Community Links

Community Links blog

Archive for the ‘employment’ Category

Nurturing relationships: The test of a shared society

Monday, January 16th, 2017

How many contacts do you have stored on your phone? The head of an adolescent mental health unit once told me that his patients typically had 6 to 10 contacts listed and most of those people were likely to be professional helpers like himself. Social isolation could be both a cause and a consequence of his young patient’s ill health. It was certainly a common characteristic.

I was thinking about this when I read about the Age Concern research published last week revealing that “Half a million people over the age of 60 usually spend each day alone, with no interaction with others, and nearly half a million more commonly do not see or speak to anyone for five or six days a week”.

And whilst we are on the subject of alarming numbers an Action for Children survey of 2,000 parents in 2015 found that almost a quarter said they ‘always or often’ felt lonely.

Social isolation is not a problem for the young or for the old. It is a galloping crisis for us all

Last week we wondered on this blog whether a “shared society” is empty rhetoric or the PM’s genuine intention. If the phrase has any serious substance our collective ability to reconnect with one another, or at least to reverse the trends, must surely be the test.

The consequences may vary – loneliness, ill health, long term unemployment etc. – but the roots are the same. School performance, economic opportunities, physical and mental health, and ultimately life expectancy are all substantially influenced by the strength and depth of our social connections. Very few of us glide effortlessly through life without ever experiencing any difficulty. Our capacity for coping and bouncing back depends in part on our readiness, our acquired skills and strengths, and in part on the support around us, the networks and relationships which sustain and recharge us.

We often make the case for early action but nowhere is it more self-evidently essential. As the Early Action Task Force has noted befriending schemes are important but not sufficient. They are to loneliness what food banks are to poverty – an essential response to a crisis but not a long term solution. The early action response to isolation would involve a commitment to sustained community building throughout the life course – essentially what much of Community Links work on the ground has been all about for almost 40 years.

As we explored on this blog a few weeks ago technology has, in recent years, swept into every corner of our lives often, in the process, sweeping out friendships and relationships. We think people change lives, not transactions. Valuing and developing this element of deep value in our services here, and working to embed it more broadly across the public domain is another long standing priority for Community Links and now more urgent than ever.

The most useful work experience placements or internships are invariably shared across “warm networks” and as many as 8 out of 10 new jobs go to people known to the employer. The old cliché about it not being “what you know but who you know” is still a fair comment on the state of social mobility and, more broadly, on the distribution of opportunity in communities like ours. Building networks, and nurturing the confidence to negotiate them, is the focus of Community Links programmes like Future Links which won a Charity Times Award last October. It isn’t rocket science but it is important and it does work.

Incidental Connections showed that there is no single right way to build communities and to nurture effective and meaningful relationships but doing it better in 2017 may well be the single highest priority for organisations like ours, Jobcentres, GPs, police officers, schools, and indeed any agency in the public domain. Whether Theresa May is, or is not, seriously committed to building a shared society, we should be.

Six ways society can act earlier for mental health

Friday, November 25th, 2016

On the 9th December, the Early Action Task Force will be publishing its newest report: ‘Thriving Minds: Acting Early on Mental Health‘. Within the report we’ve focused on six areas, although we could have doubled this list as mental health runs through everything in a circle of cause and effect. Below is a snapshot of our thinking on how society can act early on mental health.

 photo Six ways to act early on mental health_zpsndcbvjeb.jpg
1. Education

Half of all diagnosable mental health conditions in adults begin before the age of 14

Given the above statistic, our school years present a significant opportunity to promote positive mental health early. School can take measures to promote positive mental health, such as the whole-school approach of the Mancroft Advice Project. Local and central governments also need to ensure that their policies are focused on promoting positive mental health in children through collaboration with local services and reducing the pressure of exams.

2. Work

Mental health problems account for 47% of long term absences from work

If people felt they wouldn’t be stigmatised for having a mental health problem, they’d be much more likely to disclose this and take time off earlier to prevent their mental health from reaching crisis point. Training in Mental Health First Aid can aid understanding and reduce stigma, whilst organisational approaches such as ‘happier@work’ can make workplaces a more mentally positive place to be. Of course, some people may still fall ill and need time off work, so it’s also important that employment support services are tailored to those with mental health needs to enable them to get back into sustainable, good quality work.

