What the budget means for student employers

I try and put everything that I write onto this blog eventually. I’ve got a bit lax in recent weeks for various reasons, so I’m going to try and catch up over the next few days. This is a post that I wrote in the aftermath of Rishi Sunak’s second full budget. It was originally published on ISE: Insights on the 9th March 2021. In it I ask what the budget means for student employers.

The dust has now settled on Rishi Sunak’s budget and most of the hot takes, analyses, puff pieces and take downs have now been written.

The Observer describes it as a ‘budget designed to appeal to Conservative swing voters’ while The Times and The Sun complain that there is ‘too much tax’ in it. Which all goes to show that you can’t please all the people all the time.

If you want to get away from the debate, you can always read the government’s own take on what they announced. Equally interesting is the overall economic prediction from the Office for Budgetary Responsibility which is much more optimistic than their last pronouncement.

What was in the budget

But what does all of this mean for the world of student employments? Firstly, let’s look at what was in the budget that might make a difference for student recruitment.

  • The government have extended the furlough scheme until September 2021. This probably means that they don’t expect the economy to be fully back up and running until the autumn.
  • Extensions to the Stamp Duty holiday and the VAT reduction for those sectors that have had to close altogether will be welcomed by the built environment and retail and hospitality sectors respectively. Whether this will offset down turns in recruitment this year remains to be seen.
  • The apprenticeship incentive scheme has been extended and the incentive payments increased to £3,000. There was also the announcement of the ‘flexi-job’ apprenticeships which potentially opens up opportunities for multiple organisations to share an apprentice.
  • The announcement of 40,000 more traineeships for 16-24 year olds.
  • Some promises to make high-skilled migration easier although it is not clear whether this will really make a difference at the level of student recruitment. See Free Movement for more analysis.

What was missing

Now, let’s think about what was missing from the budget, that some might have expected to see.

  • Nothing for universities or for compensation for students for missed tuition or unused accommodation.
  • No extension for the Kickstart scheme, meaning that scheme is currently scheduled to end in December.
  • No further money for careers services and no specific new career support for young people or graduates.
  • No substantial investment in public services, with most initiatives fairly short term in nature. This led some to wonder whether behind the largess of the Chancellor’s Covid support lay a return to the austerity policies of the 2010s and prompted a public outcry on the issue of NHS pay.
  • No substantial green investment or post-Brexit initiatives (other than the controversial free ports).
  • And no return to ‘Eat out to help out’, although perhaps the less said about that the better!

Keep calm and carry on

Overall, the budget should not keep student employers awake at night. Beyond the additional incentives for apprenticeships there is little that has a direct impact on student employment. Those employers who have invested in Kickstart might be frustrated that it is coming to an end so soon, but there is still a while until December, so we may not have heard the last of it yet.

Ultimately the budget assumes that the economy is going to bounce back by the autumn and bounce back vigorously. If this proves to be correct, then Sunak will be hailed as a hero once again. If not… well, we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.

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