Low-skilled people face a two-year wait for government cash to help them into work, as ministers fail to replace funding disappearing because of Brexit.
Groups working with “the most vulnerable in society” have condemned Michael Gove’s levelling up strategy after it revealed replacement job schemes will only be funded “from 2024-25”.
The decision comes despite boosting “pay, employment and productivity” being one of 12 stated aims for the strategy – but after Mr Gove admitted he had no extra money for it.
The Independent revealed in December that the job schemes were facing the axe because a Shared Prosperity Fund (SPF) – to replace lost EU grants – has been slashed by almost £2bn.
The Employment Related Services Association (ERSA) urged Mr Gove to rescue help for groups most at risk of long-term unemployment, including school leavers, disabled people and over-50s.
For many years, through the EU schemes, they have received extra help to develop skills and prepare for the world of work.
“How will employment support providers be funded between now and 2024?” asked Elizabeth Taylor, the ERSA’s chief executive.
She warned employment organisations had been “left in limbo” by the strategy – and could even go to the wall, if funding dries up as feared.
Yet programmes such as New Leaf, run by the Torus Foundation, had helped 800 people into employment, and Action Towards Inclusion, run by Better Connect Ltd, had assisted 670.
“They want to avoid a long gap in funding which would leave many vulnerable individuals without much-needed support,” Ms Taylor added.
Sam Avanzo Windett, deputy director of the Learning and Work Institute, said: “We face serious challenges, with people disengaging from the workforce, a widening disability employment gap, real wages falling and rising numbers of young people not in employment or full-time education.
“Yet the government’s plans put a two-year delay on funding local services in England that engage people to move into jobs, access skills, training and progress in work.”
Stephen Timms, chair of the Commons work and pensions committee, told The Independent: “I am surprised and disappointed by this delay.”
The ERSA, representing 274 organisations ranging from multinational companies to local charities, has been raising fears about the loss of EU funds since 2019.
But, the levelling up strategy stated: “From 2024-25, further emphasis will be placed on investment to support life chances and skills, including for those furthest from the labour market.”
It added that local councils would be able to “continue funding” schemes “otherwise at risk due to the tail off of EU funds” – but without explaining how.
The Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities declined to respond to the criticism that replacement funding has been shelved, pointing instead to the “Multiply” adult numeracy programme, which would “equip adults with the skills they need to progress in work”.
Ministers had pledged to match lost EU funding after Brexit – to “tackle inequality and deprivation” – but have been widely accused of breaking that promise.