No new money for plans to create 1,000 public sector internships for care leavers

The Education Secretary says the public sector has a “moral duty” to create paid-for internships for youngsters leaving the care system – but is offering no extra money to fund the scheme.

Gavin Williamson (pictured) announced £19 million of investment on Wednesday to help give young people in the care system a stable home and assist them in their post-16 studies.

The Cabinet minister wants the end goal to be 1,000 internships across the public sector specifically for those leaving care.

But while the former chief whip said the NHS, Whitehall departments, armed services and fire services had a “moral duty” to “create opportunities”, he is not using the fresh influx of money to help public bodies fund the envisioned one-year entry-level schemes.

The 12-month salary for interns will come out of public sector budgets and is an optional consideration when replacing or taking on new staff, the Department for Education (DfE) confirmed.

The extra £19 million of investment will not go towards helping pay for the internships but instead focus on housing and education for the youngsters.

It will be up to the likes of the fire service to decide if it has the money to fund the internships, as part of a bid to increase the numbers of public sector employees who come from disadvantaged or less socially mobile backgrounds.

The Civil Service Internship Scheme, started after a successful trial in the DfE in 2014, now has 220 leavers in internships with 25 public sector bodies.

Mr Williamson told the PA news agency: “We are going to create 1,000 of those internships for care leavers. We want to give them the type of opportunities they might never have had before.

“We all recognise we have a duty to create opportunities for young people. We have a moral duty.”

Asked how departments and public bodies on tight budgets would pay to train care leavers, he said: “They are wanting to do it and they realise that there are young people that have had a lot of disadvantage in their lives and can have a lot of impact.

“I say a care leaver can do any job across government, and I take exception with anyone who thinks they can’t.

“We have found in our department that they are doing an amazing job. They are adding value.”

Mr Williamson said the interns would be appointed a mentor to help them gain skills and confidence while on the scheme.

Almost 40% of care leavers aged between 19 and 21 are deemed not in education, employment or training (Neet) compared with 13% for the age group overall.

The new internships, each being a one-year paid role, are designed to lead to full-time job offers, said the DfE.

The incoming £19 million investment into housing and education – where Mr Williams said the “big obstacles” to fluid integration into independent living and work were often found – is to mark National Care Leavers Week, starting on October 24.

Ten million pounds will go to creating stable homes for care leavers as they become adults, including a country-wide roll-out of the “Stay Put” scheme that funds those in care to continue living with their foster family until the age of 21.

Another £6 million will support those leaving care to live independently, and £3 million will go to extending the pupil premium plus initiative – currently available to children with “previously looked after” status – to teenagers, allocating a further £2,000 per pupil for those in care and aged 16-18.

On his “stable homes” pledge, Mr Williamson said: “If you are starting an internship or going into further education or university, it means you have somewhere to go during the holidays.”

A further measure announced includes the establishing of a care leaver covenant board, chaired by Mr Williamson and Cabinet Office minister Oliver Dowden and comprising secretaries of state from across Government, that is set to meet three times a year to address the “key barriers” facing young care leavers as they adjust to independent life.

Copyright (c) PA Media Ltd. 2019, All Rights Reserved. Picture (c) Ben Birchall / PA Wire.