Tag Archives: welfare reform

When points mean more cash for getting some people back to work

Guest Blog by Jess Steele – Chair of the CREATE Consortium

 

Why would the social justice sector welcome the commodification of the people it cares about?

People are complicated. Life always has another nasty twist else to throw at the weakest. Disadvantages breed and feed off each other. Real people face multi-complex mixtures of poor housing, poor health, debt, violence, and a series of petty but frightening entanglements with the ‘safety net’ state. Local community organisations can be life-savers precisely because they don’t focus on one issue but on whole people.

Why would I dare to suggest, then, that we might welcome a points-based system that sets a value to the individual on the basis of their various disadvantages? Surely ‘differential payments’ whereby a welfare to work provider would get more money for someone with more points, just entrenches the commodification of benefit claimants. I hate the way the Dept for Work and Pensions talks about ‘the welfare stock’ like so many products to be shifted off a shelf. But as someone who believes passionately in local social justice, I’ve spent years looking for welfare solutions that recognise distance travelled and value the small moves a person can take towards a more independent, more engaged life lived locally. I think the points system could be part of it.

Our proposals for the Community Allowance would allow community organisations to pay local people to do the work that needs doing in neighbourhoods without affecting their benefits and wrapped round with the support that only trusted, rooted local civil society can offer.  Most of the work that needs doing is part-time, sessional or short-term – these are new kinds of job altogether, a phantom economy that should exist but doesn’t. While we wait for Iain Duncan dynamic benefits system, let’s focus on these small-scale win-win-win opportunities.

The move towards large-scale contractors in ‘the welfare industry’ is hurtling towards its logical conclusion.  Private providers will raise private finance for working capital to cash-flow ‘black box’ employment support programmes across huge regions. Government will use the benefit savings to buy outcomes after 12 months – getting someone into a job – and then again at 24 and 36 months for keeping them in work. If everyone is treated the same and there are no rewards for the steps towards employability the temptation to cherry-pick the ‘easy’ ones is irresistible.

Imagine that Lisa is a single mother with 3 children and a history of drug use, John has just left prison, Hanan is up to her eyes in debt and Priya is fighting a custody battle that makes him angry and depressed. All have been assessed and they average 22 points on a scale that goes to 30. They are all getting support from and working on the Community Allowance through the community anchor organisation Downtown Trust. Over the course of a year the trust supports them to make progress in their lives and experience some real but very flexible work. At the end of the year their average points reduce to 9. Now they’re in a space where a private provider could help and within another year three of them are in work. At this stage the provider would get much less money for them, not just at the point of job placement but for each of the next two years (average 9 points x 3 outcomes x 3 years =81). But if the provider had grant-funded or contracted with Downtown Trust from the start they could be said to ‘own’ the points our four friends began with and could be rewarded accordingly (22x3x3 =198). If the claimable benefits savings payment was £300 per point per year the changed lives of these four people would have contributed an additional £23,000 which could refund the provider for cost of the grant/contract to Downtown.

There are lots of assumptions here and it would need to be modelled to make sure it was viable for everyone involved. But at the core of the idea is the simple valuing of support to help people deal with the barriers in their complicated lives, the development of a business model that can legitimately and sustainably reward those who provide that support best, and the creation of a new kind of community-based mini-job that transforms the way local neighbourhood regeneration gets done.

Link to BBC News 24 Interview

My interview on about the government’s plans for compulsory unpaid manual work is now on You Tube. Please see it here and let us know what you think

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

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

Surviving on a shoestring? Stuck in the benefits trap? Why not share your experiences with the world

From our experience, the assumption that people living on benefits don’t want to work simply isn’t true. We know that trying to survive on a very low income in the UK is a tricky business. Which is why we are working with OXFAM to find people who would be willing to share their experiences and frustrations on what it’s really like trying to survive in the system.

We’d like to hear from women and men who’d be up for taking part in a blog to record your experiences, tips and ideas as the Government makes decisions that affect your lives. We also want people who are happy to talk to the media. We think it’s time that the public and politicians see what it’s really like to survive in Britain today.

If you are struggling with the system, whether in work or on JSA, receiving housing benefit, incapacity benefits, are a single parent finding it hard to get by or have recently lost your job and can commit to volunteering with us as a blogger for the next few months, please send an email to sdransfield@oxfam.org.uk

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

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