3. Money

Problem debt makes a person twice as likely to develop a mental health problem

At present, a significant number of people are caught up in a vicious cycle of mental health problems and problem debt. By reducing the amount of problem debt people take on, improving early access to advice, and changing debt collection practices, we can act earlier to ensure the cycle is broken. CAB’s ‘Healthy Advice’ scheme is a good example of how services are innovating to ensure they are reaching the people who need advice as early as possible.

4. Criminal Justice

90% of prisoners have a mental health problem

The criminal justice system is host to many people at the sharp end of the collective failure to act earlier for mental health. Yet the system can play a role in creating an alternative for these people. We’ve come across excellent examples of Street Triage and Liaison & Diversion schemes which divert people away from the criminal justice system and into the care they need. Acting earlier also means making prisons mentally healthy environments, so they aren’t creating or exacerbating mental health problems for offenders who will eventually leave prison. Finally, the majority of offenders do not go to prison, so it is important that probation services are equipped to provide support in the community, as well as ensuring offenders are ready to re-enter society.

5. Housing

Renters are 75% more likely to experience serious anxiety and depression than homeowners

Insecurity in the private rented sector, as a result of a lack of affordability, short-term tenures, and poor conditions, is a significant damaging factor to private renters’ mental health. Accordingly, it is important that these issues are tackled in order to reduce the likelihood of mental illness and promote positive mental health – the Private Housing (Tenancies) (Scotland) Act 2016 is a promising start but more needs to be done.

6. Communities

Chronic loneliness is a comparable risk factor for early death as smoking 15 cigarettes a day

Local services can play an important role in preventing loneliness and fostering social connection, ranging from highly formal services explicitly aimed at connecting people, to the more incidental connections that are created through the varied community spaces and events that we might engage with on a day to day basis for other purposes entirely. Building these connections can positively influence the way that we think about ourselves and our communities, in turn promoting better mental health, as demonstrated by Haringey Thinking Space.

 

It is evident that if we are to act earlier to promote positive mental health, we need to be acting before people need to engage with mental health services. In order to achieve this, it is essential that we recognise the current crisis in mental health as a social crisis, as opposed to simply a healthcare crisis. In acknowledging that mental health is everyone’s responsibility, sectors should act together to share the cost of early action, as well as the resultant benefits – the triple dividend of enabling people to lead thriving lives, whilst costing less to public services and contributing more to our economy.

If you’re interested in the ideas we’ve raised here and would like to know more, please sign up to our mailing list to ensure you receive a link to the report when it is published. You can also attend our discussion on early action for mental health, hosted by the Big Lottery Fund, on Friday 9th December from 9.30am-12pm. For further information and to register for a free ticket, please visit our Eventbrite page.

Surviving today, jam tomorrow

Monday, November 21st, 2016

Speaking today at the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) conference, Jeremy Corbyn will argue for long-term public intervention for “the common good”He will highlight how the Prime Minister’s mantra of people “just about managing”, now known as ‘Jams’ in Whitehall, doesn’t ring true for many who instead find themselves “just about surviving”. A combination of policy changes and market failures mean this group are forced to continuously cope with immediate challenges rather than being enabled to find sustainable ways out of poverty.

Back in 2014, we published our third report analysing the cumulative impact of welfare reform in East London. It was called “Just About Surviving”, and explored the ways in which individuals and families were struggling to cope with changes to the social security system.

We found that the reforms were putting people into highly stressful situations, often left feeling powerless and trapped in poverty. People were cycling in in and out of poorly paid and precarious employment, constantly juggling diminishing incomes, and making choices that no-one should be forced to make; going without meals so that their children could eat, washing clothes by hand as they couldn’t afford to replace a broken washing machine, and walking long distances to work in the early hours of the morning.

These coping strategies meant that most of them were just about getting by. But only just. People were living on the edge, drawing on finite sources of support where it was available, and increasingly reliant on friends and family as official support was – and is – cut closer to the bone.

