Tag Archives: Right to Bid

A tale of two cities

On my way from a meeting at the Institute of Fiscal Studies to the Department of Work and Pensions yesterday, I picked up a copy of the Evening Standard on the tube. The headline rang ‘The Dispossessed’: London is a shameful tale of two cities. In the richest capital in Europe almost half our children live below the poverty line.

It was refreshing to see a mainstream media outfit deal with the issue of poverty in London. This is something one of the CREATE Consortium’s members, Community Links, has been blogging about recently.

Reading Joe Murphy’s How politics turned its back on the dispossessed, was particularly interesting given the conversation I had just had with the Institute of Fiscal Studies’ Mike Brewer. We were discussing the difference in attitude that both politicians and the public have towards benefits payments and tax credits. Both are tax payer’s money and yet benefits are seen as a drain on the public purse, something to be minimised at all costs, while tax credits are seen as a positive intervention.

It left me wondering from a campaigning point of view what we could do to change this attitude. It goes to the heart of why there is a need for a Community Allowance. If you are on Job Seekers Allowance and try to work for under 16 hours a week you have penny for penny taken away; the earnings disregard still being only £5 a week – less than an hours work on the minimum wage, unchanged since 1988! Yet if you take a job of 16 hours, tax credits protect your income and you are better off in work.

What kind of message does this send to people who want to get themselves out of poverty by taking some part time work? Why did the Government decide that 16 hours is good but 8 hours is bad? It’s an illogical distinction, only made logical by the pervsersity of the difference between the benefits system and tax credits. It has to change.

Interestingly, I am noticing that there seems to be a growing understanding of the necessity of this change, across the political spectrum. This marked change in attitude has come about in the last two years through a wealth of campaigning about the earnings disregard and influential reports such as the Centre for Social Justices’ Dynamic Benefits.

On Saturday I was on a panel with Tim Loughton MP (of Tower Block of Commons fame)  Shadow Minister for Children, at the Conservative Party Spring Forum. He seemed to get it. So did Terry Rooney MP, Chair of the DWP Select Committee, who I met yesterday after I’d been to the DWP.

The question is, what are politicians going to do about it? In a new era of austerity and public spending cuts, how do we tackle poverty? We think the Community Allowance is part of the answer to that question. For a change in the benefits regulations you get a win-win-win: for the person on benefits, earning a bit of money and gaining real work experience, for the community having socially valuable work done locally and for the tax payer every £1 spent on a Community Allowance would create £10.20 worth of social value.

We’re still waiting to hear from DWP about whether we can pilot the Community Allowance. The pace of the discussions in response to our Right to Bid proposal originally submitted in January 2009 is making us question the depth and sincerity of their commitment to pilot it in the 2008 White Paper. We’ll be blogging soon about what we’re thinking of doing next and how you can get involved.

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Happy New Year!

We are still waiting to hear from the DWP about the outcome of our Right to Bid proposal to pilot the Community Allowance in three locations in the UK. So frustrating! They did get in touch earlier this week with another list of questions for us. Let’s hope this is the last and that we get a positive answer soon and can get on with it. We know there are so many people out there for whom a Community Allowance would make such a positive difference and hundreds of community organisations with part time work opportunities they can’t fill because of the benefits trap.

There is no more time to lose… let’s allow communities a chance to build their own resilience and replace the revolving doors with ladders that reach all the way to the ground.

Over the next few weeks we are going to be publishing guest contributions to this blog from a range of different people, all with something to say about the Community Allowance. We’ll be hearing from from Lord Adebowale, Phillip Blond, Sir Trevor Chinn, Hilary Cottam, Julian Dobson, Will Hutton , Glenn Jenkins, Neil O’Brien, Dame Barbara Stocking and Julia Unwin CBE amongst others.

If you have something to say and would like to be a guest contributor to this blog, please get in touch – we’d love to hear from you.

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.

Good news from the DWP!

Our Right to Bid proposal for a £2.2 million programme of activity in 15 different areas across the UK has got through the latest stage of assessment from the DWP. At a two day meeting held in Sheffield on 27th – 28th May, civil servants from across the Department considered several Right to Bid proposals and the Community Allowance pilot programe was one of the few to go through to the next stage.

A civil servant from DWP said they were “very keen on the Community Allowance proposal, but could give no guarantees at this stage that it would definitely go ahead”. The bid will go through a further scrutiny process within DWP with operational and policy staff exploring the impact a pilot programme would have on the DWP’s work. DWP indicated that they are more likely to approve a pilot of ESA/IB client groups rather than JSA as there have been so many initiatives aimed at this group in the recent budget.

The DWP indicated that the Right to Bid process should come to an end in a matter of weeks, but is unable to give a definite date as this is the first time the Department has run an initiative like this.

We’ll keep you up to date with the negotiations through the blog – let us know what you think of the progress so far.

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.