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LIVE / WORK / LEARN: Making an impact in Housing and Employment

Thursday 28 September 2017 | Battersea Arts Centre, Lavender Hill, London SW11 5TN

Keynote Speaker: David Orr, Chief Executive, National Housing Federation

David spoke of the chaotic political environment and the challenges that a weakened Conservative Government faces with regard to leaving the European Union. In terms of a credible opposition, David feels that there is a genuine willingness from the Labour Party to challenge Government to tackle the housing issues that exist in Britain.

Over the last few years, political change has stemmed from a feeling of disconnect on both sides of the Atlantic, with those feeling left behind choosing not to maintain the status quo. The Grenfell fire was beyond anyone’s worst nightmare and is indicative of a failure in social housing. The political upshot of the fire is that Government has announced it will bring forward the ‘once in a generation’ green paper, which looks at the value and use of social housing in Britain. However, Grenfell is not just a failure of social housing; it is a failure of basic building practices and safety measures.

David also said that residents in social housing have been othered as ‘benefit cheats’ and ‘scammers’. This narrative has enabled welfare cuts to be pushed through with far less resistance. The housing sector has an obligation to ensure that government, its opposition and the public share the view that everyone should have a good and safe home to live in, regardless of income. For decades after World War Two this was the general consensus, but in the last three decades this attitude has shifted dramatically.

David finished by stating that we need to rethink the kind of nation we want to be. The housing sector invests in not only bricks and mortar, but the potential within. If we start from the assumption that regardless of background, everyone has potential, we can tap into a much larger talent pool, which could be transformational.

Plenary 1:  The policy context: A shifting setting for support
Kirsty McHugh, Employment Related Services Association
Chloe Fletcher, National Federation of ALMOs
Phil Miles, Clarion Housing Group

Kirsty kicked off the session by talking about a lack of direction of travel politically, which is largely down to Brexit. A lack of continuity at DWP has not helped this. Government fundamentally thinks that the employment rate is good – employment is at its highest rate since 1971. Government also believes this level of employment will be maintained due to the change in tact by businesses following economic shock. The Conservatives are adamant that Universal Credit will be a success, but this is based on very limited analysis of single people without children.  The reality is that there are probably a lot more hidden NEETs and 9-10 million people in Britain without basic skills. Kirsty’s overarching message was to not take the status quo for granted as a lot has and will continue to change.

Chloe Fletcher then talked about the National Federation of ALMOs work, reporting on welfare reforms with the Association of Retained Council Housing (ARCH). The Bedroom Tax initially affected 10% of all members; this had dropped by a single percent as of March 2017. The federation has been using funds to help pay the bedroom tax. Similarly, the benefit cap which predominantly affects lone parents with 3+ children has been subsidised by discretionary housing benefit, effectively plugging holes created by the government’s welfare reforms.

Finally, Phil Miles of Clarion Housing Group spoke of the housing sector setting its own agenda.  Phil talked about Clarion Futures, the social purpose branch of the group and its aim to help 4,000 people into work, 250 apprentices and 100 business start-ups. He also talked about Love London Working and its aim to get 21,000 hardest to help Londoners into work in three years.
Clarion recognises that good work is the best route out of poverty and whilst social housing should be used as a springboard for good employment, Phil reiterated that the path to good employment for the hardest to help is not a linear journey, and impact has to be measured at various points along the journey, not just once an individual is employed.

Breakout 1: Apprenticeships and skills
Alex Hayes, G4S (chair)
Daniel Lally, Seetec
Victoria Whittle and Alex Dean, Clarion

Dan gave an overview of apprenticeship reforms and what this means for providers, employers and customers. Apprenticeship reforms have meant a move from frameworks to standards. There will be a minimum of 10 trailblazer organisations setting these standards and defining skills that they believe are required in the sector. The Apprenticeship Levy creates an opportunity for providers and employers. Partnership work is key, and there will be strategic relationships based on identifying current and future skills needs.

