In October, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) revealed that the unemployment rate in the UK continues to increase and is at its highest level in three years. Many are bracing themselves for a further increase in these figures come 31st October onwards, with the end of the furlough scheme and ongoing local lockdown measures.

Much has been said about the emerging challenge of youth unemployment, the demographic that is the largest and fastest growing. As we now enter the eighth month since the first UK-wide lockdown, there are many who are moving towards the next unwelcome milestone in their unemployment journey: 12 months in and officially part of the ‘long-term unemployed’.

I draw this parallel to illustrate that supporting those young people and supporting the long-term unemployed can be clearly interrelated. Long-term unemployment is only 12 months away for anyone, and, if this crisis has taught us anything, there are very few for whom employment is a guarantee.

The impact of long-term unemployment

Long-term unemployment, of course, brings with it other challenges. It has a negative impact on mental health and self-esteem, adding further complexity to the support required. Additionally, studies have shown that unemployment can have intergenerational domino effect with children from jobless households more likely to experience poverty and be out of work as adults. Furthermore, unemployment has a wider social impact such as the breakdown of family arrangements, debt, homelessness and riskier health behaviour.  

Long-term unemployment is a threat to physical and mental health, therefore a threat to our overburdened NHS. It’s a threat to our economic recovery and it’s a threat to future generations and their own successful outcomes. And, most worryingly, this threat is growing.

The impact of Covid-19 on the existing long-term unemployed

The barriers to employment are increasing as many businesses teeter precariously on the edge meaning fewer job opportunities. On top of this, the pool of unemployed has seen an influx of those who would not otherwise find themselves there. Capable and motivated, with recent experience of the workplace, a fresh appetite and, in some cases, the resources and networks to help them find and obtain employment.

Without the luxury of choice, the newly unemployed are taking roles for which they may be overqualified; an understandable, if not admirable, consequence of the difficulties we’re all facing.

Supporting employment professionals

For those who are working on the frontline, my empathy knows no bounds. Having started my own career in the education and skills sector as an Employment Advisor, I understand this intense pressure. You feel as if your advice and support is the crux upon which that person’s future is hinged. However, I know that there is no better feeling than the satisfaction you can get from helping someone fulfil their potential and seeing them succeed.

Looking to solutions

As the ability to claim funding is dependent on results, many providers are financially reliant on the success of welfare to work programmes. With this in mind, we need to address what is within the direct control of the provider: the elevation of employability and meta skills within the long-term unemployed through targeted, data-driven interventions. These transferable skills support jobseekers, regardless of which sector they find themselves in now, and in the future.

Skills Work is an online employability skills test which allows employment professionals to assess an individual’s current employability skills and develop these skills with focused eLearning modules. It also forms a key part of NCFE and Skills Forward’s Go the Distance initiative – helping people train, find, stay, and progress in work despite the current economic context.

As a sector, together, we can work together to take direct action, to increase positive outcomes and to mitigate the growing threat of long-term unemployment.

Find out more about Skills Work on the Skills Forward website and read more about the Go the Distance employability initiative. You can also contact skillswork@skillsforward.co.uk.