Tag Archives: community work

Inspirational project asks PM for the Community Allowance

In my last few blogs I have written about the need to make sure community ideas and solutions are heard when discussing changes to the benefit system and employment training programmes. Well yesterday, thanks to St Peter’s Partnership, David Cameron heard how one community organisation is working with its local community to support people back into work and why the Community Allowance is needed.

On a day that was dominated by talk of “cracking down on benefit cheats”, David Cameron also went to visit St Peter’s Partnership and saw the amazing work they do to support people back into work and the commitment of the unemployed people involved. St Peter’s Partnership was originally set up by a group of local residents and is a vibrant community organisation offering a wide range of community programmes. Mr Cameron met with the Greenscape Team, one of St Peter’s social enterprises delivering landscaping and gardening services plus training and employment for local unemployed people. He also heard why we need the Community Allowance – being able to offer the Community Allowance would enable St Peter’s Partnership to work more flexibly and increase the impact of their programmes for the wider community. David Cameron described the work done by St Peter’s Partnership as “inspirational”. In acknowledging their expertise and hearing directly from unemployed people, lets hope he takes away the need to let community organisations offer the Community Allowance and how committed most unemployed people are to finding work.

With St Peter’s Partnership doing such a great job of explaining to the Prime Minister why we need the Community Allowance, I have responded to two consultations the government has set up to capture ideas:

  • DWP’s are currently asking for “Your Thoughts” on The Work Programme. The current consultation ends this Friday. I responded to their “How to cut costs” question by saying that DWP should not only think about saving money but seek to maximize the impact of the billions they spend on benefits and employment support programme. Multiplying the benefit of The Work Programme for unemployed people, the communities they live in and the taxpayer. I stressed the importance of working with unemployed people and community organisations to develop effective programmes that really meet the need.
  • The Treasury’s Spending Challenge asks for your ideas on how to “get more for less”. Last chance to comment tomorrow! I highlighted the importance of ensuring that opportunities are not lost to maximize the impact of any government spending. In a time of spending cuts we have to make sure that where the government is spending money we ensure that we multiple the impact of it. I suggested that this assumption should be built into their procurement process, with models such as the Community Allowance that will multiple the impact of any spending given priority (For every £1 invested in the Community Allowance, over £10 of social capital is created)

The feedback forms are really easy and quick – so why not let the government know what you think?

Best wishes



IDS is Smiling in his dream job, will he help us create more dream jobs?

The Independent On Sunday claims that Iain Duncan Smith has the broadest smile in Downing Street this week, having started his dream job of Work and Pensions Secretary. We see his appointment as a real boost for the Community Allowance campaign. His work in developing the Centre for Social Justice and its role in highlighting the benefits trap highlight many areas of  real agreement on the problems with the benefit system and what needs to be changed. The Centre for Social Justice’s report on benefits – Dynamic Benefits: Towards Welfare that Works, also give us some idea of  the approach that IDS may take in the coming months and we have found some things to smile about too.

We have argued strongly that the benefit system should provide a step up for people and not act as a trap. Yet many recent discussions of welfare reform have been dominated by plans to increase compulsion and threats to withdraw benefits for non-compliance. We have demonstrated time and time again that it is the benefit system that is at fault not the people claiming benefits (see this short film if you would like to hear more). The Centre for Social Justice have also concluded  “For many, the answer to unsustainable welfare bills is to introduce ever tighter rules for receipt of benefits, and to cut generosity for some claimants. However, this approach has never worked. it is not the particular levels and conditions that are at fault, but the structure of the system itself.”

We have also long campaigned for the role of part-time work to be recognised as a positive and valuable opportunity for people currently claiming benefits. We have asked for changes to be made to the earning disregard to enable people to take on part-time jobs and actually be better off. The Dynamic Benefits Report recognises the importance of part-time work and how the current system prevents people taking up job opportunities “For many carers, a low-hours job is all they can take on; and for others an entry-level job represents a stepping stone to higher-earning employment. yet, virtually all initial efforts to work are penalized“. The report recommends a radical change to the earning disregard to support people to take up part-time work.

