Youth unemployment in Scotland sparked by the coronavirus crisis could hit a record high by the end of 2020. 

A think thank has warned more than 140,000 youths could be out of jobs by the end of the year. 

IPPR Scotland said that could be the level of joblessness reached among 16 to 24-year-olds in what it described as a “reasonable worst-case ‘downside’ scenario”.

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The most optimistic forecast from its research suggested unemployment in this age group could grow to more than 80,000 by the end of 2020.

The figure compares to the latest youth unemployment figures from the Office for National Statistics, which showed an average of 30,000 16 to 24-year-olds were out of work across the period April 2019 through to March 2020.

The jobless total among young people previously peaked at 95,000 in 2011, in the aftermath of the financial crisis – with just over one in five (21.8%) of young people unemployed.

The think tank is calling for “unprecedented action” from the Scottish Government and others.

Russell Gunson, director of IPPR Scotland, said: “If these projections turn out to be true we will see youth unemployment on a scale we’ve never seen before in Scotland later this year.

“Over 100,000 young people – or more than one in three of Scotland’s young workforce – could be unemployed by the end of the year.

“This is unprecedented and will need unprecedented action over the coming weeks and months without delay.”

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The Scottish Government is already taking forward work on a proposed jobs guarantee scheme for younger Scots.

Meanwhile, UK Chancellor Rishi Sunak has proposed the £2 billion Kickstart scheme in a bid to create new jobs for 16 to 24-year-olds.

Mr Gunson said measures already announced by Holyrood and Westminster may not be enough to deal with the size of the challenge, saying action was needed at a “pace and a scale not yet seen”.

He stated: “While both the UK and Scottish governments have announced action to try to stave off youth unemployment, we have not yet seen the scale of action meet the scale of the challenge.

“We are facing a ‘100,000 challenge’ in Scotland. The question we must ask and urgently answer is how do we create 100,000 new opportunities for young people in Scotland over the rest of this year?

“Through further additional college and university places, through even greater investment in learning and training, and through action by employers to try to protect opportunities for young people it is more than possible. But we must now act at a pace and a scale not yet seen.”

His call for action was echoed by CBI Scotland director Tracy Black who said: “IPPR’s research is a stark reminder of the unprecedented economic crisis the Covid-19 pandemic has created and the disproportionate impact it is likely to have on young people.

“We know the scarring effect that long-term unemployment can have on people and communities, which is why it’s more important than ever that governments, businesses, colleges and universities work in partnership with an urgent focus on jobs, skills and opportunities for young people.”

A UK Government spokesman said: “This Government is serious about investing in our young people and their futures – including injecting £2 billion in the Kickstart scheme creating hundreds of thousands of new, fully subsidised, high-quality jobs for under-25s and we’re rolling out Youth Hubs across local communities to ensure everyone has access to support.

“We’ve also introduced a package of support for businesses giving them the confidence to retain and recruit, while our nationwide network of Work Coaches are already matching jobseekers to new roles as we get Britain back working again and our £150 million boost to the Flexible Support Fund means young people can receive training that is right for them.”

Meanwhile Scottish Economy Secretary Fiona Hyslop said: “This report is a stark warning of the ongoing economic threat posed by the pandemic, and makes it all the more urgent for the UK Government to think again and extend the furlough scheme to protect jobs, rather than scrapping it in October as planned.

“Removing furlough threatens many thousands of jobs across Scotland and the rest of the UK, something which could then be compounded by a no-deal Brexit at the end of the year. UK ministers should follow the example of other European countries like Germany, which have announced lengthy extensions to their furlough schemes.”

Ms Hyslop added: “We are doing all we can with the powers we have to support youth employment. We have committed to invest £60 million in a Youth Guarantee to give young people access to work, training or education. This is part of a wider investment in employability and skills, which includes the extension of our Fair Start Scotland employability services – and we have also announced £10 million for a range of measures to recruit and retain apprentices.

“But without increased financial powers, such as enhanced borrowing capacity, the Scottish Government is having to fight the economic impact of the pandemic with one hand tied behind our back. The UK Government should take the action needed, including an extension of furlough, or give Scotland the powers we need to do the job ourselves.”