created with recruiter Adecco to help facilitate applications.
Mr Cherry said: “The UK’s small businesses are the biggest private employer in Britain, and are proven to offer more career and employment opportunities to those furthest from work, such as the long-term unemployed and young people who are not in employment, training or education.”
The Department for Work and Pensions said that more than 500 bodies, including local authorities, charities and chambers of commerce, had signed up to act as intermediaries.
Thérèse Coffey, work and pensions secretary, said: “Small businesses are absolutely vital to our recovery as we build back better and a key part of the Kickstart scheme.”
Employers can already apply for funding and the first placements are expected to be available from November. Funding will cover the minimum wage for 25 hours a week, as well as costs such as national insurance contributions.
Additional funding will also be available through the scheme to support young people gain experience and help them move into sustained employment after they have completed their Kickstart placement.