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Love, trust and the teachable moment

September 20th, 2016

Three months ago today politicians were united across the normal divides in paying tribute to Jo Cox, their murdered colleague. I doubt whether the word “love” has been used in the House of Commons as many times in the entire lifetime of a government as it was in that single afternoon. Love was, they agreed, Ms Cox’s defining characteristic, love of family and friends, love of constituency and colleagues, love of humanity.

Listening to the tributes I was reminded of a phrase used by our health worker colleagues. They talk about “teachable moments” – the period immediately after a scare or a near miss, a cancer alarm, an illness affecting someone we know –  a time when we are most likely to respond to messages about changing our behaviour because we have been shocked into a new  perspective. These are the moments when the truly important breaks through our casual acceptance of routines, conventions and mindless habit. How often have we all heard people at funerals or memorial services say “it makes you think about what really matters”?  Perhaps we have said it ourselves.

Briefly and optimistically I thought those last days of June were national  “moments” and that the awful shock of the murder might jolt politicians, and more broadly our national discourse, into a new appreciation of love and trust.

I was heartened at the time because I thought it showed a common acceptance that love should be the guiding principle at the heart of public life, public services and public discourse even if articulating the idea and acting on it is potentially awkward, sensitive and complex.  The quality and depth of human relationships, not the efficacy of the transaction, determine the value of the outcome. The transfer of knowledge or the delivery of a service may create the necessary conditions for progress but it is the special attributes  of the human bond that  console and strengthen, that nourish confidence, inspire self esteem, unlock potential, erode inequality and so have the power to transform. This is what we at Community Links calls the “deep value” in a successful relationship. It is not just about the spending of time but also about, in the words of  Cicely Saunders, “the depth of time.”

What, in practise, might this mean?

For government it means devolving power not only to cities and regions, thats just a beginning, but to the smallest viable unit of delivery. None of us feel human in organisations where everyone is just a number, and often a very long one. Policy makers used to talk about “double devolution” – from Whitehall to City hall, then from City Hall to neighbourhoods and communities. The phrase, and the practise, seems to have been forgotten in the most recent, welcome but inadequate, wave of half measures. It should be recalled.

For public service agencies, in all sectors,  it means conditions and protocols that recognise the primacy of the human interaction in all that they do, prioritising staff discretion and autonomy, systematising the consistency and stability of the client / provider relationships, planning ample time for relationship building and rigorously and  unambiguously separating  policing and supporting.

And for individual workers and small teams it means a clear set of competencies that can be articulated, taught, managed , appraised and replicated just like any other essential skill.

These would be ambitious and wide ranging changes, collectively revolutionary, but they all begin with having the maturity to talk about love and trust, the insight to understand its importance and the courage to design it into legislation, to services, to organisational processes and to our national discourse, not, as so often today, to very deliberately design it out.

Occasionally a debate in the House of Commons captures a public mood and elevates it. June 20th was such a moment. We share a responsibility to preserve the opportunity that it gave us, to nurture the new perspectives that it revealed and, step by step, to be directed less by custom and practise, rigid convention, unthinking adherence to rules and rote and guided more by our better angels.

 

 

This piece first appeared on : A Better Way –  the blog  of a new network of social activists challenging business as usual, improving services, and building  strong communities.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Community Links and BNY Mellon announced as Charity Times Awards finalists

September 19th, 2016

Community Links has been shortlisted for The Charity Times Awards 2016. Our Future Links programme was chosen for the Corporate Community Local Involvement category, to recognise the work we do with young people in Newham, in partnership with BNY Mellon.

Working together for the past ten years, BNY Mellon and Community Links have designed and grown a pre-employment programme called ‘Future Links’ for disadvantaged 16-24 year olds in east London who are not in education, employment or training (NEET). Together, we are addressing the 25% unemployment rate amongst Newham’s young people, whom account for 40% of the population.

Karen Green, Director of International Community Affairs for BNY Mellon said:

“We are delighted to have our partnership with Community Links recognised by the Charity Times Award judges. Since the launch of Future Links in 2010, BNY Mellon and Community Links have created, grown and refined a fantastic 10-week employability programme for young people, which has so far seen 373 graduate and 85% progress into sustainable employment or education.”

