Tag Archives: deprived areas

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



Cameron’s difficult decisions

Prime Minister David Cameron’s speech today, warned of “difficult decisions” on pay, pensions and benefits as he set out the case for “painful” cuts ahead. He said dealing with the deficit would be “unavoidably tough” and affect “our whole way of life”. While no new details were given on what will be cut, we were offered some reassurance that he would not cut the deficit “in a way that hurts those we most need to help”.

The Department for Work and Pensions spent £87 billon on benefits last year. For many deprived areas spending on benefits payments and welfare to work programmes is the largest public investment they receive, yet has limited positive impact. It is clear that there are going to be fundamental changes to the benefit system as proposed by the Welfare Reform Bill and more support for local councils and communities to develop solutions to local issues, in the Decentralisation and Localism Bill.

Yet we know that any discussions about making the benefit system “fairer and simpler” or giving communities more power, take place against a backdrop of large scale cuts. If we are to ensure that policy discussions are not simply dominated by calls for cuts in benefit payments and sanctions, we need to make sure that positive approaches that do give power back to communities – such as the Community Allowance – are known about and understood. Developed by local community organisations and people on benefits, the Community Allowance enables people on benefits to be paid to work in their local community – a step up into employment for people on benefit and a step up for local communities.

Last week we wrote to Ministers responsible for the Welfare Reform Bill and the Decentralisation and Localism Bill asking for meetings to discuss the Community Allowance. Both these Bills provide an important opportunity to radically change the benefit system and the role of people on benefits in transforming their local communities. The Community Allowance is supported by over 300 individuals and 100 community organisations. We would like to increase the number of people who know about the benefit trap and solutions such as the Community Allowance and need your help – Is your organisation or group signed up as a supporter of the Community Allowance? – Can you help us increase the number of people who know about the benefit trap and the Community Allowance through your website, blog or newsletter? We know that if we want to make sure any “difficult decisions” the government makes includes fair, community owned and developed solutions, we need your help to be heard. Please sign up at our website or email me at L.Winterburn@dta.org.uk

Guest Blog – Will Hutton

Over the next two or three years unemployment is going to climb to three million, and the likelihood is that it will fall only very slowly afterwards. There is a risk it could rise even higher if the Conservative party is as serious about cutting the budget deficit as quickly and as deeply as it says. Worse unemployment disproportionately hits disadvantaged communities most.

This is a calamity. There is a famous study of what happened in the village of Marienthal, not far from Vienna, when the main factory shut its gates in the depression of the early 1930s. The unemployed  do not tend to take up the violin, read more books, or enjoy quality time with their families. Indeed, researchers found that although people had enough to eat, use of the library dropped by a third, clubs closed down and wives complained that formerly energetic men took extraordinary amounts of time to accomplish simple tasks. People stood on street corners, waiting. Time weighed heavy but people talked to each other less.

The reason, argued the psychologist Marie Jahoda whose 1980s research is still pathbreaking , is  that work provides people with a fundamental “sense of reality”, which can not be obtained through any other activity or institution. Employment of any kind has a number of key benefits. It gives structure to the day; it compels contact and shared experience with others; it demonstrates goals and purpose beyond the individual; it gives status; it forces people to be active. Take those away and people quickly became dysfunctional.

Jahoda returned to her theme in the very different period of high unemployment in the UK during the 1980s. The poverty in question was now relative rather than absolute but she argued that purposelessness loomed as large as ever. The phrases used to describe the feelings were the same: on the scrapheap, useless, not needed by anybody. The loss of work followed by prolonged joblessness entailed a sequence of psychological states – fear and distress, resignation, adaptation, and finally, if unsuccessful in the search for work, blank apathy and withdrawal. The psychological need for work goes deep.

Hard Labour, a paper I recently co-wrote with colleagues from The Work Foundation, sets out today’s evidence  on the health affects of unemployment.

  • There is a positive association between mortality and unemployment for all age groups, with suicide increasing within a year of job loss.
  • Cardiovascular mortality accelerates after 2 or 3 years, continuing for the next 10–15 years.
  • There is an estimated 20 per cent excess risk of death for both men actively seeking work and their wives, with the possibility that this may be higher still in areas of higher unemployment.
  • Upon re-employment there appears to be a reversal of these effects. While the direction of causality is difficult to determine unemployment is considered to be a significant cause of psychological distress in itself.
  • Studies indicated a positive association between unemployed people and a higher  prevalence of common mental disorders.
  • Those with a more negative outlook on life tend to be more damaged by unemployment while those who are unemployed but have more positive and goal-oriented outlooks fare better.

