Recently, NPC hosted a virtual roundtable on the rising rate of unemployment and what charities can do to help. You can watch the full webinar here. This guest blog is by one of our attendees, Mark Cosens MA FIEP of Cosens Consult. Mark is an independent consultant, specialising in tender-related services and research; primarily on employment and training. He is interested in reform and, through experience, he believes that employment related support services need to be designed, commissioned and delivered in more effective ways.
The world is in commotion. The outbreak of Covid-19, with its lockdowns and social distancing constraints, has left millions of people facing the devastating prospect of unemployment.
Yet even before the pandemic, despite then record low levels of unemployment in the UK, people still needed help to find jobs and unemployment (and economic inactivity) hadn’t actually been solved. We still had generational unemployment hotspots; half of NEET (not in education, employment, or training) young people didn’t engage with Jobcentre Plus support services; the number of people with no qualifications and low skill levels stayed stubbornly high; minority groups and lone parents remained less likely to be in work; the government’s target to support one million extra disabled jobseekers into work had to be extended; and precarious employment kept on climbing.
Then, within a week or two of the first lockdown starting, it looked like we were heading for the biggest increase in unemployment in a generation. If this huge setback is to be overcome, we need better coordinated funding for employment services and a comprehensive ‘map’ of all of the existing providers of employment support services.
A better way to coordinate funding
During this commotion, many excellent charities have been helping people to look for lasting work. While capacity was stretched and funding was harder to come by, there was also an opportunity to help rebuild local ‘ecosystems’ and to make them work much better than before. With some good faith and imagination, we can continue to introduce more effective approaches to partnership working, which can lead to a reduction in unemployment and better outcomes for hard-pressed individuals and their families.
As we move forward, central and local government commissioners and charities need to find better ways to coordinate funding for employment, health and skills related support. In my view, the best way to deliver this would be through combined ‘Personal Employment Accounts’.
These are carefully managed arrangements, whereby a capped budget is allocated to an individual. With the help of a ‘key worker’—this could be someone like an employment coach, a housing officer, a skills tutor or a local authority worker—the individual can then use this budget to ‘buy’ the right services for them. These services would include counselling, travel fares, childcare, work clothes, or help with any other reasonable costs that are acting as barriers to work and learning.
The main argument goes that when people are involved in choosing their own services, they are more engaged in making them work. Therefore, well designed, well delivered and carefully monitored individual accounts would work well. They give jobseekers and precariously employed workers the freedom and flexibility to access the right services for them, at the right time for them in their journey towards sustainable employment.
There are plenty of related precedents for this approach. For example, for mental health services there are Personal Health Budgets and for employment support for people who are homeless there are Campaigns set up by the charity Beam.
‘Mapping’ providers of employment support
However, employability isn’t delivered in isolation of other factors. We need to go beyond ‘just employability’ programmes. A diverse range of services, including charities, need to be able to work flexibly and responsively together, to meet people’s and employers’ needs, especially during these complex and challenging times.
This could be enabled by comprehensively ‘mapping’ all of the existing providers of employment support in an area. This map would enable members of the ‘ecosystem’ to be identified and involved in improving and coordinating holistic support models.
All the relevant stakeholders in an area would continually benefit by having access to an up-to-date understanding of the full portfolio of relevant services in their areas and greater partnerships could be formed and the right contextual support developed.
I am confident that more informed partnership working can produce better employment outcomes. In my opinion, the philanthropic funder bold enough to commission, responsibly own and openly publish this ‘map’ would help generate immense social impact. Innovative delivery models like ‘Personal Employment Accounts’ would then be more feasible and situational approaches could be better funded and more formalised.
In times of commotion like these, it would enable the whole ‘ecosystem’ to work better together in incalculable ways.