Our partnership programme is having a huge impact on the futures of young east Londoners. By exposing them to the world of work and teaching them new skills, we are empowering young people to progress into work or further education. The young people supported through Future Links often come from very challenging backgrounds or circumstances. Last year alone; 59% left school without any GCSEs, 11 had no parents/step-parents who they could depend on, and 6 had children of their own.

Yet, despite this;

  • 46 graduates from the course (78%) moved into a positive next step
  • 28 (47%) moved into sustainable employment in a variety of roles
  • 18 (31%) moved into education or training
  • 46 gained accreditations in areas such as Health & Safety, First Aid, Money Management etc.

The programme’s success also enables us to share our experiences to practitioners and policy-makers nationwide. We have used our experience and learning to date in a submission to the Parliamentary sub-committee on Education, Skills and Economy advocating the need for pre-employment programmes. Following this, we gave evidence to the London Assembly inquiry into diversity in apprenticeships.

The awards, run by Charity Times Magazine, celebrate best practice in the UK charity and not-for-profit sector. This year’s winners will be announced at the Charity Times Awards Gala Dinner and Ceremony on 28 September 2016 at the Park Plaza Westminster Bridge, London.

For more information on Future Links, you can visit this page.

Making apprenticeships work for all Londoners

September 7th, 2016

The London Assembly Economy Committee is today hearing evidence from Community Links on the lack of diversity in apprenticeships in London.

What do you think of when you hear the word ‘apprenticeship’? Most people would associate it with youth, opportunity and work. The reality is that if you are a young Londoner, from an ethnic minority or living in a deprived area, you are less and less likely to reap the rewards of the Government’s expanding apprenticeship scheme.

10 years ago under 19 year-olds made up over half of apprenticeship starts in London. Today that figure stands at just 22%. Those from ethnic minority backgrounds fare little better, being overrepresented in low level apprenticeships in sectors with a history of low pay.

Earlier this year we submitted evidence to the Sub-Committee on Education, Skills and the Economy inquiry into apprenticeships, and called on the Government to address the growing underrepresentation of young people (especially those living in deprived areas). Today the London Assembly Economy Committee wants to know how the Mayor can help increase participation from under-represented groups, in good quality and higher level apprenticeships.

At Community Links we believe the Mayor and Government need to do more to support and prepare young people for apprenticeships, whilst ensuring employers are incentivised to offer the flexibility and understanding to take them on. We prepare thousands of young people in East London for employment each year and know they have the appetite and drive to become successful apprentices or employees, but often lack the social and communication skills. Our Future Links and Talent Match programmes deliver pre-apprenticeship and pre-employment training to young people furthest from the labour market. This training is focused on building individuals confidence, resilience, networks and skills and supporting them through the job application process.

The harsh reality is that the Government recently cut funding rates for the most deprived 16-18 apprentices by up to 50%, effectively disincentivising employers from taking on young people from deprived areas such as Newham. This move will only precipitate the steady decline in the numbers of young Londoner’s entering apprenticeships.

It’s high time we gave young people, ethnic minorities and under-represented groups a fair deal. This starts with ensuring they have the best possible access to high quality pre-apprenticeship training and support. Likewise employers need to be properly incentivised to recruit young people onto apprenticeships and to better understand their needs. Overall the Mayor and the Government should set hard and fast targets to dramatically increase the proportion of under 19-year-old and ethnic minority apprenticeship starts by 2020.

Summer in the city

August 26th, 2016

Five young people are walking slowly in front of me.  The youngest might be 10 or 11. The oldest maybe 14.  At each parked car, and there are many, they try the door handles without breaking step. Catching sight of me they pause silently at the corner shop and wait for me to pass. They don’t go in.  There is no hurry. They have nothing to do.

These kids aren’t on a mission.  They are idle and bored.  For the sake of their young lives as much as for the residents of Canning Town we must hope that nothing has been left unlocked on this hot afternoon. It is easier to make an insurance claim than it is to start adult life with a criminal record.

Later I will look randomly through old annual reports. I will check my memory. 20 years ago, in 1996, we were running 80 holiday play schemes open to all and offering more than 100,000 child day places. In the summer of ‘97, 2200 young people enjoyed a Community Links camping holiday – mostly in Epping Forest but some as far away as Scotland, Wales and even climbing in the Alps. Under the inspired leadership of Kevin Jenkins, now Community Links life president, we were touching the lives of generations for more than 30 years. Other organisations were doing similar good work on a smaller scale.   None of it was rocket science but it was constructive activity, it didn’t cost much, it built relationships and it kept children out of trouble.

