The Youth Obligation is the Government’s flagship employment programme for young people aged 18 to 21. It was introduced in April 2017. It is an early-intervention programme designed to provide additional support for young job seekers to prevent them drifting into long-term unemployment. The Youth Obligation requires young people in full-service Universal Credit areas to participate in a six-month programme of intensive support, including a four-week Intensive Activity Programme, from day one of their benefit claim. Issues with the Universal Credit build specification have meant that there has been no monitoring of the effectiveness of the programme by the Government and IER’s research represents the only evidence tracking the participation of young people in the programme and their employment outcomes.
The research found that half of the most vulnerable young people dropped out of the programme without finding work. These young people were experiencing ongoing issues, such as poor mental health or homelessness, that prevented their continued participation. These young people lost access to all benefits and associated support, becoming part of the growing ‘hidden NEET’ population who are not recorded in official statistics and whose activities are unknown. Only a fifth of the young people who started the programme were in employment after a year, but the majority of those who were working were doing unregulated and irregular cash-in-hand work. Just 13% of disadvantaged Youth Obligation participants were in regular full- or part-time employment a year after starting the Youth Obligation.
Evidence from IER’s research on the impact of the Youth Obligation was presented at a Parliamentary Roundtable in September 2018 and this evidence was subsequently drawn upon in parliamentary debates on Universal Credit and young people’s employment. In January 2019, oral and written evidence from the research was presented to the Work and Pensions Select Committee. Concerns expressed in the research (and elsewhere) about the lack of monitoring of such a large Government programme resulted in the introduction of a temporary impact capture system in all Job Centres in full-service Universal Credit areas in early 2019.
The final report has been published in Spring 2019 and launched at an event at the House of Commons sponsored by Shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensions and Chaired by the Minister for Family Support, Housing and Child Maintenance in May 2019.