06 December 2021
Stepping in, stepping up
The Plan for Jobs has worked. At the last official count (ONS, 16 November 2021), the overall unemployment rate at 4.3% was marginally below pre-pandemic levels. The Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (‘furlough scheme’) saw a cumulative total 11.7 million jobs supported at various points since the beginning, peaking at 8.9 million in May 2020, falling to 2.4 million in October (when it was originally set to end), and rising again to 5.1 million in January 2021 when it was extended, to steadily decline to its close at the end of September this year.
Through this unprecedented rescue, costing a princely sum of £70 billion, the government payrolled one third of the entire workforce, helping to dodge the catastrophic unemployment we saw in the 1980s, 1990s and after the 2008 recession (which peaked at 8.4% in 2011). The state stepped in and stepped up, and many lives and livelihoods were saved as a result.
While the long shadow of COVID-19 is still very much with us, the economy has reopened, and the low unemployment rate is met by a record 1.17 million vacancies, with 15 of the 18 industry sectors showing record highs. On the face of it, there are enough jobs for everyone; so why can’t we celebrate? We can, and some are, but at Catch22, we believe that there is still a lot to do.
An unequal recovery
The gains of the COVID-19 recovery are not being experienced equally; young people are still more than twice as likely to be out of work than adults above 25 (and even higher if you are from a minority ethnic background, have a disability or are experiencing mental health conditions).
The Plan for Jobs that got us to this stage will not get us to the next: one that sees the recovery and growth felt equally between groups and communities across the UK. At various times in the past year, leaders on both sides of the Atlantic promised to Build Back Better, emphasising the opportunity to imagine and build a brighter, more equitable, and more sustainable future after COVID-19. Indeed the same catchphrase lent its name to the growth plan co-sponsored by the Prime Minister and Chancellor that was published back in March.
Being the builders
Every year at Catch22 we secure sustainable work for thousands of people. Now and into the future, along with our partners, we see our role as being the builders, to ensure that the promise of building back better does not ring hollow for the groups who risk losing out. In the first instance, we will do this by delivering employment and skills innovations that open up opportunities for underserved groups, programmes such as Grid for Good, Digital Edge and Digital Leap. But beyond robust delivery, our aim, as captured in our Reform mission released today, is to do whatever it takes to level the playing field for every young person out of work.
We refuse to settle and only celebrate high employment as vital as this achievement is; to do so would lead us to ignore the massive structural skills deficits (that the young people who are job seeking now are unwilling or unable to fill the jobs that are there) and what the labour market reveals about the limitations of certain jobs (because of their low pay, poor prospects and insecurity). According to fresh research, 53% of young people include a job that is interesting and fulfilling among their top three priorities. And why shouldn’t they? Isn’t a great job something we all want?
Investing in young people
To shy away from some of the issues that rest under the surface is harmful to society and to the economy long term. Even on a simple demographic level, the young people of today are all of tomorrow’s workforce. While talent is evenly distributed, opportunity is not, but it is crucial to stress that if youth and other groups overrepresented in the unemployment stats succeed, we all win.
At Catch22, we are optimistic about the contribution they can make and the role that we can play in helping them along the way. We will redouble efforts, in delivery and in policy.