Tag Archives: spending cuts

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

Louise

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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

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.

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