Unemployment and mental health issues – ELBA’s Kickstart solution

Written by Ian Walker, Project Manager, Employment & Skills 

There has been a significant increase in youth unemployment as a result of COVID19, which is now estimated to be 15% in the boroughs which ELBA operates but hand in hand with this statistic comes the rise in people being diagnosed with mental health problems. East London was already one of the most deprived parts of London and the UK, with the highest levels of children living below the poverty line, and very high levels of people in insecure employment – zero hours contracts, unstable self-employment and temporary contracts – but now we find that, according to Public Health England, 19.3% of Londoners (nearly 1 in 5 of us) have been diagnosed with common mental disorders.

Although the figure for London is the highest in the country, the level of mental health disorder varies according to borough. The lowest level of mental health prevalence is 13.2% in Richmond Upon Thames, while the highest is 24.4% in Hackney.

ELBA has always been a huge supporter of openly speaking about and tackling the issues surrounding mental health which, due to the global pandemic, has been on the rise over the last 14 months, but some of these issues have been caused by an increase in youth unemployment.

One of ELBA’s answers is our newly created Edge project which is designed to help those aged between 16-24 with either a 6-month work placement using the governments Kickstart scheme (as ELBA is a Kickstart scheme gateway organisation) or for those who don’t meet the Kickstart scheme eligibility criteria, we will be offering at least a 4-week work placement all paid at London Living Wage.

Now, before we place our excited and dedicated candidates into their placements, we need to reflect not only on the digital inequalities many of our younger generation face but also on the anxiety and mental stress of not only trying to start a new job whilst working from home but the mental strain of having to deal with being unemployed during one of the most difficult years most of us will remember. It has been shown that on an annual basis 1 in 4 people will suffer from some form of mental illness whilst on a weekly basis, 8 in every 100 people will suffer with anxiety and depression. And the statistics show that mental health issues disproportionately affect those from Black, Asian and minority ethnicities, as well as women:

  • 23% of Black or Black British people will experience a common mental health problem in any given week. This compares to 17% of White British people.
  • Over a quarter (26%) of young women aged between 16–24 years old report having a common mental health problem in any given week. This compares to 17% of adults. And this number has been going up.

We know that starting a new job whilst working from home brings about all manner of different feelings, one being anxiety. Tasks we would usually find straightforward such as using Microsoft Office or Google suite have become a cause for stress – where we could formerly have asked a colleague for help, with everyone now working from home, this has become a lot harder and brings about huge anxiety. This is why, prior to starting placements, our candidates are taken through an extensive 1 week training programme to help them transition into an working environment, as well as in-placement training which includes;

  • Preparation for the workplace and employability skills training, underpinned by the Skills Builder framework.
  • Baseline digital skills training for all (and enhanced level for those wishing to access digital careers).
  • Regular network meetings, events and recall training days.
  • The opportunity to work with a mentor or business buddy.
  • Opportunities to volunteer in the community or engage in creative and cultural activities.

The EDGE project will work with unemployed young people aged 16-24, with particular focus on those from Black, Asian and minority ethnic and disadvantaged backgrounds. Our clear focus is to offer employability support but we can’t overlook the support needed to make sure the candidates are not only in the right frame of mind before they start their placements, but also whilst in post, which is why we work closely with companies to offer mental wellbeing courses.

The term ‘Mental Health’ will certainly differ from person to person, so below we take a look at someone recently placed into an EDGE 6 month placement to see what it meant to them.

Words by Sita Raj Rani:


I found myself unemployed in November 2019. Trying to get a new job was already really hard, and then Covid-19 struck in March 2020 and from then on it only got worse, job opportunities were declining, and I noticed so was my mental health.

 I was feeling isolated and lacking motivation to do anything and even simple things like getting into a routine or taking a walk were difficult, however I tried to remain positive that something would come up. So whilst waiting for that opportunity, I decided to try and handmake dog toys in order to keep hope that I would find employment soon.

An opportunity came up when Ian Walker from ELBA contacted me to discuss a Kickstart placement on ELBA’s EDGE project and, after some training and an interview, I secured a placement which I am very grateful for. I now feel so much more positive about everything around me and more determined than ever. Finding work has really boosted my mental health and it has been so nice to connect with people again.”

If you feel your company may be in a position to consider taking someone on in a mostly funded 6 month work placement or a fully funded 4 week work placement, please do get in touch with Ian and Christine who are the Project Managers involved. Ian.walker@elba-1.org.uk,  christine.guldborg-christensen@elba-1.org.uk.

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