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Calls for ‘civic army’ to fight youth unemployment

Community leadership scheme could help combat youth unemployment due to Covid-19, charities say

A group of charities has pitched a “civic army” to reduce the risk of mass unemployment for disadvantaged young people as the coronavirus crisis continues.

In an open letter to education secretary Gavin Williamson and universities minister Michelle Donelan, eight charities have urged the government to back a community leadership scheme, which would see 75,000 young people employed for six months on civic projects and receive support to join or remain in higher education.

“By creating a ‘civic army’ we can ameliorate the educational and employment challenges, while supporting local communities to get back on their feet,” the charities wrote.

Led by the UPP Foundation, the charitable arm of the student accommodation provider University Partnerships Programme, the charities Ark, Bridge Group, Brightside, IntoUniversity, Reach Academy, The Access Project and The Centre for Education and Youth also back the scheme.

Several groups including the Institute for Fiscal Studies have warned that young people are facing grim employment prospects, as the coronavirus pandemic causes firms to put their recruitment plans on ice. Earlier this month the Institute for Student Employers found that some companies are withdrawing graduate job offers.

UPP Foundation director Richard Brabner said it was “becoming increasingly clear” that the fallout from the coronavirus pandemic meant “young people are faced with an unprecedented combination of challenges that will continue even after schools, colleges and universities reopen”.

Brabner added that the “civic army” of young people would capitalise on growing civic action seen during the pandemic, which would help level-up young people and their communities.

Publishing the letter and a report on the scheme—which would cost around £500 million per year to run—the charities said young people leaving school or university this summer “are at risk of a combination of factors impacting in a way not seen in peacetime”.

They said the scheme would allow disadvantaged young people under 25 to be employed by groups of universities, charities and other local bodies to work either full-time or part-time on local civic schemes, helping boost their skillset or replace part-time roles that have disappeared due to the pandemic.

Elsewhere in the letter, the charities suggested universities and higher education bodies should set up a coronavirus support programme to help new first-year students navigate their entry to higher education in the autumn, and commit to running virtual open days.

The Department for Education has been contacted for comment.