HUNDREDS of thousands of work placements are to be offered to young people to help them get back into employment and slash the record levels of 18 to 24-year-olds out of work.
In September, Hartlepool came out on top of a national table highlighting youth unemployment blackspots and while there was a slight improvement when new statistics were revealed in October, a total of 1,450 – almost 15 per cent of young people in the town – remain out of work.
But it is hoped that a new scheme launched today by Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg will help young people back into work, with a £1bn Youth Contract being unveiled by the Government.
Hartlepool Mayor Stuart Drummond welcomed the news, but admits it will be “interesting” to see how the scheme will impact on the town.
The move comes the day after official figures revealed that a record 1,163,000 16 to 24-year-olds were “NEET” (not in education, employment or training) in the third quarter of this year.
The number of people in this age group who are looking for work also increased by 67,000 in the quarter to September to 1.02 million, the worst total since comparable records began in 1992.
Mr Clegg announced that under the Youth Contract, from next April, over a three-year period at least 410,000 work places will be found for 18 to 24-year-olds.
This includes wage subsidies worth £2,275 handed to employers to take on 160,000 18 to 24-year-olds.
Each of these “wage incentives” are worth half of the youth national minimum wage and last for six months.
They will be available for those youngsters that need the most help after three months, and all of those who have been on Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA) for nine months.
Mr Clegg said the contract will offer a work experience placement of up to eight weeks for every unemployed 18 to 24-year-old that wants one.
Mr Clegg warned that young people who fail to sign up to the Youth Contract will be considered for “mandatory work activity”, while those that drop out of work experience or jobs without good reason will lose their benefits.
Launching the initiative at a college in Leeds today, Mr Clegg said: “This is a £1 billion package and what’s different about it is it gets young people into proper, lasting jobs in the private sector.
“But it’s a contract, a two-way street: if you sign up for the job, there’ll be no signing on for the dole. You have to stick with it.”
He added: “We can’t lose the skills and talent of our young people – right when we need them most. We can’t afford to leave our young men and women on the scrap heap.”
Mayor Drummond said: “It sounds very positive, but it will be interesting to see exactly what it means and exactly how much of this pot of money will be set aside for areas such as Hartlepool where there is a real problem with youth unemployment.
“In the past we have had schemes like the Future Jobs Fund which worked well for a six-month period, but this is a long-term problem which needs addressing. it can only be addressed by the creation of jobs.
“Hopefully this will be that long-term solution rather than just a sticking plaster, but I will tentatively wait to see what impact it has on the situation here in Hartlepool.”
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