Lambeth has been working in partnership with Southwark and Lewisham to help those with complex needs into work, and getting much better results than the programmes commissioned centrally by Government, all without the need for punitive coercion. We need that budget and responsiblity devolved down to the local level so our vulnerable residents get the support and opportunities they need.
Lambeth enjoys an employment rate above the London average which is great for the majority, but which also masks some worrying trends. Too many people are languishing on low paid or insecure jobs. Unemployment, particularly amongst certain hard to reach groups, remains high and because of the Tories’ punitive regime, many of our residents are simply not appearing in their statistics. We however know they still need support to get into work.
As usual the Tories’ rhetoric doesn’t match up to the reality. Their claims to be creating a high wage, high skills economy is laughable when they are busy cutting the tax credits of the lowest paid. Over 15,000 families in Lambeth will be affected. A low earning single parent with a child could be up to £1,000 per year worse off. We all know the deficit has to come down, but targeting the least well off is perverse.
They are failing people who are out of work too. Behind the headlines, long term unemployment remains stubbornly high. It is worst amongst ‘hard to reach groups’. The Government’s Work Programme is producing poor results for these people, a failing identified by the Commons Public Accounts Committee: “those in greatest need are not getting the help they need… and are instead being parked by providers because their case is deemed just too hard.”
Of course there is no easy solution, but the success of a joint Lambeth, Lewisham and Southwark scheme called “Pathways to Employment” shows that the Government could do worse than look to Labour local authorities for examples of what works. Pathways focuses on four “hardest to help” groups; those aged 18-24, aged 50+, single parents and people with low level mental health needs. Cllr Joe Dromey has also written about his take on it from Lewisham here.
Last week it was praised in a report by the House of Commons Work and Pensions Committee, Welfare to Work, which noted the “very good” early results. Around 20% of participants had entered paid employment and this figure is expected to rise to 30% by the end of the year-long pilot in November 2015. By contrast, barely 4% of ESA claimants achieved three months of work after a year on the Work Programme.
Giving evidence before the Committee, Roby Fairman, Lambeth’s Lead identified integration with local services as being key. All job seekers are assigned a key worker and that person helps identify and address issues normally outside the scope of the Job Centre. That could be problems with debt, health issues or, most commonly, housing. One woman helped through the scheme had been out of work for several years and had accumulated significant debt. Her caseworker referred her to a debt agency who helped her structure a realistic re-payment plan. She was then supported to prepare a CV, and, with careful support, eventually found work as an Admin Support Officer at a care agency.
At a local level we are better able to remove barriers, usually across a range of partners which only a local authority is able to pull together effectively; we are able to ensure that local community and voluntary sector partners are able to provide and that other providers with whom our clients engage get the right training and signposting they need so all agencies deal with the individual as a real person, not a statistic.
There are dozens of such success stories and the potential for many more if the Government makes the right call. As we bang the drum for further devolution from Whitehall alongside expected independent think tanks such as the Insitute for Government did in a recent report here, smart, locally designed programmes, sensitive to local needs like Pathways to Employment, are a great example of what can be achieved. So Government, give us the budget, local knows best.