The worsening situation

As Corbyn will note, low wages, precarious employment, and high housing costs are pushing these strategies beyond breaking point. Our research shows that this isn’t a new story, and has been a feature of life in the UK for several years now. Structural issues with the labour and housing markets combine with regressive and counter-productive social security reforms to ensure that people are trapped in a cycle of survival; making short term choices that just about keep them afloat for another week or two, but often reduce their possibility of escaping in the future. This short-termism is mirrored in policy making. Measures such as Discretionary Housing Payments (DHP), for example, provide a vital lifeline for many, but rarely come with the support to make sustainable improvements to their lives like finding secure and adequately paid employment or more affordable housing.

As research by Policy in Practice shows, families are set to be £2,500 a year worse off by 2020 due to welfare reform. Whilst this is an important figure and illustrates the scale of the problem, it only tells us part of the story. It doesn’t get at crucial information such as what kinds of coping strategies people may or may not have exhausted. It won’t tell us how the cuts affect individual adults, children, or communities. Nor does it tell us the broader effect on local organisations who are already struggling to meet demand in an increasingly difficult funding environment. We will therefore continue to shed light on these issues through our qualitative research on the cumulative impact of welfare reform, focussing in particular on how Universal Credit affects both those in and out of work.

We are also going to start looking at some of the underlying issues that cause and exacerbate problems for those who are just about surviving. Over the next year we will be conducting in-depth research into the private rented sector, aiming to understand how poor quality housing, overcrowding, and unaffordability can affect people’s health, education, employment and communities. We hope that by doing so we will be able to show that a lack of action by government on these issues is self-defeating and short sighted, as not only will it damage lives, but will increase costs as the demand for services continues to soar.

Moving beyond survival

The problem with the depiction of people as “just about managing” is that it evokes an image of relatively secure individuals and families who face the occasional high fuel bill. It insinuates that they can easily work their way out of their predicament if they just put their minds to it. In turn this leads to policy responses that are partial, short-term, and ultimately unable to enable people to find a sustainable route out of poverty. These responses are also unlikely to solve our low productivity problem, also highlighted in Corbyn’s speech.

The reality for those who are “just about surviving” is far worse than the Prime Minister seems willing to admit. Until we act earlier on the root causes of the problems that this group faces, any progress made via tweaks to the system is likely to stutter and stall before too long. If we want people to thrive, then a long-term investment in society is what we desperately need; more affordable housing, greater job security, better relationships, and a social security system that promotes opportunity rather than acts as a last resort.

Where next for the benefit sanctions rollercoaster?

Friday, October 21st, 2016

Looking at a graph of benefit sanctions statistics since 2010, it has more in common with a nerve-racking rollercoaster ride than a DWP dataset. For many benefit claimants, that’s exactly what it has been. 

Between 2010 and 2013 the number of sanctions against people claiming Job Seekers Allowance more than doubled, from a rate of 533,000 a year to an eye-watering peak of over one million. Since then they have almost halved, raising the question: why the great rise and fall in sanctions in the space of just a few years and where will they go from here?

Benefit sanctions (where a claimants benefits are reduced or stopped for a period of time) are a pertinent issue for Community Links. Through our delivery of the Work Programme we are obliged to ‘raise doubts’, often leading to claimants being sanctioned, while through our advice services we regularly support clients who have been sanctioned. For many years, Community Links – alongside others in the third sector and academia – has campaigned against the punitive use of sanctions as they have driven many of our service users into destitution and away from the Government’s stated aim of encouraging people into work.

Why the great rise?

In 2010, the Coalition Government’s new Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Iain Duncan Smith, signalled the starting gun in a statement to the House of Commons: “we expect co‐operation from those who are seeking work. That is why we are developing a regime of sanctions for those who refuse to play by the rules.”

The impact was immediate, resulting in more Job Seekers Allowance (JSA) and Employment Support Allowance (ESA) claimants being sanctioned and more people likely to receive multiple sanctions. At the same time sanctions also increased in severity, in terms of length for JSA claimants, and in terms of length and income reduction for ESA.

Adding to this, the numbers of people unfairly sanctioned also increased dramatically. One of our service users, who was strongly work-orientated, explained how powerless and destitute not being able to attend a job interview due to an incorrect decision made her feel.