Today across East London there is no more than a scattering of voluntary holiday programmes, mostly offering specialist provision. The larger number of commercial care schemes may be okay for the parents who can afford them, but they are expensive and out of reach for most of the families we know. The big, open community play scheme has very largely disappeared along with the statutory grants that paid for it.

Local councils spent £1.2bn on youth work in 2010/11 but, according to the British Youth Council this had fallen to £712m by 2013/14 – a drop of almost 40%  across the UK. The top line number is bad enough but it is worse on the ground because the cuts are disproportionately focused on those embattled authorities, like Newham, which have suffered most from successive and heavy reductions in their government settlement.

This is the harsh and mindless edge of austerity.  Holiday schemes were constructive, effective, fun, cheap and life enhancing.  The alternatives for young people like those in front of me today are none of the above.

Times change and organisations must change too. Community Links  moves positively in new directions but we would like to think that when we stop doing something it is either because the job has been completed or because someone else has found a better way of doing it. I realise with a heavy heart that neither apply in this situation.

A Question of Growth: Preventing Harm and Taking the Longer Perspective

August 23rd, 2016

Over the past month we have been posting a range of guest blogs on the topic of early action growth. In this final blog we attempt to draw out some common themes across them all and highlight the big questions.

 

 

 

In common policy maker parlance “growth” – largely referring to an increase in Gross Domestic Product (GDP) – is often synonymous with “economic success”. By this traditional measure alone it would appear that the economy has not done particularly well since Brexit, with the latest estimates from the National Institute for Economic and Social Research (NIESR) suggesting that in July GDP fell by 0.2%.

Measuring success

In reality GDP is just one indicator. It therefore only captures part of what constitutes “economic success”, and economic success is in itself only one way of thinking about progress. As many of our bloggers suggested in their pieces, this is fundamentally a problem of emphasis. The weight that we give to different measures frames what is recognised as contributing to human progress, and also therefore what is disregarded as unimportant. In this sense it is unhelpful to assume that any growth in GDP is axiomatically a good thing, particularly when we take into account wider social and environmental indicators.

Indeed, as Professor Anne Power of the London School of Economics (LSE) pointed out in her blog, “beneficial growth cannot be measured” by traditional economic indicators such as GDP, profit and Gross Value Added alone, as they are not necessarily “the best drivers of human progress”.

How, then, should we measure and define “good” or “beneficial” growth?

Many of our bloggers would agree that we should be wary of dismissing GDP entirely, with Dan Corry (New Philanthropy Capital) pointing out that this risks alienating policy makers and losing what is a useful, if partial, indicator of economic change. We must therefore supplement it with other concepts and measures. One suggestion, as advocated by most of our authors but particularly strongly by Anna Coote (New Economics Foundation), is to think about well-being: understood here as “the way people feel when they lead a good life, functioning well on personal and social levels”. This can be further expanded to include environmental wellbeing: although some of our authors differed on whether ‘growth’ in and of itself was an intrinsically damaging focus, they all broadly agreed that economic success cannot be decoupled from environmental protection and social progress.

Ultimately since growth is such a deeply embedded concept in our political lexicon, disregarding it doesn’t help us to communicate effectively with policy makers and politicians. However, we can be much clearer about the characteristics of good growth and much more explicit about promoting beneficial growth as opposed to any old growth. We are not attempting to come up with a concrete definition of “beneficial growth” in this summary blog, but it is clear that it has some fundamental elements to it. This was encapsulated by Anne Power when she wrote that we desperately need “a less greedy, more socially just, more equitable and more environmentally sensitive approach to growth”.

Early action is the foundation upon which this can be built.

Beneficial growth and early action 

So what does beneficial growth supported by early action look like in context?

