With the focus shifting from coronavirus treasury support schemes to economic recovery, on 4 October 2021 the government announced its £500 million expansion of the Plan for Jobs initiative, which will target support to workers leaving furlough and claiming Universal Credit following the closure of the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme on 30 September 2021, the unemployed aged over 50 (who were most likely to have still been furloughed when the scheme closed), the lowest paid and young people. This Plan includes a one-year extension until September 2022 to a Job Entry Targeted Support (JETS) scheme for those who have been unemployed for more than three months.
From April 2022, the government is enhancing its programme of support for workers on Universal Credit. More people who are in work on Universal Credit will be able to access work coach support, which will focus on career progression advice, and Job Centre Plus specialists will work with local employers to identify local opportunities for people to progress in work.
In the context of the challenges small businesses have weathered over the previous 18-months, these are relatively small-scale government interventions as they focus on targeting the individual who finds themselves out of work, rather than supporting employers to help them create jobs. In particular, the Plan does not set out initiatives for employers and small businesses recovering from the pandemic, which must be viewed in the face of rising costs faced by small businesses, the fact that many small businesses will have taken on debt during the pandemic, the hike in national insurance contributions from April 2022, ongoing supply chain issues, Brexit challenges and skill shortages among potential recruits. FSB assessment of the potential impacts of a 1.25% increase in national insurance contributions for employers, sole traders and employees from April 2022 indicates that the move could cause 50,000 more people to be left out of work. FSB has been lobbying for an increase in the Employment Allowance for employers in light of these challenges to help employers reduce wage costs without necessarily reducing headcount, as well as calling for government policies which would drive growth, and help small businesses and sole traders as they try and get back on their feet.
The Plan does however include a welcome (albeit short-term) extension to the Kickstart Scheme, which extends placement start dates to March 2022 and which will be open to applications until 17 December 2021. The Kickstart Scheme is a vital 6-month placement scheme to help young unemployed people aged 16-24 year olds on Universal Credit gain workplace experience and develop new skills. The £3,000 incentive payment for taking on a new apprentice is also being extended until 31 January 2022.