The Independant on Sunday article also concluded that raising the earning disregard and allowing people to work part-time was a “no-brainer” but was concerned there would be no demand by employers for people who were on benefits. We know that part of the answer lies within local communities where we can offer  part-time jobs with training and support but also make a real difference to the local community – by ensuring the jobs have a local benefit, making a real difference to local community and to the tax payer  – as every £1 spent on the Community Allowance results in £10 worth of social value being created.  We estimated that at least 80 part-time jobs could be created in every neighbourhood through a Community Allowance – providing stepping stones on the pathway to work for thousands of benefits claimants across the country. Over 100 local community organisations have signed up to support the Community Allowance. Over 70 organisations have expressed an interest in being involved in piloted the Community Allowance in their local communities. The Dynamic Benefit Report also recognised the core role that the voluntary sector and local communities can play.

Last week Oxfam thrown its weight behind the campaign for the Community Allowance. We are now writing to IDS to ask for a meeting, hoping his understand of the benefit trap and what can be achieve by local communities will finally enable the benefit system to provide a step up for people and places. To find our more about the Community Allowance  and add your support to the campaign please visit our website at http://www.communityallowance.org/

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?

The Inverse Care Law – Guest Blog from Lord Adebowale

We need a welfare state that is fit for the 21st century. We need to redesign it away from a post war vision of a very different society to what we live in today. There are gaps in the welfare state through which people fall because it’s not personalized enough. It is of great concern to me that for too long we appear to have been suffering from the inverse care law—the more you need, the less you are likely to get.

What worries me about some of the language around welfare reform at the moment is the idea that people on benefits are enjoying a nice lifestyle paid for by the taxpayer. They’re not. We need to get away from a punitive element in welfare reform that believes that if you treat people harshly, that will improve their ability to move up the ladder.

I have always argued that the welfare state should be about providing a step up for people.

The Community Allowance would create a step up for people and some of the poorest places in the UK, which have seen a lack of change over the last 10-20 years. If you are born in a place with high crime, low educational outcomes and poor health, there is an expectation that you will die under the same circumstances.

In my work on the Aylesbury estate in south London I realized one of the problems on estates like this is that the myth becomes the reality, and anyone from the estate could be written off.

The Community Allowance would create job opportunities for people in areas like Aylesbury. The jobs would simultaneously benefit the community and enable the individual to take small manageable steps towards sustainable employment. The New Economics Foundation’s recent work showing the Social Return on Investment of the Community Allowance clearly shows the economic argument for this.

And yet small organisations dedicated to delivering welfare-to-work services in disadvantaged areas will struggle to win contracts to deliver the Flexible New Deal and other areas of the welfare to work agenda because there is no mechanism to recognise and reward the work they do. Although some people are ready to get straight back to full-time work, for others this would be too great a leap. It wouldn’t work for employers, and would be likely to push people back into drugs and crime. This approach threatens to raise the cost to the public purse in the long-term, not only through benefits but also through other health, social care and criminal justice costs.

There needs to be a mechanism to reward the work that is done to prepare those most in need of the support to get work, rather than just job entries. 

It must not just be about getting people into a job, but also about measuring the progress people have made towards getting into work. That distance travelled can be measured and must be.  The Community Allowance could provide an ideal first step up onto the ladder of progress and opportunities for people who have been out of work for a long time, cycling on and off benefits.

Real life involves people failing and going around the cycle of trying to improve their lives on more than one occasion. A civilized society allows for that to happen.

Lord Victor Adebowale, Chief Executive, Turning Point

Guest blog from Julia Unwin – CEO Joseph Rowntree Foundation

There are two very different public policy issues that currently cry out for resolution, and the Community Allowance provides the start of an answer to both.