Both Debbie Pippard (from Barrow Cadbury Trust) and Dan Paskins (Big Lottery Fund) suggest we should think differently about how we relate the early action agenda to market forces. Debbie’s argument is that the poverty premium, in which poor people end up paying more for essential services and goods, is hugely problematic not just for moral reasons but for economic ones too. If we could reduce or abolish it, one answer being through collective consumption practices, then we could free up more money for spending in the wider economy. Dan Paskins’ argument mirrors this, calling for early action strategies that “ensure the aggregate benefits of globalisation are shared more equitably”. By investing in early action – arguably the ‘social infrastructure‘ of the UK – we can intervene more efficiently in market failures and societal problems, leaving us with more money to invest in classic growth strategies around physical infrastructure such as transport, education, and science.

The point about investment is crucial. As Caroline Slocock (Civil Exchange) notes, early action is not a cost but an economic investment. We therefore need a positive cycle of investment in early action that clearly yields a return on investment (arguments around investing in science and education to increase our ‘human capital’ already recognises this), and there are already tools out there that can help us to measure this (for example in New Zealand). Other early action areas that are traditionally seen as costs rather than investments include welfare – something the Task Force has written on before – as highlighted by Neil McInroy (CLES), employment support, and mental health.

Ben Jupp (Social Finance) takes (un)employment as his focus, arguing that the massive inequalities individuals with mental health problems face in the labour market constitute “a major drag on our economy”. Governmental attempts to address this have been patchy to date – the Work Programme for example has been particularly unsuccessful at helping those with health problems – but there is hope if we can invest more money in early action activities such as Individual Placement Support that integrates health and employment support, starts with people’s wishes and aspirations, and aims to get people into work they actually want to do as fast as is appropriate. In doing so we can harness people’s potential and enable them to flourish.

Also thinking about mental health, Cliff Prior (Big Society Capital) discusses Social Impact Bonds (SIBs) as a newish form of investment that can yield social and economic benefits. For him – and indeed many of our authors – the argument that it is too costly to invest in early action is glib, particularly when you consider the huge economic and social costs of mental health problems. He points to several SIBs such as Newcastle’s Ways to Wellness and the Fair Chance Fund that are aligning funding from different sources for positive social and economic outcomes for individuals, communities, and for society as a whole.

Do no harm

Bobby Kennedy’s speechwriters did not write the following for our blog, but they could well have done. Of course the specifics are dated (it was written almost fifty years ago), and it is so frequently cited that it’s now a bit clichéd, but it’s worth repeating in full:

“Too much and for too long, we seemed to have surrendered personal excellence and community values in the mere accumulation of material things.  Our Gross National Product, now, is over $800 billion dollars a year, but that Gross National Product – if we judge the United States of America by that – that Gross National Product counts air pollution and cigarette advertising, and ambulances to clear our highways of carnage.  It counts special locks for our doors and the jails for the people who break them.  It counts the destruction of the redwood and the loss of our natural wonder in chaotic sprawl.  It counts napalm and counts nuclear warheads and armored cars for the police to fight the riots in our cities.  It counts Whitman’s rifle and Speck’s knife, and the television programs which glorify violence in order to sell toys to our children. 

“Yet the gross national product does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education or the joy of their play.  It does not include the beauty of our poetry or the strength of our marriages, the intelligence of our public debate or the integrity of our public officials.  It measures neither our wit nor our courage, neither our wisdom nor our learning, neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country, it measures everything in short, except that which makes life worthwhile.  And it can tell us everything about America except why we are proud that we are Americans.”

Therefore thinking about growth in terms of GDP/GNP (themselves not interchangeable terms) alone is unhelpful, and will only lead us down increasingly narrow corridors of thought and action. Relentlessly chasing meaningless targets – take, for example, the incessant focus and triumphalism around record employment figures by the current Government, with no real critique of the quality of the work that people find themselves in – will not create beneficial growth.

Early action provides an opportunity to not only broaden the debate, but to widen the horizons of what we want to achieve and how we want to achieve it. All future growth strategies should therefore take two principles as their starting point: for growth to be truly beneficial it must do no harm – to individuals, communities, or the environment – and take a long term view.

Applying these basic tests to any policy or activity would highlight those that were not likely to lead to beneficial growth – for example, a policy helping people into work, but mainly into poorly paid and insecure jobs – and those that were – for example, employment support that takes into account people’s needs and desires, enabling them to find appropriate, sustainable and fulfilling work.

To steal Cliff Prior’s conclusion: “good growth – sometimes you know it when you see it”.