“I had times when I literally had no food and no gas. I just lay in my bed looking at the walls. I couldn’t travel or make any calls. I couldn’t even afford to get the bus to sign-on, but I knew that if I didn’t go I’d be suspended again. It’s like a vicious cycle. I turned up to the Jobcentre actually hungry. I hadn’t eaten for two days and I was scared that if I was five minutes late they might suspend me again – it really wasn’t easy.”

The increased numbers of claimants being sanctioned for failing to participate in training and employment support – largely via the Work Programme – had a significant impact on the overall rise in sanctions, and in 2014 this accounted for 31% of all sanction decisions. Another factor attributed to the rise was the DWP raising its off-flow targets (the removal of claimants from the unemployment register) for Jobcentres. Although the Government has repeatedly stated that sanctions targets do not exist and that they are only imposed as a “last resort”, there have been numerous reported incidences of Jobcentre staff being put under pressure to impose financial penalties on benefit claimants in order to meet staff performance standards.

And then the fall?

As with the unprecedented rise, Government have never provided a clear explanation for the precipitous fall in JSA sanctions since their peak in 2013. The fall in JSA claimants (dropping 49% between 2013 and 2015 due to the labour market recovery) obviously had a large part to play.  However, the monthly rate of sanctions as a proportion of JSA claimants has also halved during this period, suggesting a significant change in policy.

Other key factors influencing the downward trend have been a reduction in referrals of claimants to the Work Programme and the growing number of claimants being transferred from JSA to Universal Credit (UC), for which sanctions statistics are not yet available.

Whilst the continued demise of sanctions is welcome, and the work of charities and others who influenced this change should be commended, they still cause untold hardship and misery, even if it is for a smaller number of claimants. For many of our clients, a sanction means going hungry, being unable to heat their home, and in some cases not being able to afford the bus fare to meet a Jobcentre advisor in order to find work.

The future of sanctions

The noises from the new Government indicate a potentially more constructive approach to social security. The new Work and Pensions Secretary, Damian Green, has said that there will be ‘no new search for cuts in individual welfare benefits’, and has scrapped reassessments for chronically-ill disabled people seeking to claim ESA. His predecessor had already introduced a “warning period” for those facing a sanction. However, this does not mean that the rollercoaster that many of our most vulnerable service users have been on will not rise again.

A commitment to no new cuts in welfare benefits could in itself be an incentive for Government to seek cost savings through increasing benefit ‘off-flows’ and hence increasing sanction rates. The introduction of in-work conditionality in Universal Credit (UC) and the new Work and Health Programme will introduce new sources of sanctions in the coming years, though it’s still unclear the balance it will adopt between support and punishment.

Community Links will continue to make the case for sanctions to only be used as a last option. In submissions to the Work and Pensions Committee and National Audit Office we have continued our call for a full evidence-based review of the sanctions regime, as well as asking the DWP to provide a clear rationale for applying conditionality to UC claimants in work. We believe that the focus of any regime should be about supporting people into sustainable and fulfilling employment, rather than ensuring compliance, which too often results in destitution on the one hand, or forcing people into unsuitable, low paid insecure work on the other.

Dr David Webster, October 2016, Explaining the rise and fall of JSA and ESA sanctions 2010-16

‘A country that works for everyone’ requires investment in our social infrastructure

Tuesday, October 4th, 2016

The government’s new mantra, ‘a country that works for everyone’, was the central theme of the Chancellor’s speech at the Conservative party conference yesterday. However, whilst his analysis of why we voted for Brexit – “large parts of our country feel left behind” – and the uncertainty it evokes was convincing, his answers to these problems were less so.

In contrast to many other commentators, I was left with a feeling of déjà vu after watching his speech. True, he seems less keen on blindly pursuing austerity than his predecessor and perhaps more amenable to increasing investment, but the apparent focus of this potential investment drive remains similar to George Osborne’s; Hammond signalled that it would largely comprise of “targeted public investment in high value [physical] infrastructure”. However, as we argued following the previous Chancellor’s Spending Review last year, it would be a wasted opportunity to invest in physical infrastructure alone.

