From education to employment

The power of five: The priorities for tomorrow’s government

Sam Windett, Head of Policy and Communications, ERSA
As the public goes to the polls today (8 June), the main party manifestos reflect the big changes ahead for the UK. To deliver a labour market that works for everyone in a post-Brexit world, helping to transform lives, businesses and communities, the next government needs to prioritise the following five principles:
1.       Guarantee access to high quality specialist employment support for jobseekers who need it
The next government should prioritise investment in specialist employment services so that all jobseekers receive the professional support they need. Such an investment could be funded through the associated significant future savings in the benefit bill. Equally, the next government should build on the last government’s pledge to halve the disability employment gap, signalling its commitment to the issue. This was sadly missing from the main party manifestos, and needs to be revisited by the next government.
2.       Design a post Brexit social initiative fit for the UK
The European Social Fund (ESF) is worth over £500 million in skills and employment investment a year to England alone. Brexit presents a challenge and an opportunity to develop an improved successor to the ESF. The next government must act immediately to avoid a black hole in funding for social programmes and to help create an inclusive economy that fulfils its post-Brexit potential. In doing so, we mustn’t overlook allocating and using the full 2014-20 ESF pot. We must use the £millions earmarked for the UK rather than returning it to Brussels.
3.       Focus on careers and upskilling to increase UK productivity
Solving the great productivity challenges facing the next government is all the more important in light of Brexit. Upskilling is a crucial part of the puzzle, and a good starting point will be to establish an independent ‘in-work progression service’ to provide advice and support for anyone wanting to progress in work. Equally, greater skills funding should be available for the long-term unemployed.
4.       Devolve further powers, integrate services and pool funding
With last month’s election of six metro mayors, it will be important that the next government works to get the balance of powers with the devolved regions right. A good starting point for employment and skills will be the further devolution of commissioning and design powers to the appropriate level to help remove duplication, maximise value and foster service integration and partnerships. In addition, to overcome current systemic tensions, the next government should devolve control of Jobcentre Plus to the Scottish Government and review the case for other devolution areas. 
5.    Tackle entrenched youth unemployment
Youth unemployment remains three times as high as the general rate of unemployment, with significant underlying geographical variations. The next government must act to tackle this by creating a strongly branded national youth employment programme which uses youth employment experts and is backed by employers. There should also be guaranteed contact with the world of employment and access to careers guidance support for all secondary school pupils within the state system.
Once the votes are counted, the next government must be prepared to tackle these five issues to make Brexit work across all of society, helping raise our low productivity levels, stagnating wages and support us in the eventuality of an economic downturn. We need a robust labour market to respond to these challenges and, come June 9th, the next government must be prepared to deliver.
Sam Windett, Head of Policy and Communications, ERSA

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