Seeking the sunshine, then and now

August 18th, 2016

What would James Keir Hardie have done to end the civil war currently engulfing the Labour Party?

Probably not much more than anyone has been able to do in these recent turbulent times. He resigned the leadership of the party in 1908 largely because he couldn’t manage the internal rivalries. The path to what the Labour Party founder and one time MP for West Ham called the “sunshine of socialism was as bitterly contested 108 years ago as it is today. None the less there are lessons to be learnt from a man who truly broke the mould of British politics and who was, and who still remains, a local hero to many in east London

As the modern Labour party lurches like a Saturday night drunk from one clumsy fight to another we have an intriguing opportunity to reflect on the legacy of Keir Hardie.  A new play called “ A splotch of red” retells the story of this pioneering radical. It will run for 4 nights and one afternoon next week in the big hall at Community Links that once echoed to the perorations of the blazing Scotsman.  Written by acclaimed play write (and a Newham resident)  James Kenworth, it is the third in a series of unique collaborations between local young people and established artists. The Independent thought the last one was “terrifically powerful…highly recommended”.

At the time of Keir Hardie’s election in 1892 the borough that we now call Newham was “a little isolated republic outside the vast area of the metropolis where the factory and dockyard workers swept their human rubbish, the flexible labour of those marginalised women and men who powered and serviced the capital, concentrated in overwhelming numbers”.  (Claisse J, Will Thorne, the campaign for West Ham south.) Poverty today is of a different order but the distinctions between the work force in this borough and in some of our more prosperous neighbours is miserably consistent.

Some of Keir Hardies first campaign demands were met long ago –  an old age pension for instance. Others would not be out of place in Canning Town today. Lower and controlled rents, for example, and the taxation of land values are the kind of radical, heavyweight solutions that are needed now to shift the housing problems affecting so many of our current residents.

The new MPs first period in parliament, and tenure as our local MP, was relatively brief. A combination of a patchy performance in Westminster, local divisions and a revitalised opposition, led to his electoral defeat in 1895 but what the then cabinet minister Sir William Vernon Harcourt first described  as a “little splotch of red”  didn’t go away.  The first Labour Council was elected in West Ham four years later and Newham Council has remained Labour controlled ever since.

Of course James Keir Hardie was a 19th century politician and Community Links is a 21st century charity. We are very different animals but the connections are much more than locational. Keir Hardie believed it was important, indeed essential, to share the experience of poverty with the rulers of the day whether or not they wanted to listen. During his time as our local MP his was, often quite literally, a lone voice but he persevered, both in his period here and long after.  This determined visionary never lost his conviction that the world could be a better place.

Talking about poverty however was nowhere near enough. He was later to say “my work has consisted of trying to stir up a divine discontent”. This was the community organising of its day and profoundly pragmatic.

James Keir Hardie both spoke out and enabled the might of other voices to be heard.   Times change but challenges remain. The right principles have timeless application and they still live here.

Tickets for “A splotch of red”, are currently available here and priced at “whatever you can afford”.  I imagine that the driven and passionate man who once sat where I sit today, would have appreciated that.

Early action is vital to tackle the rise of youth violence in Newham

August 12th, 2016

Last month, London Mayor Sadiq Khan pledged £400k for the “growing problems” of youth violence and knife crime in Newham and other parts of London.

The Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime (MOPAC) figures, show there were 6,290 victims of serious youth violence between 2015 and 2016 in London, a 20 per cent rise since 2012-13.

Some 331 of these victims were in Newham.

We are very concerned that the number of reported serious youth violence incidents in Newham has increased dramatically in the last five years.

With nearly 40 years of working in Newham, it is clear to us that there is a definite requirement to help young people and prevent them from getting caught up in gang activity.

The new funding from the Mayor is welcome, however alongside working with young offenders, we need to act earlier and address the wider unemployment, housing insecurity and poverty issues which blight the lives of many young people and too often push them towards violence and crime.

What we are doing to tackle youth violence 

Community Links supports more than 2,200 young people across Newham every year, providing employment, enterprise and community development programmes to help young people build prosperous futures.

Our youth team work with young people at an early stage in schools, reach out to hidden young people through peer-to-peer outreach work and provide safe environments at our youth centres.

