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Capital Gains

Maximising work opportunities for disadvantaged Londoners: a round table with Dame Carol Black

We’ve long been interested in the role that employment can play in helping to change lives. In late July we invited around 30 experts from the public, private and voluntary sectors to a round table at the Guildhall in the City of London to explore this further, and to contribute to a conversation about how disadvantaged jobseekers can be better supported.

Revolving Doors Agency’s chief executive opened the meeting by setting out our position – that for those who are able to work, good quality work can and should play a role in the process of recovery and desistance. We understand the complex associations between substance misuse, mental ill health, homelessness and offending, and that these can sometimes be moderated by good quality work. In addition to job entry, we also think that more can and should be done to help people find good quality work, and to enable them to progress once they have their foot on the ladder.

Our keynote speaker was Dame Carol Black, advisor to successive governments, and Principal of Newnham College, Cambridge. Dame Carol’s most recent review was into drug and alcohol misuse, obesity and employment; she provided a fascinating and detailed account of the review process and the conclusions, aspects of which are set out in the accompanying presentation.

Kirsty McHugh from the Employment Related Services Association, the membership body for the employment support sector, set out three challenges for London:

  • London leaders, providers and stakeholders need to step up. Westminster will be focused on other things for the foreseeable future.
  • Devolution, as with Manchester, should offer the scope to do this; There’s a need to develop capacity & resilience in the employment support system – improve stability, strengthen workforce skills, and rebuild trust between jobseekers and ESA claimants, and providers;
  • There's a need to work with employers, who often want to do the right thing, but see recruitment through the prism of risk; we need to de-risk it for them.

As an organisation concerned for and working with people who often have multiple and complex barriers to employment, it was encouraging to hear the focus on collaboration and partnership, articulated clearly by Dame Carol and also by other attendees. London Councils has a vision of local hubs, offering a single front door to employment related services. Not just work coaches and employment specialists, but Universal Support services, and other services that might be useful to disadvantaged jobseekers, including health services and advice about childcare, housing and so on. European Social Fund will be combined with DWP funding in London to support the Work and Health Programme. This EU funding will presumably not continue past the end of the current budget period; local government is lobbying central government for replacement funding to support labour market programmes and regional economic development. 

Other participants mentioned the role given to social prescribing in NHS Sustainability and Transformation Plans, and how that might support activities such as education, skills and volunteering. Jan Hutchinson from the Centre for Mental Health gave a brief overview of Individual Placement and Support - an evidence-based approach to employment support that has gained increasing attention in recent years.

Alongside the optimism about how services and provision can be shaped to meet the needs of disadvantaged jobseekers in future, there were several notes of caution. Digital exclusion in the face of increased use of digital recruitment channels was mentioned by one participant. The difficulties posed by Universal Credit, including payment in arrears and, on top of that, delays that can double the expected five or six week wait. Can Access to Work cope with current numbers, never mind more? Do local commissioners and stakeholders have the evidence they need around the costs and – particularly – the economic and financial benefits of helping someone to find work? Public Health England is developing a resource that should help with this, although it will be limited in scope. Eamonn Davern from the Work and Health Unit re-emphasised the government commitment to the agenda, and acknowledged the nature of the challenge.

Many thanks to all who attended, and I hope that this meeting may have played a small part in stimulating the sorts of conversations and partnership working that so many would like to see – there’s clearly an appetite for it.

How organisations can get involved

Jobcentre Plus has acceess to a pot called the Flexible Support Fund. This is used both to help indivudals - for example, if someone needs equipment to start a job, and also to fund services. This money is managed locally to meet identified local priorities, and can range in value from under £10,000 to well over £100,000. The process is managed via DWP's Dynamic Purchase System (DPS), an online procurement system. Rather than responding to individual tenders, providers can register, upload their offer (including location, client group, expertise, services and so on) and will be contacted when a local opportunity arrises which they're the best fit for.

Upon registering on DWP's Bravo portal, which hosts DPS, providers will be asked to complete a number of pre-qualification questionnaires, to register on Basware. From then on the process should be automatic, and registered providers will receive a regular local newsletter outlining the sorts of opporttunities on offer. 

If you would like any further information about DWP's Flexible Support Fund and Dynamic Purchasing System, please contact Paul Anders at Revolving Doors Agency.