A missed opportunity

If this government truly wants to deliver “an economy that works for everyone… not just for today, but for future generations too” then we must also increase investment in our country’s social infrastructure. This can be anything from enabling children to be ready for school, to ensuring that people who leave prison are provided with jobs, friends and houses to prevent them from re-offending. Alongside important physical and economic infrastructures this is what will yield the greatest amount of prosperity, as argued by many contributors to our A Question of Growth blog series earlier this year (a summary of which you can read here. In the language of the Early Action Task Force: investing wisely and early in social wellbeing yields a triple dividend: thriving lives, costing less, and contributing more.

To date previous governments have consistently failed to deliver on this front, but with the delayed time-frame for implementing austerity we now have the perfect opportunity to ensure that this government does not follow the same path.

Investing in society

It is clear that the Chancellor has already decided he wants to invest more, so now the fundamental question is in what? In his speech he rightly celebrated the potential for a long term vision enabled by the creation of the National Infrastructure Commission, the remit of which is to “prioritise and plan… test value for money… [and] ensure that every penny spent on infrastructure is properly targeted to deliver maximum benefit”. It is just a shame that this is narrowly focused on physical infrastructure alone.

It would be a bold yet sensible to widen its remit or set up a whole new commission on early action investment: identifying those areas where investment in our nation’s social infrastructure could yield the greatest returns and then ensuring that money is available to enable individuals and communities to reach their potential. This is the only way that the new government can deliver a “strong, prosperous economy” that “works for everyone”, addressing those all-important ‘burning injustices’ identified by the Prime Minister in her inaugural speech.

Partnership success that builds brighter futures for young people

Thursday, September 29th, 2016

Last night Community Links and our corporate partners Bank of New York Mellon won the Corporate Community Local Involvement Charity Times Award for our Future Links employability programme.

Since 2009 this fantastic project has enabled hundreds of young people furthest from the labour market to develop the necessary skills to progress into work or further education, with 85% of our graduates moving into a positive destination.

Our CEO, Arvinda Gohil, who attended the awards, said:

“I am delighted at this result, many congratulations and well done to everyone who was involved and continues to be involved in this great partnership. My particular thanks and congratulations to the young people who have participated in this programme and made it such a success over the last 8 years.”        

Key to the programme’s success is the longstanding partnership and support of our corporate sponsor BNY Mellon. Long-term partnerships with companies are invaluable to organisations like Community Links, enabling us to plan ahead, build our sustainability and innovate. This national recognition of the strong local partnership we’ve developed provides an opportunity to reflect on what’s key to a successful relationship between a charity and a company.

Future Links supports young people aged between 16-19 years old who live in Newham and who are not in education, employment or training (NEET). The training is focused on building the confidence, resilience, networks and skills of our young people and supporting them through the job application process. Alongside being the sole funder of Future Links, BNY Mellon plays an important role in the programme delivery. Participants visit their offices twice during each 10 week course – receiving support from employees with their CVs and interview skills and attending a graduation celebration at the end.

Future Links success would not be possible without the support of BNY Mellon and our skilled and committed programme staff, who dedicate so much time, energy and enthusiasm to the young people they work with. At the end of the day, Future Links’ success is a reflection on the hundreds of young people who have worked so hard over the years, and who have built brighter futures for themselves, their families and their communities.

Community Links and BNY Mellon announced as Charity Times Awards finalists

Monday, 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

Wednesday, 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.

Carrots, sticks and in-work progression

Friday, 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

Thursday, July 28th, 2016

This blog is written by Ben Jupp, a director at Social Finance, and is the fifth 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.

 

By many assessments, persistent poor health has a more negative impact on people’s wellbeing than any other factor. Unemployment is the second most detrimental.

For those suffering ill-heath and lacking a job, the consequences can be incredibly damaging for them as individuals and for our economy. The challenges often reinforce each other, with poor health making it difficult to get a job, whilst recovery from mental and some physical illnesses often hampered by unemployment.

Despite the severity of these problems, as a society and economic system our recent track record in addressing them is lamentable – those out of the labour market for long periods of time are now typically have a physical or mental health condition. For those with mental health conditions, for example, surveys indicate that between seven and nine out of ten wish to be employment. Yet only around four in ten are currently in work, and among those with a severe mental illness the proportion drops to fewer than one in ten. All told, nearly 5 million people of working age with a long term health condition or disability are not in employment. The proportion rises considerably once people are in their fifties and early sixties.