Our work with young people who are at high risk of entering gangs, is delivered through a range of dedicated activities via our community hubs, where young people can explore issues relating to gang culture.

We invite police officers to attend our early action workshops with young people to encourage healthy, trusting relationships between the police and young people. These workshops cover the consequences of offending behaviour, substance misuse and its role within gangs, girls and gangs, as well as ex-gang members who share their experiences.

This September we will be launching ‘More than Mentors’ across schools in Newham, which is an early action peer mentoring programme, engaging young people between 13-17 years of age. We will provide support/mentoring & coaching around mental health issues and empower young people to attain higher self-esteem.

 

Carrots, sticks and in-work progression

August 12th, 2016

Applying sanctions to benefit claimants in work remains the elephant in the room as the Work and Pensions Committee publish the Government’s response to their in-work progression in Universal Credit inquiry.

In an age of rising housing costs, stagnating wages and benefit cuts, it goes without saying people want to progress in work and earn more. The question is what role Government should play in enabling progression for claimants who are in low-paid work?

Over the last six months we have been keeping a keen eye on the Government’s emerging in-work progression trials being piloted with 15,000 claimants in Jobcentres across the country. In previous blogs we have called for more progression and less conditionality, alongside greater clarity on the role of Jobcentre work coaches, and the capacity of DWP to deliver this ambitious scheme to 1 million new “customers” by 2020. The Government’s latest response sheds light on some, but not all of these issues.

The carrots

There are reasons for wary optimism. The Government’s response includes a commitment to better understand the skills, experience and training needs of work coaches so they can deliver an effective in-work service. Claimant’s individual circumstances will also be considered, including their skills, confidence, and family and caring responsibilities. The Government say the trials will support employers to open up progression opportunities for people in part-time work (however provide little detail on what this support actually entails). They have also agreed to publish a dedicated information page on the trials, alongside an interim update in 2017.

Whilst these intentions and commitments are commendable, the long-term success of in-work progression is dependent on significantly increasing the capacity of Jobcentres to deliver an in-work service. This comes at a time when the DWP is expected to reduce its day-to-day spending by 19% between 2015-16 and 2019-20. Such belt-tightening poses the danger of a regime of sticks being prioritised over a regime of carrots.

The sticks

In its response, the Government boldly state ‘that active labour market regimes help people into work’, despite there being no hard evidence to support how effective the current system of sanctions is at getting people into sustained employment (a point we reiterated in our recent submission to the National Audit Office benefit sanctions survey). The Government qualify this by saying that sanctions will only be used ‘appropriately’ and ‘as a last resort’, yet they have refused to publish regular data on the numbers of workers being sanctioned. This is of little comfort to hard working claimants who have had their benefits stopped as part of the trials.

Frank Field MP, Chair of the Work and Pensions Committee raised doubts about the Government’s reluctance to publish the number and rate of in-work sanctions on a quarterly basis. He said the committee “want to see that the use of financial sanctions for employed claimants are being applied very differently to those for out-of-work claimants… If financial sanctions are being used appropriately for employed claimants, there is no reason why the DWP should not publish it now.”

The conclusion

The reluctance of the DWP to address the committee’s concerns poses the worrying question: are we going to see a new generation of claimants in work subject to the punitive sanctions which have blighted the lives of many out-of-work claimants in recent years? Community Links has previously called for a full evidence-based review of the sanctions regime. Alongside this we believe the DWP should provide a clear rationale for applying conditionality to claimants in work and regularly publish data on the use of sanctions for this group. Failure to do so could drastically undermine its in-work progression agenda, leaving people feeling like it’s all stick, and no carrot.

A Question of Growth

August 11th, 2016

This blog – originally featured in NewStart Magazine – is written by Neil McInroy, Chief Executive of the Centre for Local Economic Strategies (CLES), and is the ninth in our “A Question of Growth” series. Over the next few weeks we will be posting a new piece every Tuesday and Thursday. You can read all of the previous blogs in this series here.

 

In recent months, there has been a global recognition that we must make growth more ‘inclusive’. In the UK, this has culminated in the RSA announcing an inclusive growth commission.

This is welcome. There is no doubt that in recent years we have neglected what we have known for decades – namely that economic growth does not guarantee poverty reduction and that inequality hampers growth. Indeed, high levels of welfare and low levels of spending power is a shaky basis to a local economy. An inclusive local economy needs the poor to not be poor.

