Tag Archives: big society

From Party Conferences, to the House of Lords and on to the BBC

The last few weeks have been incredibly hectic and I have really struggled to find time to share all the exciting things that have been happening, as we work to make the Community Allowance a reality. I last posted just before the Conservative Party Conference – so that seems like a good place to start…..

Conservative Party Conference – Fringe event

Oxfam recently adopted the Community Allowance as one of their key campaigns to tackle poverty in the UK. They offered to support us to run fringe meetings at the Party Conferences providing us with an opportunity to talk to MP’s about the Community Allowance difference. I attended the Conservative Party Conference, along with one of our partners Learning Link’s CEO Zoe Gray. Our fringe was a real success with a lively and interesting audience, really getting to the heart of issues and enabled us to show how successful community organisations are at supporting people back into work.

House of Lords evening reception

The new Work Programme is due to be launched next summer and will replace all existing training and support programmes for unemployed people. In order to ensure that the Community Allowance is included in the Work Programme we need to develop strong partnerships with a number of large multi-million pound Welfare to Work providers. To help us meet as many providers as possible Baroness Stedman- Scott, offered to host an evening reception at the House of Lords, so we could explain what the Community Allowance could offer.

The reception was a real success with CEO’s and Directors from 12 of the largest Welfare to Work companies meeting with community organisations who want to deliver the Community Allowance. St Peter’s Partnership were able to explain the real difference it would make to their work and their community. We also heard from one young person who’s mum had been supported by St Peter’s Partnership to find work and the challenges her mum had overcome. It was a real great night and I am now starting work on turning the promises made on the night into firm commitments that will finally enable organisations like St Peters Partnership to develop Community Allowance for their communities.

BBC News

Yesterday I was invited by the BBC to talk about the government’s announcement to introduce compulsory unpaid manual work for unemployed people (BBC Interview here). I stressed that if our shared goal is to support people back into work that we need to offer good quality training, support and real work experience – that reflects the local job market – so people have the opportunity to gain the skills and experience to get a job.

I contrasted a 4 week compulsory programme where unemployed people worked for 30 hours “litter picking” or “gardening” – with our approach – a comprehensive training and support programme that creates a part-time job which reflects local jobs e.g. landscaping. We would offer a part-time paid job, where people can gain experience of really working in the landscaping industry, the type of work and machinery involved, the qualifications required and an up to date reference.

I didn’t have time to raise the other Community Allowance difference – the impact on communities. Creating local jobs within community organisations gives a real boost to the ability of those organisations to safeguard vital services and to develop new ones to meet local need. In a time of ongoing cuts and threats to services – we need practical and affordable solutions, which can deliver for unemployed people and local communities.

So an interesting four weeks which lots of talking and finding common ground – now I am looking forward to being able to tell you about who we will be working with to deliver the Community Allowance.

With best wishes

Louise

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Benefits reform – will it fail David Cameron’s Big Society Challenge?

David Cameron has always been clear that that Building the Big Societyisn’t just the responsibility of one or two government departments” but  the “responsibility of  all government departments” . As we have been finishing off our response to the government’s plans for benefits reform  (21st Century Welfare). We have focused on a fundemental area that the consultation fails to mention, yet David Cameron has made a top priority for the government – the importance of communities in developing local solutions. The single largest element of government spend in most deprived communities is the billions it spends in benefit and welfare to work costs. So we have asked Iain Duncan Smith how he will ensure that the millions of pounds spent is an investment in local communities and supports David Cameron’s vision of a  Big Society?

 In order to recognise the importance of local communities in welfare reform we are proposing an eighth principle to guide welfare reform (Q5 of the consultation document)

 Individual claimants live in communities. Welfare policy should harness the power of communities to support the individual’s transition into work and welfare spend should be an investment in local communities as well as individuals.

 The Community Allowance offers a practical and affordable way to unlock the potential of communities to create new jobs, support individuals back into work and transform communities.

 The Community Allowance would create new jobs by enabling community organisations to pay local unemployed people to do part time, sessional or short-term work that strengthens their neighbourhood. The unemployed person would be able to keep these earnings on top of benefits, making work pay and providing a stepping stone to employment.

The Community Allowance

  • Is a package of training, work and personal support delivered very locally by trusted community organisations, with strong track records of working with the hardest to reach.
  • Gets people back into work, gaining experience and employability in a supportive environment.
  • Enables community organisations to develop local solutions and jobs which directly improve and regenerate their communities.

The proposed changes to earning disregards and tapers have the potential to enable the Community Allowance approach to be available to everyone on benefits and to every community. Our approach would create some of the jobs required to enable people to take their first important steps back into work.

