Gearing up for piloting a support programme for vulnerable young people in South Africa

Image: Basic Package of Support.

Realising the importance of remaining connected to, and of strengthening the support systems for young people in the country during these challenging times, the multi-disciplinary team behind the Basic Package of Support (BPS) project used the lockdowns and isolation of 2020 to dig its teeth into the development of tools, systems and partnerships that are needed for a successful pilot roll-out in 2021.

Some of the project’s milestones during 2020 were:

  • Renewed support from the Capacity Building Programme for Employment Promotion (CBPEP), funded by the European Union and based in the Government Technical Advisory Centre, which allowed for an expansion of the team’s expertise and growing and strengthening of our network of partners.
  • UNICEF joining as a partner to fund the first BPS pilot in the Western Cape, planned for mid-2021. See here for a list of all partner organizations of this phase of the BPS.
  • A re-development of the interactive, online South African Youth Explorer with OpenUp to host not only youth-specific indicators but also crucial information about local services for young people nationwide – the tool is continuously updated to become a powerful, integral part of the Presidential Youth Employment Intervention (PYEI).
  • A monitoring and evaluation framework for the BPS programme was fine-tuned and a strategy for building communities of practice was developed.
  • Several rounds of consultation with civil society organisations were hosted by the DG Murray Trust to collaboratively design tools and processes that will make the BPS an efficient activation and referral programme for young people who are not in employment, education or training (NEET).
  • The project’s position within the National Pathway Management ‘Network of Networks’ was clarified and the BPS continues to work in alignment with the PYEI.
  • The team developed various communications tools to support fundraising for the pilots and stakeholder engagements.

This article provides a brief recap of the reasons underlying the development of the BPS: an integrated, long-term guidance and support programme for young people who are NEET, and why this has become especially pertinent in the context of COVID-19.

Research indicates that persistent and multiple challenges faced by youth who are NEET can lead to serious personal and societal consequences. These include deteriorating physical and mental health, poor job prospects, discouragement, poverty traps, and risky behaviour (De Lannoy et al., 2019). This already dire situation has been compounded by COVID-19 and the lockdown measures which impacted young people’s daily routines as educational institutions and workplaces closed down or shifted schedules. The closure of places of teaching and learning has disrupted learning especially for disadvantaged youth who lack access to remote learning tools and the Internet (UN, 2020). A recent study in South Africa suggests that most children lost 40% of school days in 2020 (Mohohlwane et al., 2020), and that poor students were the most affected. The learning disruptions will affect the quality of education received by learners, as well as their graduation rates, and will likely also undermine student career prospects and increase uncertainty, anxiety and stress (UN, 2020). Students who do manage to graduate during the pandemic may subsequently find it more difficult to find decent and high-paying jobs.

In South Africa, approximately 3 million workers (18%) lost their jobs between February (pre-lockdown) and April (level 5 lockdown) (Casale and Posel, 2020). The job losses registered during March and April were not uniformly distributed across different worker groups but were disproportionately concentrated among already disadvantaged groups in the labour market, such as women; African/Blacks; young people; less educated; manual workers; and those at the bottom half of the income distribution (Ranchhod and Daniels, 2020; Jain et al., 2020). Young people aged 18 – 35 years accounted for slightly more than half (51%) of workers who lost their jobs in this period.

International evidence shows that the income and job losses together with separation from family and friends, illness or loss of loved ones, closure of educational institutions as well as increased uncertainty about the future can trigger a wide range of mental health problems among young people (Forbes and Krueger, 2019; Hiswåls et al., 2017; Brooks et al., 2020; Menec et al., 2020; Passos et al., 2020). In South Africa, various studies have found increased levels of mental health problems during the lockdown period (Oyenubi and Kollamparambil, 2020; Mudiriza and De Lannoy, 2020; South African Depression and Anxiety Group, 2020).

Therefore, innovative and evidence-based solutions are needed urgently to remain connected to, and support, vulnerable young people.

International evidence on best practices in youth employment and entrepreneurship programmes indicates that approaches to support NEET and unemployed youth work best when they:

  • integrate multiple services to provide young people with comprehensive support;

  • profile beneficiaries and tailor services to their needs, i.e. they are person-centred;

  • provide follow-up support for individualised and tailored pathways;

  • provide context-specific referrals and support.

Drawing on a thorough review of these and additional national evidence, the BPS was designed as an activation and guidance programme that provides integrated, long-term support to young people who are NEET. This entails action plans that are co-developed by young BPS beneficiaries and guidance counsellors, tailored to youth’s needs, aspirations and assets; and referrals that are based on a detailed understanding of verified, local services. The development of local communities of practice as well as at various levels of governance supports this approach.

With support from CBPEP and UNICEF, and in collaboration with all project partners, the first BPS pilot will be rolled out in Atlantis in the Western Cape Province. It is the team’s aim to add an additional pilot in Orange Farm in Gauteng.

BPS pilot sites

Read more: Piloting the Basic Package of Support – a case for investment.

Watch: The Basic Package of Support from a young person’s perspective.



Brooks, S. K., Webster, R. K., Smith, L. E., Woodland, L., Wessely, S., Greenberg, N., & Rubin, G. J. (2020). The psychological impact of quarantine and how to reduce it: rapid review of the evidence. The Lancet.

Casale, D. and Posel, D. (2020) Gender and the early effects of the COVID-19 crisis in the paid and unpaid economies in South Africa. National Income Dynamics (NIDS)-Coronavirus Rapid Mobile Survey (CRAM). Wave 1. Working Paper No. 4.

De Lannoy, A., & Basic Package of Support research consortium (2019) Towards a Basic Package of Support for Young People who are not in Employment, Education or Training (NEET) in South Africa. Project summary report. Cape Town: Southern Africa Labour and Development Research Unit, University of Cape Town; J-PAL Africa; Centre for Social Development in Africa, University of Johannesburg; The Jobs Fund; Capacity Building Programme for Employment Promotion, Government Technical Advisory Centre & DG Murray Trust.

Forbes, M. K., & Krueger, R. F. (2019). The great recession and mental health in the United States. Clinical Psychological Science, 7(5), 900–913.

Hiswåls, A.-S., Marttila, A., Mälstam, E., & Macassa, G. (2017). Experiences of unemployment and well-being after job loss during economic recession: Results of a qualitative study in east central Sweden. Journal of Public Health Research, 6(3).

Jain, R., Bassier, I., Budlender, J., Zizzamia, R. (2020). The labour market and poverty impacts of covid-19 in South Africa: An update with NIDS-CRAM Wave 2 Cape Town: SALDRU, UCT. (SALDRU Working Paper No. 272).

Menec, V. H., Newall, N. E., Mackenzie, C. S., Shooshtari, S., & Nowicki, S. (2020). Examining social isolation and loneliness in combination in relation to social support and psychological distress using Canadian Longitudinal Study of Aging (CLSA) data. PloS One, 15(3), e0230673.

Mohohlwane, N., Taylor, S. & Shepherd, D. (2020) Covid-19 and basic education: Evaluating the initial impact of the return to schooling. National Income Dynamics (NIDS)-Coronavirus Rapid Mobile Survey (CRAM) Wave 2 Working Paper No.11.