The inclusive growth commission is seeking to identify practical ways to make local economies in the UK more economically prosperous and inclusive. Whilst I have been critical of the inclusive growth agenda generally, I am supportive of anything specific. We must turn empathy and concern over poverty and inequality into action.

In that spirit, I now highlight some key questions and themes which I think are central to the commission’s work.

  1. Aim for an inclusive economy, not just inclusive growth. The inclusive growth commission must not draw its terms of reference and focus too narrowly. Inclusive growth is about making growth inclusive. This may be limiting. This matters. Many post-industrial, coastal and rural local economies struggle economically and may have no or little growth to make ‘inclusive’. How do they fit it into this agenda? Furthermore, the global economy is not that robust and our national economy may feel the ill winds. We therefore need to be thinking much more about the heterogeneous nature of our local economies and focus on resilience. We must build an inclusive economy and society, not just growth.
  2. Question the prevailing agglomeration model for our cities. Agglomeration is the dominant local economic model. This fully complies with HM Treasury version of the English economic state and the role of local economies in it. This model favours city centre economies, and has winners- firms who enjoy flexible labour markets, rentiers, and those who work within new high end jobs accrued through creative proximity. This approach has dis-economies (in terms of pollution, congestion, and aggressive gentrification). It also has losers – city region peripheries, smaller towns and the low skilled. We must look at areas beyond city centres to outer boroughs. We must focus much more on local supply chains and ensure investment to local small businesses is on an equal footing to global corporates and global investors. We must challenge boomgoggling.  Growth through agglomeration is not the only path and neither should it be the pre-eminent one.
  3. Accelerate new forms of ownerships and local wealth retention. Local economic growth too often follows a complacent set of thinking –  the economy grows, more jobs are created and then people are assumed to be better off. But the problem is that wealth stays with the wealthiest and does not filter down to the poorest. Trickle down is just that- a trickle.  The commission needs to look at the ways in which we can develop wider local ownership and retention of wealth. This includes new institutional forms of ownership which tie wealth to local people. This includes accelerating the potential of the foundational economy and local ownership of utilities and seek to advancecommunity wealth building.
  4. Challenge an unfair austerity. The poorest areas are suffering the most. Austerity is stymying the ability of public services to innovate and make creative inputs into successful economies. For all the talk of a ‘devolution revolution’, the fact is that any resource devolved through city deals is relatively small beer compared to the scale of cuts to local government and wider public sector.  Austerity is creating exclusion, hardship and a social recession.
  5. Open up and democratise economic decision-making. To be in poverty is not just about lack of money or opportunity, it’s also about lack of power over decisions which affect you. In this local economic decision-making is too often exclusive – too frequently between the interests of financial capital and the big local and nation state. This is especially the case with devolution and city deals. How do we democratise decision-making to involve small and medium sized enterprise, citizens and the poor?
  6. Treat welfare and social policy as investments. As its stands, welfare is broadly seen as a cost and drain on society. Alternatively, it should be seen as an investment in human capital and a critical factor in individual and collective productivity and local economic success. We must reshape local economic development policy, so thateconomic and social growth outcomes are wedded and interdependent. In this we must challenge a devolution model which has broadly omitted the social inputs to economic success, including welfare, employment policy and education.
  7. Will the commission be brave and convey truth to power? The setting up of the inclusive growth commission is an admission that we have a problem with local and national economic policy. Of course, the commission should be pragmatic, but this does not mean blind support to existing power and the prevailing policy direction. Individual commissioners must acknowledge the power imbalance, where wealth and power influences the fortunes of the poor and powerless. The commissioners will empathise with the poorest and the havenots. And they must also be on their side when conveying the necessary truths to power.

Overall, the plans to build a more inclusive growth model faces a choice. On the one hand the commission can add a stronger social face to an economy which works for the few, not the many. In this, they will reveal some of the problems of growth and this will prompt some policy changes. However, will the commission’s recommendations alter the longstanding frame to local economic activity – where productivity and growth has a pre-eminent position and is viewed as having much higher importance than that of inequality and poverty?

On the other hand, they can put tackling deprivation, inequality and poverty at the centre, and remake local economic policy. To do this will require a disruption of prevailing policy, on the ground action, some radical social innovation and a step far beyond what has gone before. Many of the most excluded are relying on this step change. I wish the commission a fair wind and a brave heart.