There are two ways that the Community Allowance could make a significant contribution quickly and affordably, prior to wholesale reform:

  • An immediate option – we are already in discussions with potential Prime Contractors to offer the Community Allowance through the Work Programme for Incapacity and ESA claimants using existing disregards. However, due to the proposed reassessment of Incapacity Benefit claimants we would need to work with DWP to ensure a level of certainty which would allow delivery;

 

  • An “in the meantime” option – if the current financial constraints mean that more generous universals earning disregards are seen as unaffordable, we recommend that a Community Earnings Allowance/Disregard is created as a first step towards comprehensive reform. This would recognise the additional social and economic impact achieved through creating stepping-stone jobs that also contribute directly to stronger communities.

We are aiming to to submit our response to the Consultation in a weeks time and I would really welcome your thoughts on our eighth principle and the challenges facing Iain Duncan Smith.

Best wishes

Louise

PS I am on annual leave until Monday 27th September

Dynamic Meetings and Benefit Blogging

On Monday I met with Deven Ghelani (Centre for Social Justice) and Chris Goulden (Joseph Rowntree Foundation), to talk about the Community Allowance and the Dynamic Benefits report. For years the CREATE Consortium has campaigned against the benefit trap and for a community solution to unemployment.  The current benefit system acts a trap – stopping people from working and creating serious financial penalties for anyone on benefits who takes on a job for under 16 hours (you earn a pound….you lose a pound). The Dynamic Benefits report from Ian Duncan Smith’s think tank – sets out a new approach – recognising the need to let people take up work opportunities for under 16 hours without making people worse off. The main objection to these plans has historically come from the Treasury and if you believe the reports in the papers the argument is still ongoing….

However, at Monday’s meeting I decided to be optimistic: IDS is going to win the argument on earning disregards – so that people can take up part-time jobs or flexible job opportunities – without risking being unable to buy food or pay the rent because our benefit system is so broken.

As we talked about the current consultation on Welfare Reform – 21st Century Welfare, I raised the importance of the links between people and the places they live. If we don’t recognise the high concentrations of unemployment and what this does to local communities, we miss out on an important part of the problem and the solution. We need to make sure that the current consultation on benefits and decisions on The Work Programme take into account the importance of understanding the “community dimension” and seeks to involve local people and communities in shaping one of the largest areas of Government spending – benefits and employment support programmes.

So how do we make sure that the people with the most knowledge of the benefit system and employment support – the people with direct experience are involved? We are going to be working with Oxfam to highlight people’s real experiences and we are also looking for people who are interested in becoming a benefit blogger – if you want to know more email me at L.winterburn@dta.org.uk

And for those people who like responding to consultations please remember the Community Allowance in your submission

Best wishes

Louise

From Black Boxes to Big Society

Over the last few weeks I haven’t had chance to update my blog – like most people working in community or welfare to work organisations, I have been racing to keep up with the pace of change. I thought I would use this blog to give you a whistle-stop tour of the latest developments….  

The Work Programme

All innovation within the delivery of welfare to work services is now expected to come from within The Work Programme. Providers have been told they can adapt a “Black Box” approach to delivery. Over the last few weeks I have been talking to providers such as SERCO, about their “Black Box” and the potential contribution the Community Allowance could make. The initial response has been very positive with providers keen to hear more about how they can work with local community organisations to offer new jobs, integrated with wraparound training and support. We are keen to explore the potential for this joint working and to identify the right partners to work with.

The Welfare Reform Bill

I have just started working on our response to the consultation paper and will be sharing it with you soon. The proposals on earning disregards (the ability to work while on benefits and keep earnings below a ceiling) are still vague – no figures yet – but they have the potential to enable the Community Allowance to be offered to everyone on benefits. Finally, we may see the end of the 16 hours rule and the bizarre situation we have now that effectively bars people from taking any work under 16 hours. The proposed approach to tapering the earning disregards also mirrors the Community Allowance’s approach of progressively increasing the number of hours people work – protecting people as they start to work.

Big Society

The Community Allowance approach was developed from the first hand experience of local community organisations. A simple but powerful tool that makes a productive link between the most substantial public spending in poor neigbourhoods (billions in welfare payments) and the abilities of those neigbourhoods to liberate themselves from poverty and poor services. The Community Allowance gives communities new resources and ways of working, enabling them to develop local solutions to improve and regenerate their communities. All the jobs created by the Community Allowance are the ones that are fundamental to making and sustaining communities – the caring, sharing, supportive, cleaning, greening, keeping-safe, checking-over, sorting-out, neigbourhood managing, wardens, lollipop ladies, befriending, youth work, sports and social health living, conflict-resolving and care-taking roles.

I have written to Ministers and senior civil servants about the Community Allowance. We have been very fortunate that Ministers have also heard about the Community Allowance directly from a number of our supporters including the DTA and ACEVO. We are planning a number of events over the next few months to raise awareness and support for the Community Allowance from fringe meetings at the Party Conferences to working with our 100’s of supporters. We are also working closely with OXFAM, who have adopted the Community Allowance as a key campaign against poverty.

