Friday, 24 February 2012

What Are We Doing About Worklessness?

It’s encouraging to see that as the country warms up for the arrival of the Olympics that we are already hitting record-breaking form. It’s unfortunate in this context though as the record broken was the unemployment rate, which rose to 8.4% - the highest level for 16 years. This is a national issue but it’s something that we find in our own communities. Manchester as a whole had 4.4% unemployment but Old Trafford and Stretford were higher with 4.5%, Trafford was slightly lower with 3.1%. Despite the merest hints of growth among the number of job vacancies (no one mention green shoots of recovery,,,), this is a desperate picture.

Green shoots of recovery?
Worklessness is a key issue for us as an organisation and I feel it's something that the government could more directly connect with Housing Associations over - there's a real opportunity to use the position of our organisations to attack unemployment in direct and indirect ways.

We target worklessness not just because of the moral imperative to help, but also because it is key to our success as an organisation. We have a stated aim to be at the heart of our neighbourhoods. Worklessness destroys not just the lives of those directly affected, but the lives of those indirectly associated with unemployment. It has a tendency to make people dependent, when housing professionals and others in public service are seeking to encourage people who can, to take more personal responsibility. Equally, we have a duty to protect our income and tackling worklessness takes us another step towards knowing that tenants have the capacity to pay their rent.

So how do we help? We’ve split our work into five different categories, all of which we see as essential steps to combating worklessness.

  • Capacity Building – this is the process of equipping people with the specific and general skills that they need to enter the workforce. One example of this is that we recently had 40 school leavers who did a six week confidence-building course preparing them for life outside of school. 
  • Job Readiness – this is where we help to equip people with awareness of the different careers that are out there for them and connect different groups with available opportunities. The back to work schemes we run for those who have been out of work for nine months have been popular and successful. 
  • Work Experience – we offer work experience at nearly every level of the Trust and have schemes such as Bright Futures which takes young people from five schools in the area and exposes them to work roles and responsibility within the Trust. 
  • Jobs with our Partners – at every partnership level we have we look to create employment. For example, the building contractors we work with are expected to take on apprentices to provide ways into the construction industry. 
  • Jobs with the Trust – we run schemes like Clean Start that offer employment opportunities to ex-offenders and we’re also starting our search for six apprentices to join THT in real posts which will give them a salary, exposure to work and ongoing training. 
This final scheme is especially pertinent. Although it would be wrong to characterise the unemployment issue the UK is facing as exclusively a young person’s problem, we have to accept that this is where the brunt of the burden is falling. Unemployment among 16-to-24-year-olds hit 22.2% nationally - representing 1.06 million young people who are without work. In our own borough the extra pressure on the young is reflected with an unemployment rate for 18-24 year olds of 8.6%. Nevermind the Nimbys, this is the era of the NEETS.

With the news this week of the departure of Emma Harrison from A4E this would be the ideal opportunity for the government to start exploring the ways that they could better capitalise on the work Housing Associations are already doing to address unemployment. Across the range of HAs - there is a wealth of evidence to suggest that we have considerable success. Such is the importance of the issue of unemployment that it will always require approaching from different angles. While organisations motivated by financial return can have their place, it seems sensible to consider further incentivising the role non-profit distributing bodies can play too. This has to start with recognising the work that HAs are already doing and then looking at how they can best be encouraged to improve and extend the schemes they have in place. Over to Whitehall...

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