Neil McInroy is Chief Executive of the Centre for Local Economic Strategies (CLES).

A Question of Growth

August 9th, 2016

This blog is written by Debbie Pippard, Head of Programmes at the Barrow Cadbury Trust, and is the eighth in our “A Question of Growth” series. Over the next few weeks we will be posting a new piece every Tuesday and Thursday. You can read all of the previous blogs in this series here.

 

The Early Action Task Force argues that by using financial resources differently, and acting earlier, we can help everyone to thrive, reduce costs to public services, and enable people to contribute more to their communities and society. The first of these is undoubtedly a social and moral good, the second saves the public purse, and the third has the potential to contribute to national economic growth. Other bloggers have challenged the wisdom of economic growth as an end in itself, and argued that we should not use it as a reason to invest in early action.  But can we look at market forces in a different way?  Can we use the levers provided by our economic system to make more of the resources we have, by enabling individuals to be agents of change in the economy?

The income of many people in the UK is insufficient for them to live on.  Making ends meet becomes a struggle: there may be choices to be made between food and heat, new shoes and an evening meal.  Finding and staying in work is difficult if travel costs are prohibitive, and mental and physical health problems are more likely to occur in households under financial strain.

Those who struggle to make ends meet pay a penalty: the poverty premium. Being poor is expensive.  For example paying for gas and electricity through pre-payment meters is more expensive than being billed.  Low credit scores bar access to low cost loans, and small weekly budgets mean that bulk buying food and household necessities becomes impossible.  If we could reduce or abolish the poverty premium, funds in poorer households would be released to spend in the wider economy: savings on expensive fuel costs for example could be spent on a family break, or on buying something for the house.  Local economies would be greatly boosted by increased purchasing power and, unlike those in the upper income brackets who tend to spend any spare cash on luxury goods and services, those with smaller amounts to spend are more likely to shop locally.

A possible model of how we might reduce costs is illustrated by Scope’s Extra Costs Commission, funded by the Barrow Cadbury Trust.  Disabled people face a substantial disability premium, analogous to the poverty premium, spending an average of £550 per month just on disability-related expenditure.  If this spending was reduced, funds would be released for spending on other things, thus potentially boosting the economy, as well as improving health and wellbeing (and thus reducing demands on public services).

Many campaigns for disabled people focus on the need for more resources, calling for a reinstatement of lost benefits, or additional support for the activities of work and daily living.  Scope’s Commission turned this on its head, by exploring how costs could be driven down through harnessing the collective purchasing power of disabled people and their families.

There are 12 million disabled people in the UK, and collectively their household expenditure totals £212 billion per year.  This represents a very substantial consumer movement.  There are plenty of examples of how self-identified sections of the population, such as older people and the LGBT community have successfully used their shared identity and purchasing power to change the market place (think collective action on insurance, lobbying for better customer service, businesses specialising in holidays for older people).

Scope’s Commission calls for disabled people to flex their consumer power by getting behind a “purple pound”.  Social media and the availability of technology platforms mean that collective purchasing is easier than ever before. The strength in numbers of disabled people means that they can press for better deals on goods and services, as well as demanding access to things that non-disabled people enjoy as a matter of course.    Scope identifies others with a part to play: for example disability organisations could set up affiliate schemes to attract discounts and deals, and could broker better deals on energy, insurance and bulk purchasing.  Businesses could do more to recognise the needs and aspirations of disabled people and their families, and growth would be made possible by tapping into the new commercial opportunities available.  Regulators and government should step in where disabled people are under-served.

By recognising the needs, wishes and consumer power of disabled people, money currently wasted on expensive, sometimes poor quality, goods and services could be better spent.  Local economies would be boosted; health and wellbeing improved, and the stimulus created by a new consumer movement market could even encourage in innovation, something the UK traditionally excels in.

By approaching an issue from a different angle and harnessing the power of consumerism and the market, we can help people to be agents of change both in their own lives and the wider economy.

 

Debbie Pippard is Head of Programmes at the Barrow Cadbury Trust and a member of the Early Action Task Force and Early Action Funders’ Alliance. She has a background in funding, charity leadership and the public sector.