In the light of the unemployment calamity about to hit the country we have to be as flexible and imaginative as we possibly can about engaging people with work any which we way we can – and we must recognise the fears of those on Incapacity Benefit especially who believe that if they show the slightest ability to work it will be understood as a complete ability to work . I strongly support the Community Allowance. It could improve the well-being of hundreds of thousands of people – and improve the look and feel of our communities.

Will Hutton

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

In and Out of Work – Glenn Jenkins from Marsh Farm Estate, Luton

I am a resident of the Marsh Farm estate in Luton who became unemployed in the 1992 recession and, for a number of reasons, has been living on state benefits for most of the time ever since. However, unlike the more than a million other people in the UK who find themselves in the same situation, I have been lucky enough to have escaped the worst of the numbing effects of long term unemployment by taking part in the creation and organisation of community self help projects ‘by and for socially excluded people’.

This gives me long, first hand experience of life ‘at the margins’, which means I really appreciate the positive impact the introduction of the Community Allowance would have, not just for the sizeable minority of people living here who are stuck in different departments of the ‘benefits trap’ and highly unlikely to ever find meaningful work, but also for the public at large.

For many people on Marsh Farm who do manage to find work, the story is not much better. The latest unemployment statistics for Luton show that the current economic downturn has seen joblessness go up on Marsh Farm at a rate 3 times that of Luton generally. This is caused by the large number of people living here who, when they do manage to find work, end up in temporary and insecure jobs which are always the first to go in a ‘recession’.

This syndrome of ‘in and out of work’ nearly always leads to a period of severe financial instability similar to that described above for these individuals and their families. This is a disaster caused in these cases by the disjointed nature of the benefits system and its inability to efficiently manage the transition from work to benefits and benefits to work.

As the UK Insecure at Work survey explains “throughout most of the last decade, almost half of the men, and a third of the women, making a new claim for Jobseeker’s Allowance were last claiming this benefit less than six months previously. In other words, almost half of men who lose their job, and a third of women, had had that job for less than six months. This shows the short-term nature of the jobs that many unemployed people go into”.

As a long term resident of Marsh Farm I promise you, the instability caused by the ‘in and out of work’ syndrome is pushing several young families to the brink of impoverishment and homelessness.

Although it almost goes without saying (I hope) that everyone is an individual with a specific set of needs, the welfare to work systems in the UK are notoriously bureaucratic and unable to provide relevant and useful support for the majority of long term unemployed people living on Marsh Farm. The internet dictionary ‘Dictionary.com’ describes a bureaucrat as “an official who works by fixed routine without exercising intelligent judgment”, a description which perfectly sums up the experience for most of the long term unemployed people I know.

For many people, interventions by Job Centre Plus and other support agencies leads not to a pathway to work, but instead to being forced onto ‘courses’ which are widely felt to be box ticking exercises for government targets rather than genuine attempts to help people back into work.

As a topical and personal example of this ‘one size fits all’ approach, I was recently ordered (at threat of loss of all my benefits) to take part in a ‘basic skills assessment’ (due to my reaching 18 months unemployed).

This is a 1 hr ‘exam’ consisting of a set of numeracy questions like: 2 + 2 + ? = 11 and literacy questions like “I wien to the shop to get some tea” – please identify the spelling mistake.

This ‘exam’ was delivered by a qualified teacher who travelled from Dunstable College (which is 5 miles away – and there were only two of us there!). As I hope my authorship of this article shows, this ‘exam’ is a complete waste of my time, the advisors time, the trainer’s time and is nothing less than a scandalous waste of public money. In any sane system, the advisor would have the flexibility to identify those who need such support, and those who do not, and would be free to tailor any support provided according to the specific needs of each person they are working with. But here again, the only support the advisor can provide is restricted to that delivered by those providers who have ‘won the contract’, regardless of whether the training is relevant to the individuals needs, or the quality of the training itself.

My own experience of this ‘one size fits all’ approach to the provision of ‘support’ is nothing when compared with the real and lasting damage caused to other people’s lives who are treated in the same way, but who are not so well placed to cope with it as I am.

Guest Blog – Jess Steele, Chair of CREATE Consortium

The Community Allowance will enable community organisations  to pay local people to do work that strengthens their neighbourhoods without disrupting their benefits. This is a win-win-win proposal that helps individuals make progress to become more independent, gets the work that needs doing in poor neighbourhoods done by the people best placed to do it, and channels the energy and trust of civil society towards the big aim of using our welfare spend as an investment in social change rather than a net that traps people in poverty.

The sheer obviousness of the solution has always driven me onwards in this long campaign and has never failed to convince anyone who listened for 20 minutes, though their responses have varied from a conviction that it can be achieved ‘within the system’ to world-weary warnings not to ‘rock the boat’ or smash our energies against the intricately-constructed, ideologically-defended brick walls of the Department for Work & Pensions.