I have recently updated our website to reflect the changes being planned by the government – so if you haven’t visited our site for a while – please have a look and let me know what you think.

If you are interested in hearing more about our work, please do not hesitate to contact me

Best wishes

Louise

And they’re off

Just over a week since Gordon Brown called the General Election for 6th May and all three major English political parties have now launched their manifestos. So we thought we’d reflect on the different approaches to welfare reform  each party presents.

First off, Labour and A Future Fair for All. Welfare is up front in the headlines of the ‘tough choices’ that an incoming Labour government would have to make:

“Tough choices on welfare: our reforms will increase fairness and work incentives, including £1.5 billion of savings being delivered.”

Those savings are projected to be made primarily from the transfer of the last remaining 1.5 million people who are still on Incapacity Benefit onto either Job Seekers Allowance (and from there, they hope back into work) or Employment and Support Allowance. The manifesto talks about the ‘tough-but-fair’ Work Capability Assessment that will facilitate this process. Evidence emerging from many disabled people’s charities points to a contrary experience, that it is not fair to those with disabilities who perhaps would most benefit from the support available on the Employment and Support Allowance.

There is a continued commitment to the Future Jobs Fund, a temporary measure designed to provide 6 month paid work experience for unemployed young people. That it is paid work experience is to be welcomed, that it is costing the tax payer £1 billion for such a short term solution to a long term problem is perhaps not.

Worryingly it also states that, “All those who are long term unemployed for two years will be guaranteed a job placement, which they will be required to take up or have their benefits cut.” I imagine people on JSA would be delighted at the prospect of a guarantee of a job if they have endured two years of unemployment. What isn’t clear from the manifesto is if this ‘job placement’ is paid, or whether an individual who has suffered the indignity of long term unemployment is then required to work for their benefit, a policy we wholeheartedly oppose.

What the manifesto lacks, is any commitment to reviewing the benefits system itself. As with all parties that have held office for some time, it’s difficult for Labour to critique a system it has been running for so many years. And yet the benefits system needs a fundamental overhaul, a complete review and redesign to make it fit for the 21st century. This lack of vision on the part of Labour may cost them much needed votes.

And so onto the Tories and their invitation for us to join government.

Unsurprisingly, their manifesto commitments around the benefits system read much like the Labour Party’s. This is because both parties have been advised by Lord Freud, who stopped advising James Purnell MP, former Secretary of State for DWP, to take his plans to the Conservative Party back in February 2009.

What seems out of place with Conservative policy amongst Freud’s plans for welfare reform is the continued commitment to introduce Work for your Benefit, mandatory community work placements for the long term unemployed. Already being piloted by the Labour government, this initiative flies in the face of the Tories’ plans for a Big Society.

Their manifesto states that “The Big Society runs consistently through our policy programme”. If this is the case, why are they planning on punishing the long term unemployed with community work, while simultaneously trying to persuade the rest of us it’s something we should be doing in our spare time?

Community work is a carrot, not a stick and to use it in this punitive manner sends mixed messages the electorate will not warm to.

Perhaps the most disappointing aspect of the Tories’ plans on welfare is the complete absence of much of the excellent work that has been produced by Tory think tanks over recent years. In particular, the Centre for Social Justice‘s Dynamic Benefits report, which unequivocally outlines why the welfare state is broken and must be radically changed and Policy Exchange‘s Escaping the Poverty Trap.

One can only hope that should the Conservatives win the election that Ian Duncan Smith MP is able to assert more influence over the reforms of the welfare state than he has been able to over his party’s manifesto. He seems to be one of the few MPs who in JK Rowling’s words has “taken the trouble to educate themselves about the lives of all kinds of Britons“.

And finally to the Liberal Democrats who launched their manifesto yesterday. Beyond the big headlines about making the tax and benefits system fair for all there is suprisingly little detail from them about how they plan to make the benefits system fairer. They state that, “Labour has created a hugely complex and unfair benefits system, and it needs to be reformed.” It’s somewhat disappointing then, to read on and find no information about how they plan to reform the benefits system.

Is anyone from the Liberal Democrats able to enlighten us? I’d love to know. We agree the benefits system needs to be reformed, but how? Voters are going to be wary of reforms that are unarticulated, even in the broadest of terms in an election manifesto. Please let me know if I’ve missed something.

We can only hope that the pledge to stop people who earn up to £10,000 a year paying any income tax, extends to those on benefits who take part time or sessional work while on benefits. The Centre for Social Justice’s report Dynamic Benefits has said that the current benefit withdrawal rate when someone does take work is akin to between a 75% and 95% tax rate on the poorest in our society.

Hardly the incentive the unemployed need in order to get back into work. And yet in this time of recession, this remains unaddressed by all 3 main English parties in their manifestos.

What are your thoughts on the manifesto commitments on welfare reform so far?