The government has set itself the challenging task of getting 360,000 unemployed people back to work over the next 14 months through its flagship Local Employment Partnerships (LEP) scheme.
Work and pensions secretary James Purnell called on employers last week to hire a further 200,000 jobless this year through the Jobcentre-ledLEP programme. This figure is in addition to the original target set two years ago of 250,000 LEP placements by April 2010.
But so far just 90,000 people have been hired through LEPs, where employers work with local job centres to help place ‘disadvantaged’ jobseekers into vacant roles within their organisations.
The drive to ramp up the number of LEPs came as official figures showed the number of people out of work at a 12-year highof 1.97million. Those without jobs for more than a year (long-term unemployed) rose to 453,000 over the last quarter, the results showed.
Executives from 19 organisations including Tesco, Royal Mail and the NHS attended the first meeting of the National Employment Partnership last week and pledged to fill more vacancies through LEPs. About 18,000 employers in total have signed up to the LEP scheme so far.
A Department for Work and Pensions spokeswoman insisted the new targets were realistic.
“We are committed to getting a further 200,000 people back to work by next year,” she said.
Unions have warned that Jobcentre staffare under increasing pressure and working longer hours to deal with the surge in unemployed people. Union leaders have called for the government to hire more front–line staff and re-open offices to meet demand.
Commentary: Ian Brinkley, associate director, The Work Foundation
Unemployment hasn’t broken the two million milestone yet, so the recession is not moving quite as fast as was feared,but the outlook for jobs is still very bleak. There has been a big jump in redundancies – in the last quarter of 2008, they jumped dramatically to 260,000 compared with 104,000 in the previous three months.
However, the picture is quite complex as there also seems to be employers who were still hiring late last year and the employment rate fell by a modest 45,000, which is small bearing in mind we are in a deep recession.
The figures suggest the kinds of work people are being hired for is mostly part-time while full-time work is falling. Although some people might have reduced their hours in their existing job, it is more likely that full-time jobs are being lost in those parts of the economy worst affected by the downturn.