The first is the appalling and risky under-funding of community based organisations. All community based organisations rely on the unpaid work of members and volunteers, sacrificing large amounts of time to try and make their communities better places. But without some funding for organisation and co-ordination, the strain can simply be too much. What is more, organisations without any paid leadership can find it difficult to find the time, or the energy, to do those essential things that enable community groups to grow and develop.  Funding has always been tight for community organisations: there is nothing new there, but as we face major spending cuts, the fragile hold that some community groups currently have on local authority funding may be even further eroded.  Voluntary effort may be the engine of community organisations, but frequently the lack of any paid staff means that the engine stalls.

And the second problem crying out for resolution and response is the way in which people living in poverty are helped to move into paid work. Research by JRF and others has shown that the complexity of the benefits system does put off many people from trying paid work because of the instability this can introduce into their household budgets – stability being more important for some than the extra income from employment. The Institute for Fiscal Studies and Gingerbread did a study for JRF modelling different ways of approaching ‘mini-jobs’ (of less than 16hrs per week) in the welfare system and concluded that a bigger disregard of earned income would have beneficial impacts on employment for lone parents. Other research funded by JRF, carried out by the Centre for Research in Social Policy, into the standard that most people think is needed highlights how far below adequacy some people on benefits can fall, especially if they do not have children living with them.

The Community Allowance provides the start of a solution to both these problems. It allows community organisations to offer employment to some people, and so provide the fixed commitment that they need so urgently, and it allows the individuals the opportunity to try out new work, and get remunerated for doing so.

And it is now more urgently needed than ever. The Welfare to Work reforms for Flexible New Deal will inevitably focus on those closest to the labour market, at least initially. The Community Allowance is aimed at helping people get into work who would probably not benefit from immediate help from the Welfare to Work providers, even the third sector ones.  This much more grassroots-led approach can complement, but not replace, the other approaches.

In my view it will do this in two distinct and innovative ways.

First, many people who do go into work from benefits at present risk swapping one form of poverty for another.  The Community Allowance will alleviate this to some extent by providing a safety net of benefits whilst people who have been out of the labour market for some time can get used to doing paid work.

Second, local community and other organisations who could employ people doing useful mini-jobs at present have difficulty recruiting people because of the disincentives in the benefits system.

The Community Allowance helps the individuals doing the work, the organisations who are getting the work done, as well as the community organisations which need the work done. The costs are small and the benefits significant, both to the individuals and to the organisations with which they work.

Julia Unwin CBE

Chief Executive, Joseph Rowntree Foundation

Successful Parliamentary Event for the Community Allowance

On Monday 2nd November we held an event at the Houses of Parliament, hosted by Lord Archy Kirkwood, a Liberal Democrat Peer who supports the Community Allowance campaign. Lord Kirkwood used to Chair the DWP Select Committee and said at the event, “When I first heard about the Community Allowance, I thought the DWP will never go for this, but I’m really pleased to see how much progress has been made.”

Over 60 people attended the event which was held to do three things:

1. to launch a new publication from the CREATE Consortium; a collection of essays from people across the political spectrum saying what they think about the Community Allowance

Cover of Booklet Contributions came from people as varied as Lord Adebowale, Chief Executive of Turning Point, Phillip Blond, Director of new think tank ResPublica, Sir Trevor Chinn, businessman, Hilary Cottam, Director at Participle, Julian Dobson, Editor of New Start, Will Hutton, Executive Vice-Chair of the Work Foundation, Glenn Jenkins, resident and Chair of Marsh Farm Outreach, Luton, Neil O’Brien, Chief Executive of the think tank Policy Exchange, Dame Barbara Stocking, Chief Executive of Oxfam GB and Julia Unwin CBE, Chief Executive of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation amongst others.

We will be publishing their contributions to this blog over the next few weeks.

2. We also launched a new report by the think tank nef (New Economics Foundation) a predictive Social Return on Investment analysis of the Community Allowance. This predicts that for every £1 invested in the Community Allowance £10 worth of social value will be generated.

