Young people a priority as Covid-19 shutdown hits West Midlands economy



Young people have been designated a top priority by a high-level unit tasked with managing the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on the West Midlands economy.

Latest research has shown that young people are being disproportionately hit by the crisis due to the high numbers working in the hospitality, retail and other sectors at the sharp end of the lockdown.

The West Midlands Covid-19 Economic Impact Group, which brings together key public and private sector organisations including the West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA), has endorsed councils and other organisations in delivering support for young workers.

The Group, which meets virtually every week, heard today (Thursday April 9) how young people were likely to be the hardest hit by the coronavirus shutdown of businesses including restaurants, hotels, pubs, retailers and transport services.

Research by the Institute of Fiscal Studies has found that workers aged under 25 were more than twice as likely to work in a sector forced to close by the social distancing rules.

Companies in those sectors employ nearly a third (30%) of all employees under 25, not including full-time students who also have a job. This compares with just one in eight (13%) of workers aged 25 and over.

Mayor of the West Midlands Andy Street, who chairs the Economic Impact Group, said: “Thousands of proud business owners – the people who have made the West Midlands such an economic powerhouse in recent years – have been forced to shut up shop, and young people, along with those on low incomes and women, have perhaps borne the financial brunt of this.

“Yet these same young people will have a key role to play in forging a strong recovery for our region, and in the longer term will be instrumental in re-building a successful, inclusive, regional economy.

“That’s why the Economic Contingency Group is working closely with local councils and others to make sure the support available for young people is getting through. This pandemic is impacting society on every level, but we are trying to make sure that support is available where it’s needed.”

Practical measures available for young people include:

  • Online courses so young people can learn new skills during the lockdown and land a new and better job after the crisis ends
  • A Rapid Recruitment Team set up by the WMCA to work with training providers to find suitable candidates for industries in critical need of extra staff, such as supermarkets, care homes, hospitals and other essential services
  • Safety nets such as Universal Credit and local authority hardship funds. 

Cllr Ian Brookfield, WMCA portfolio holder for economy and innovation and leader of City of Wolverhampton Council, said: “Young people are very much the backbone of the hospitality and retail sectors and are often also in the lower income bracket.

“It’s therefore no surprise they have been hit particularly hard. Our young people are our future so it’s important this current crisis doesn’t have a lasting negative impact on them.

“There is help and support available, for instance in Wolverhampton our successful Wolves at Work team is co-ordinating with regional partners to help people find employment and skills opportunities. I would urge young people to explore what’s out there during this difficult time and especially the growing range of on-line training courses.”

The research released this week by the Institute of Fiscal Studies also found that low earners were seven times as likely as high earners to work in a business sector that has shut down. It said a third of the bottom 10% of earners worked in the worst hit sectors, against one in 20 (5%) of those in the top 10%.

It found that while many were continuing to be paid, with a 20% pay cut, under the government’s furlough scheme, there was a very real risk that across the UK thousands would be made redundant.

Tim Pile, chair of the region’s Strategic Economic Development Board, said: “The financial impact being felt by businesses and their employees is very real, the situation is live and urgent for those who are being hardest hit by the current crisis, and we must continue to deliver support at pace to all businesses and individuals affected.

“One the great strengths of the West Midlands is it’s youthful and diverse population, which brings great advantages to many of our region’s key business sectors. It is absolutely imperative that we support young people through this period and beyond. Their contribution will be critical as we rebuild our economy together.

“Collaboration between partners across the region must continue; to ensure young people are able to continue their learning and develop new skills, as well as to support employers to maintain apprenticeship programmes and safeguard Independent Training Providers continued capacity to deliver them.”

Young people and others wanting more information about online training courses now available should visit the WMCA’s Covid-19 support site at https://beta.wmca.org.uk/what-we-do/covid-19-support/online-courses/

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