Collectively, these very difficult individual circumstances now represent a major drag on our economy and the government’s fiscal health. The Department of Work and Pensions estimate, for example, that GDP would grow by around 1% if people could typically work an extra year before retirement. For those out of work, the cost to government of lost taxes and increased welfare payments frequently exceeded £10,000 each year.

As economic uncertainty threatens growth over the coming years, this is one area where earlier action could play a major role to support growth as well as improvements in individual wellbeing.

To good news is that Britain can do much better than recently. For example, we currently languish towards the bottom of the league of developed countries in regard to the employment of people with mental health conditions. Likewise, although retirement ages are rising, we estimate that there are still around 700,000 people who are involuntary retired due to ill health or a disability.

So how could government, employers and civil society start to turn this position around?

Over the last two decades there have been plenty of examples of what not to do, and also some positive approaches to build upon.

The current flagship employment support programme – the Work Programme – has had relatively little success for those with significant health conditions and disabilities. The reasons are various, but typically include: insufficient resources to help people with greatest needs; delays and barriers in receiving appropriate support; and a lack of understanding about the support needs of those with health conditions by some ‘generic’ employment advisors and a lack of trust between recipients and providers of employment support.

We believe that there are much better approaches available.

At the heart of a better model for helping people re-enter and sustain work needs to be the relationships which people already have with the health service and their employers. These represent the foundations of trust and understanding which can allow people to receive the support and encouragement they need. Another central principle should be to help people to fulfil their desires and potential, rather than forcing them into jobs which they do not want.

A great example of applying these two principles is an approach to helping those with severe mental health conditions called Individual Placement and Support. Individual Placement and Support provides integrated employment support as part of people’s recovery from mental ill-health. It starts with people’s wishes: it is always a voluntary programme which seeks to quickly get them into a real, paid job of their choice, rather than squeezing them into any job or a ‘make work’ scheme. It uses employment advisers who are integrated with the rest of the mental health team supporting people’s recovery. It has sufficient resources to allow people to be supported once they enter employment rather than just pushing them into a job and then abandoning them.

In Britain, and around the world, that this approach is now demonstrating impact for those with severe mental illness. Two weeks ago, for example, I was talking to the leader of an Individual Placement and Support service attached to one of the large London mental health trusts. Of 500 referred to the service last year, 270 found a job. Randomised Control Trials also indicate that it is far more effective than more traditional models of employment support for these groups. That is why Health and Employment Partnerships – a new social organisation dedicated to helping those with health conditions improve their wellbeing through fulfilling, sustained employment – is backing the growth of Individual Placement and Support in three areas.

More broadly, the principles of Individual Placement and Support can be applied much more widely than to those with a severe mental health condition. For example, employment support and social care support could be better integrated for many people with learning disabilities. Those with more moderate mental and physical health conditions may benefit from more integrated primary care and employment support.

For those approaching the later stages of their career, and who are beginning to be held back by health conditions, it is important to act before they leave the labour market. Relationships with employers are crucial to this, enabling people manage moves to less physically demanding roles either within or beyond their current organisation. Just relying on employers is not, however, always going to be sufficient. It may be important to draw on the relationships people with the health service, or separately funded support, to build a plan which meets their aspirations for older age and allows them to keep working.

Over the last year, there have been positive signs that government is better recognising this need for more integrated and personalised employment support for those with health conditions. The recent five year mental health strategy announced £100 million for employment programmes including expanding Individual Placement and Support. Employment programmes are being developed to give more of a focus to health more generally. A new central government Health and Work Unit is supporting innovation and learning. This is being matched by strong interest for new models by new ‘city-region’ combined authorities with devolved powers such as Greater Manchester and the West Midlands.

Yet we should not underestimate the further changes which will be required to stimulate a fundamental shift in the employment of those with health conditions. Cultures in both employment and health services will need to evolve significantly. Funding flows and incentives will need to be realigned. Obligations on employers will need to be reconsidered. As we look to develop an early action economy and society, in my mind there is no more pressing an issue around which central government, local services, professions, business and civil society need to come together.

Ben Jupp is a member of the Early Action Taskforce. He is a director at Social Finance and Chair of Health and Employment Partnerships. He was previously Director of Public Services Strategy and Innovation in the Cabinet Office.