3. We announced our three pilot partners for our first pilot of the Community Allowance over the next couple of years. They will be introducing themselves in more detail on this blog over the next couple of weeks but for now, they are:

Foresight in North East Lincolnshire

Learning Links in Portsmouth and the Isle of Wight

St Peter’s Partnerships in Manchester

We were overwhelmed by the number of exceptionally high quality proposals that we received from community organisations across the UK that wanted to pilot the Community Allowance. It was a very difficult decision making process and we wish we were able to work with more of the organisations who sent proposals to us. It shows what a need there is across the country for an initiative such as the Community Allowance and has made as more determined than ever to keep working until it’s available for anyone on any benefit anywhere in the UK.

Speech at DTA National Policy Symposium

Hello Everyone. My name is Naomi Alexander and I’m here to talk to you about the CREATE Consortium’s campaign to establish the Community Allowance as part of the UK benefits system.

 Our work focuses on the intersection between the benefits system and community regeneration.

 The story of the Community Allowance started back in 2001 at the first meeting of the National Community Forum, when all 24 community activists from across the country unanimously agreed that the benefits trap was one of the biggest barriers to achieving neighbourhood renewal.

 The benefits trap is an unintended result of the benefits system as it is currently structured. The cost to the nation goes far beyond the impact on individual benefits claimants and their families. Whole communities are caught in this trap and so too are our attempts at neighbourhood and civil renewal.

 We spend £92 billion a year on benefits payments.

 Not in administration, not in employment support, but the actual weekly payments.

 This £92 billion is the national bill for the most elaborate and complex poverty trap imaginable. It provides few stepping stones to avoid or escape the trap.

 At the heart of the trap is the ‘earnings disregard’, which is the amount you are allowed to keep on top of benefits if you do part time work – literally, the earnings disregarded by the benefits system.

 Shockingly, for people on Job Seekers Allowance, the ‘earnings disregard’ still remains at the same level it was in 1988: £5 a week – less than an hours work on today’s minimum wage. 

 I’m sure I’m not the only one in this room to see a cruel injustice in a country that has allowed MPs to freely dip into the public purse to fund lavish lifestyles, spending £600 on pot plants. While someone receiving Job Seekers Allowance of £60.48 a week will have penny for penny taken back by the state for anything they earn over £5

 Not only that, but people who declare paid work that is less than 16 hours a week can have their payments thrown into chaos for months, often leaving them with nothing to live on and facing threats of eviction.

 Where is the incentive to get try and back into work? And what does this system say about the way we view benefits claimants?

 I’d like to show you a short film we made last year about how these issues are played out on one estate in Milton Keynes. 

 Through the Community Allowance campaign we have been asking whether there is a way of seeing the benefits spend differently. Is it possible to see benefits as an investment in some of our most deprived communities, rather than as a drain on tax-payer’s money? Could we see it as a hand up and not a hand out?

 The Community Allowance is a proposal to enable community organisations to pay local unemployed people to do part time or sessional work that strengthens their local community and for those people to be able to keep their benefits and keep what they earn on top of their benefits, up to a maximum of £86 a week, which is the equivalent of 15 hours a week on the minimum wage.

 If implemented, the Community Allowance would provide small, manageable and supported stepping-stones for people to begin the journey off benefits and into work.

 At the heart of the Community Allowance is part time and sessional work of the kind Lisa wanted to get going on her estate. As we all know, such work plays a major role in the community sector, with so many potential jobs that can help deliver positive change. Many of these jobs come in at under 16 hours a week, which if you’re on benefits, is the magical but somewhat random ‘safe’ number of hours you can work and have your benefits protected as tax credits kick in at this point.

 What could be achieved if on every estate there were jobs for 2 hours running a lunch club for older people, 4 hours doing detached youth work, 3 hours doing community health work or 2 hours running arts or sports classes. We’ve all seen how this work can really change people’s lives!

 However, policy makers attach a low value to this kind of community activity. It certainly seems that the DWP don’t always view it as ‘real work’ as it doesn’t fit their model of a 16 – 40 hour working week. Yet this kind of work can have a transformative affect both on the confidence and skills of the individual doing it and the community benefiting from the activity.

