Our manifesto outlines “22 ways to build resilience and aspiration in people and communities” across five key areas. Download your copy.

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The General Election: opening doors to employability

A badge is overlaid on the Catch22 green gradient background with the text "Catch22 Election Watch" and a cross inside a box.

The upcoming General Election has given us an opportunity to raise awareness of Catch22’s Manifesto and the asks we wish to see reflected in the elected party. We understand that one of the most direct ways for individuals to have a good place to live, to be surrounded by good people and to have a purpose (our 3Ps approach), is through sustained employment.  

Why is employability such an important area for policy reform?

The annual number of young people (16-24 years old) not in education, employment or training (NEET) has increased by 38,000 since January 2024, with 900,000 NEETs currently (ONS). In addition, over a third of secondary school students feel uninformed about potential career prospects for their future. Should this pattern continue, around 1.2 million children will suffer from a lack of information, contributing to skills shortages in vital industries and causing hundreds of thousands of young people to be labelled as NEET.

Whilst there is always more to hope for, we are pleased to see Labour’s commitment to careers advice and work experience under a ‘Youth Guarantee’ of access to training, an apprenticeship, or support to find work for all 18–21-year-olds. Labour have announced aims to ensure two-week work experience opportunities for every young person and to enlist more than 1,000 career advisors through collaborations between educational institutions and local businesses, thus empowering young individuals with the necessary skills for the workforce.

Whilst Labour and the Liberal Democrats have made a commitment to expand the apprenticeship levy, the Conservatives aim to create an additional 100,000 apprenticeships. In addition, Labour has pledged to achieve an 80% employment rate whilst the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats have focused on discussing welfare reform. We are encouraged that political parties in the run up to the general election are placing emphasis on reducing unemployment, yet the specific asks in the Catch22 Manifesto consider the wider, systemic and individual barriers that people from a variety of socioeconomic backgrounds face when trying to break into the job market. For example, over the past few years we have seen the labour market transform to become increasingly involved in digital, green, and AI-linked jobs, without policy, higher education, or world of work support programmes to upskill people in these areas. As a result, those previously facing barriers to employment, such as physical or mental health challenges, experience in the care system or low academic attainment, find the labour market increasingly out of reach.

So, what changes do we want to see?

National Employability Service and Opportunity Guarantee

With national services currently lacking capacity to provide holistic support, UK employment services need reviving. We are asking for a revitalisation in the form of a National Employability Service which sees generations assigned work coaches or career counselling, skills training in topics such as digital technology and green skills, all to ensure skills building is transitioning alongside the world of work.

Additionally, regardless of postcode or social background, we want all young people to have an opportunity for continued development and increasing social mobility. Therefore, we hope that the future government will establish an ‘Opportunity Guarantee’, ensuring that all young people can access an education place, apprenticeship, or job.

Job Centre Plus (JCP) Reform

Transforming the services on offer

Job Centre Plus (JCP) is a national employment service offering quick-fix support to individuals claiming universal credit. Rather than just placing people into ‘any old job’ to meet targets and initially yet unsustainably bring down unemployment rates, we want to see JCP support people into dependable careers. This means considering whether the jobs people are supported into are of interest to them or whether it matches their skills, passions, and ambitions. This contributes to the longevity of jobs and accessibility of building careers.

We know that the first six months of employment is crucial for supporting people to stay in work and embed themselves in a career path, therefore, we want individuals to have access to support, such as work coaches, for six months after being placed into a new role. Additionally, work coaches should provide one-to-one support to individuals requiring skills building in areas like digital skills, which can be a significant barrier for older adults seeking employment or those with experience of digital poverty.

Eligibility of JCP service users

In addition to the reform of support services offered by JCP, we want to widen the net of support to include those who are economically inactive. Currently, only those claiming universal credit are eligible for support from JCP, however, many individuals who are not claiming universal credit still face barriers. These may include young people with poor academic attainment who are financially supported by relatives, or older adults ineligible for universal credit due to life savings and struggling to re-enter the labour market after redundancy or age discrimination. Therefore, we want to see the future government expand employment service provision to include those who are economically inactive and abandon targets linked to reduction in universal credit claims, instead considering targets surrounding longevity of employments.

Apprenticeship Levy Asks

Finally, we want to see the accessibility of apprenticeships expand. Apprenticeships are a fantastic way to increase social mobility and turbocharge one’s career with many opportunities open to entry levels or those with minimal academic attainment. However, the apprenticeship living wage starting at £6.40 per hour raises questions about accessibility and sustainability of apprenticeships. Currently, one could argue that whilst apprenticeships aim to bridge the gap between low academic attainment and sustainable careers, they are only accessible to those who can afford to live on such low income (such as those supported by parents or with generational income) and thus excludes groups such as care experienced young people. Therefore, we are asking to increase the apprenticeship minimum wage to the living wage to improve take up, especially for those from underserved communities.

Overall, Catch22 seeks to create a fairer, more level playing field for people of all ages to access the job market, whether that be through apprenticeships, traineeships, post school employment or other opportunities. We hope that the party elected on the 4th of July will consider the wider factors that contribute to not just unemployment but also low social mobility and economic inactivity. In time, we hope that these changes will support people of all ages to increase their independence and purpose in life.