A cautionary Tale – the May 2020 Claimant Count

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Today the ONS has launched the Claimant Count for April, the first full month of the Lockdown Measures in place. This data set starts to give an indication of what is happening to the labour market as a result of Coronavirus and the impact it is having on employment.

The labour market is far from settled and this is only the beginning of the story- there is still a lot we do not know about the Coronavirus and our economy. On top of some the more immediate reactions we have seen from business over the last 8 weeks we are starting to see businesses making long term workforce decisions, but there will still be some who will chose to defer these decisions as long as the Job Retention Scheme is running.

The data shows the number of Claimants rose by 856,500 of which 136,420 were young people. 

The beginning of the story

We believe that this is only a part of the youth unemployment story. In our 2020 Youth Voice Census we heard that only 16% of the young people who had spent time not in employment, education or training (NEET) had claimed benefits. 33% of those who had spent time NEET had engaged with any Jobcentre support. 

Barriers to Universal Credit and Welfare Support

The IES and Resolution Foundation have already predicted that young people will be hardest hit by the economic impacts of the Coronavirus, with young people nearly 2.5 times more likely to be working in the sectors that will take longest to recover, if ever. There is a risk that these young people who may have already lost their jobs or are currently on furlough until the Job Retention Scheme begins to phase out will not be properly accounted for in the data sets becoming available, particularly if they choose not to claim benefit support. 

In the 2020 Youth Voice Census young people told us that they did not know what support was available to them or what made them eligible for support. It is no surprise that young people are so unsure given that 77% of young people have never been told about Jobcentre Plus support.

But lack of information is only one barrier to support, young people also told us that there was a stigma about seeking help:

“When I was NEET for about 6 months, I didn’t feel comfortable claiming Universal Credit”

“It has a massive stigma about it and when I mentioned I was thinking about using it one day, my friends laughed”

Universal Credit is a complex system, the nuances of who can claim under what circumstances are difficult to navigate. But it is not just about the financial entitlement, Jobcentres and the welfare system more generally have a range of services that could benefit young people – Job Coaching, Employability and Work Experience, Vacancy Matching, Referrals to services etc. This type of support is what young people would most likely value in the current climate.

The data from the 2020 Youth Voice Census makes us concerned that as the Welfare System churns into action it is unlikely to be supporting all those that need it, making the journey back to work for some even more difficult.

Thinking about the places young people live

Areas across the UK that already had high unemployment rates have seen the sharpest increase in claimant count. Getting people back to work in these regions is going to take a huge effort from both the local administrations and national government. Young people had already told us that they were not confident that they would find a good job in their local area, with only 13% of young people feeling confident about this.

Alongside the challenges of costs and accessibility to public transport, the weak connections between employers and jobseekers there is much to be done to revive towns and cities in some of the most disadvantaged parts of the country.

What needs to be done

The IES and a range of partners have published their report – Help wanted: Getting Britain back to work. In this they detail a 5 point plan that they are presenting to Rishi Sunak. The Youth Employment Group with more than 100 Members is also preparing detailed recommendations for the Government to consider. It is now imperative that the government follows its commitment to support people through the Coronavirus and takes swift action in implementing an economic recovery and jobs plan.

Last year Youth Employment UK published a Manifesto for Youth Employment that looked at key barriers to employment told to us by young people such as: Careers Education, Skills, Apprenticeships, Quality of Work, Mental Health, Transport and Youth Services. Whilst these are in the main long-term policy recommendations and the government are now dealing with a crisis we would urge that alongside emergency system change we do not lose sight of the fact that so many systems around our young people are not working and will be contributing to the challenges this young generation will face.


The 2020 Youth Voice Census will launch on the 9th June 2020. For press information or other queries please contact info@youthemployment.org.uk

For more information, please email info@youthemployment.org.uk or call 01536 513388.

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