 Since we started the campaign we have achieved a great deal through the work of all our supporters.

 Over 3000 people have visited the Community Allowance website and we have attracted over 100 organisations to back our call for a Community Allowance pilot, most of who have written directly to James Purnell and Hazel Blears calling for a pilot programme. 

 Last summer, our intensive lobbying was rewarded with a commitment to pilot the Community Allowance in the Community Empowerment White Paper produced by DCLG – they have been fantastic advocates for the Community Allowance across Government.

 In the autumn, the Department for Work and Pensions included a commitment to pilot the Community Allowance in the Welfare Reform White Paper for people on Employment and Support Allowance. This is a significant step forward in being able to realize our goal, but we still have a long way to go.

 We are trying to achieve our ultimate goal of the Community Allowance for anyone on any benefit. Earlier this year we submitted a proposal to DWP’s innovative Right to Bid scheme, for £2.2 million to run a pilot programme with 15 community anchor organisations across the UK.

 We’ve got through to the last stage of assessment and civil servants from across DWP are meeting next week to make a decision. We know that the Directors across DWP have been discussing the Community Allowance.

 While its good to know we’re having an impact on DWP thinking, it’s important to keep in mind the wider context of the recession and the impact this is having on the lives of millions of people across the UK.

 Yesterday I spoke to a manager of a Citizens Advice Bureau in Cornwall. He told me that since last year he has seen a 103% increase in enquiries related to mortgage repayments and repossessions and a 336% increase in enquiries concerning redundancy. Earlier this year Save the Children took the unprecedented step of giving cash handouts to families in the UK, something it usually reserves for disaster affected communities in developing countries. These are sure signs of a society under stress. The Community Allowance is needed now more than ever.

 Despite this, both Labour and the Tories are still talking about bringing in ‘work for your benefits’ schemes.  Mandatory, full-time, unpaid community work for those who have been on JSA for more than two years. In the interests of state choice and procurement rules, this could be delivered by public, private or voluntary sector, ‘depending on who does it best’. I’m sure this audience would agree that using community work as a punishment for being out of work during a recession is a disastrous mistake. We need to make absolutely clear that we as a sector will not endorse it.

 Community work can be a carrot not a stick. 15% of the population, or 8 million people, live in ‘deprived areas’, and changing those areas is not just about squeezing people into a job at Tesco. The costs of ongoing deprivation to society and the state go way beyond the welfare cheque – eating into our taxes across health, drugs, crime, prisons, housing, social work, policing, and the enormous burden to the future caused by poor educational outcomes.

 The community sector has been saying for a long time that we need to show government just how much is saved by sustained, deep-rooted community work.

 How much better would it be, how much more would we save, if the people doing the community work were those most at risk of the benefits trap?

 This week we are pleased to announce that one of the UK’s leading think tanks, the the New Economics Foundation, will be conducting a Social Return on Investment study on the Community Allowance, thanks to the support of our funder, The Hadley Trust.

 We’re going to incorporate the NEF findings with think pieces from leading lights on the left and right of the policy spectrum, including Julia Unwin who spoke earlier and Phillip Blond, senior advisor to the Conservatives. We will be taking this evidence to the three main political party conferences in the Autumn, challenging politicians to see how the Community Allowance can ‘lift’ a whole community, increase confidence and pride, bring out the best in people and stimulate local economic activity.

 To sum up:

 We believe we need to change our approach to worklessness in order to achieve neighbourhood renewal, community empowerment and social justice

 We need to integrate welfare with regeneration, creating jobs for people who live in the area being regenerated.

 We need to fight the old ideologies, not by saying ‘it’s not fair!’ but by creating a positive vision of how different things could be

 We need to challenge Britain, the 4th richest country in the world to live up to its ideals and to use the Community Allowance to see the potential of benefits spend as an investment in our most deprived communities.

 If you agree, we would love to involve you more in the work of the CREATE Consortium, especially during our work this conference season. Please get in touch and together lets work to make the Community Allowance a reality.

 Thank you for listening.