But I have known so many people on benefits, and so many local organisations that wanted to employ them, that there has been inspiration enough to keep insisting that the system itself must change. It is fundamentally outmoded, modelled on the Victorian ‘doctrine of less eligibility’ that sought to make ‘relief’ so truly awful that people would do anything to avoid it. It is an on-off switch that mirrors a world of work that has been disappearing for generations, a ‘safety net’ congealed into a trap, a revolving door that while the economy grew could spin the ‘work-ready’ off the books and keep ‘those left behind’ spinning on the spot. It is notoriously bureaucratic so that even the Benefit Simplification Unit has been a Dickensian irony locked in the basement of Adelphi House pondering clause 54.b (ii).

The campaign route has been littered with government ministers who thought they were important at the time but lasted only to the next reshuffle or, more recently, to the next squabble. Some of them returned as is the tendency of long governments with decreasing majorities. At last, pressure by us and many others paid off – from April 2010 anyone on Employment Support Allowance or Incapacity Benefit will be allowed to earn up to £92 a week without risking either their core benefit or housing benefit. But the 900,000 people on Income Support for Incapacity are not included; nor are lone parents or carers, or those hundreds of thousands on Job Seeker’s Allowance who disprove the myth that JSA claimants are ‘job-ready’ even when the jobs exist. Moreover, claimants will still need to declare these earnings opening up opportunities for error and misinformation while failing to reward people who are trying to work with the greatest gift of all – getting the system’s claws out of their back to create a breathing space in which to rebuild their lives free from fear.

The guest contributions for this blog come from many perspectives but all share a common view. All our writers understand that the longest journey starts with a single step. Sir Trevor Chinn describes how crucial it is to ‘get up, do something’. Taking the first step into small-scale work is the only way out of poverty and the small amounts of mini-job wages can make a big difference. People need to be allowed to take responsibility, encouraged and supported rather than punished, but the system is oversensitive to small earnings. Dame Barbara Stocking uses that key phrase – the system is ‘no longer fit for purpose’. Muhamed Yunus recently captured the challenge – if someone on welfare earns a dollar, match it with a dollar, don’t crush that willing initiative by confiscating the first one as if it were ill-gotten.

Julia Unwin CBE makes the point that the Community Allowance is a multi-faceted solution – not just about individual poverty but also addressing “the appalling and risky under-funding of community based organisations” and “getting the work done” for local neighbourhoods. She describes the latest in the long line of respected research studies and policy documents, including several from DWP itself, that have urged reform of the earnings disregard. She is clear that the grassroots Community Allowance complements rather than replaces other welfare to work approaches.

The big divide is between people like Dame Barbara Stocking of Oxfam who know that “there is enormous untapped potential in some of the poorest communities, and above all in the people who live in them” and those who cannot believe that poor people and poor neighbourhoods have not brought their stigma upon themselves. Sadly, the former tend to be those who work in and with local communities, whereas the latter too often guard the powers of Whitehall and Westminster. In a UK-wide benefit system, it seems there is no scope even for Scottish, Welsh or Northern Irish experiments let alone truly localised opportunities.

And Beveridge… how pleased I was to learn of his doubts from Hilary Cottam of Participle, how he realised that his grand plan had left out the crucial role of the citizen and collective action in a true welfare society. It reminded me of Sybil Phoenix OBE telling me how initially she was impressed with the housing estates of the 1960s, and then how through experience she came to a new understanding. This is how we learn and make change – when people of integrity admit that all is not well. The Beveridge 4.0 concept is a powerful opportunity, a ‘new lens’, a thread of bright cotton leading us towards new thinking that could become the new normal.

Julian Dobson’s anger with the “Kafkaesque satire…where the well-off felt the badly-off were getting a better deal” reflects the disillusion of a generation who waited for Labour, cheered the Policy Action Team reports with their focus on evidence and now are repulsed by political pandering to “the coherent story of popular sentiment”. The “different story” he describes is the one that those of us on the ground in poor areas know best, “a story that begins with the people, not the prejudice”.

At a time when consensus is finally emerging that the welfare system is seriously unfit for duty, the Community Allowance solution works across all the party divides because it makes so much sense and costs so little. As Neil O’Brien from Policy Exchange puts it, we have to “allow claimants to take small steps to a full job”. There have been people and communities left behind throughout the boom, but now in the teeth of recession we face challenges that can only be met by using public spend differently.

Please revisit our blog over the next few weeks to read our guest contributors’ perspectives on the Community Allowance in full and do get in touch if you’d like to write something yourself.

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.