The domestic policy agenda has ground to a near halt in recent months with the B word dominating political discourse in the UK. This has meant that some of the most important societal issues we are facing remain under the radar. One of these issues is in-work poverty. Research from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation last year shows that the number of workers in poverty has risen to 4 million; this means roughly one in eight in the economy can now be classified as working poor. While work often has many benefits which go beyond the purely financial, the rise of in-work poverty begins to question the narrative that work is the best route out of poverty.
With this context in mind, Shaw Trust last month hosted a small conference intended to kick start the conversation on the future of in-work progression support. Although the factors behind in-work poverty are wide ranging, in-work progression support clearly has a key role to play in reducing in-work poverty and helping people progress in their careers. I think it is a fair generalisation to say that the employment system in recent years has focused primarily on job entry. This focus has helped reach record employment levels in the UK, yet the welfare bill remains high partly due to low wages. A shift in focus is needed now. There is opportunity for the employment support sector to play a much greater key role in supporting people in low paid employment to achieve greater career and wage progression. This will pay dividends not just for these individuals but employers and the economy.
During the event we hosted last month, guests including representatives from the Greater London Authority, Housing Associations, employers and Local Authorities, heard and discussed some of the in-work progression services Shaw Trust and Prospects are successfully delivering in London. The team behind the Employment Plus programme, a contract which supports low paid workers in Central, North and East London with the aim of up-skilling participants to progress toward a better future through increased overall income and job security, spoke about how the programme has evolved over the last couple of years. Perhaps notably, while the programme helped more than half of the participant’s get an improved contract or an increased hourly wage, it was also warmly received by many employers as it supported their staff to gain new qualifications and additional training.
The Employment Plus programme is ending later this year and at present there is no like for like replacement lined up. Programmes like this add to the evidence base that dedicated personalised in-work career support is effective. We want to continue the conversation about what the future of in-work progression delivery can and should look like, as we believe done well it can play a vital role in moving more individuals out of poverty and help build more stable futures for the next generation.
We at Shaw trust want to hear your thoughts. So, please do get in touch if you would like to find out more about our in work progression programmes and pilots, or want to share views on what the future of in-work support should look like.
Charlie Garnett is Policy and Public Affairs Officer at Shaw Trust