Victoria explained that for Clarion, the levy has created an opportunity to look at how more apprenticeships can be created within housing associations. As such, a dedicated apprenticeship team has been established, with a real focus on driving change. They have hit the target of 150 apprenticeships, and since November, 11 apprentices are now working as part of the organisation. They are now looking at how they can train younger staff through the apprenticeship standards. Alex emphasised the importance of contractors paying at National Minimum Wage, and the creation of good quality apprenticeship programmes.

Breakout 2: Mental Health First Aid
Kate Gilbert, Genius Within (chair)
Kevin Moore, Future Path
David Thomas, Barnet Homes

The session focused on the importance of frontline staff in housing and employment services being able to recognise symptoms of mental health conditions in residents and also be supported with their own mental health. So far, 23 members of staff from Barnet Homes have been trained. Mental Health First Aid is seen as helpful, informative, and critical for role of frontline staff. Questions were around increased productivity of staff at the frontline and ways to help HR objectives.

Breakout 3: Enterprise support
Roger Horne, ERSA (chair)
Alan Donegan, Pop Up Business School
Tom Arkle, Optivo
Sacha Anthony and Melanie Gildenhuys, ASE Assist

Alan and Tom kicked the session off with a presentation on their joint project helping people set up their own businesses. They argued that the traditional approach to providing support to those seeking to start a business is very onerous on the individual, and can hamper rather than harness creative spirit. Instead, they believe that the most important element of support is around building confidence and resilience. Equally, they argue that people should avoid starting businesses through loans if possible, as this adds pressure, and therefore believe that early sales is very important.

Sacha and Melanie then provided a powerful case for why self-employment can work so well for some people looking to get back into work. They argued that flexibility can be immensely empowering, providing a route back into employment for those with competing demands, such as carers.

Breakout 4: Supporting residents into better work
Sam Windett, ERSA (chair)
Andrew Moore, Prospect Services
Jon Fisher and Lauren Green, Sovereign Housing Association

Andrew explained that with the UK now having a very high employment rate, there has been a clear shift of emphasis towards in-work progression. Prospects are currently delivering a one-year in-work progression programme for 4,500 customers, with the target of progressing 50% of people (as measured by wage increases). Prospects have partnered with housing associations as a referral route for this programme. The nature of the support required means that service delivery is very different to traditional employment support. Especially important is that support has to be delivered flexibly to meet the busy schedules of customers, often in the evenings or on weekends. Delivering the Programme has also had some clear challenges, in particular around evidencing the eligibility of customers for the support. Overall, there is also a challenge around changing he mindset of employment support providers from seeking to get people into work, to seeking to get them better work, and this will take time.

John and Lauren supported Andrew’s diagnosis of the increasing importance of in-work support services. In 2016, 20% of Sovereigns job outcomes were better work, and this year this may increase to as much as 50%. There are a range of ways of defining progression, including the obvious such as pay, but also other factors such as access to childcare and sustainment. This kind of support requires a much more rounded offer from the provider. Part of the challenge of providing in-work progression support is getting people to engage with the idea, when they are already busy and working.

Breakout 5: The future for young people
Lynsey Sweeney, GUAC (chair)
Rod Natkiel, Fair Train
Graham Parry, Groundwork

Fair Train is the Work Experience Quality Standard accreditation holder, which provides external quality assurance for high quality work experience and employability programmes. A recent DfE employer survey found that only 38% of employers offered work experience. The benefits for business include greater business development, as well as raising morale, increasing productivity and creating management experience for existing staff. Poor quality work experience, on the other hand, results in decreased productivity, negative reputation for the provider and for the learner, a lack of connection between the classroom and the workplace.

Groundwork creates green spaces for living and working, with a view to improving prospects and supporting young people to either stay or move back into education and employment. Groundwork organise achievement coaching, which is led by the young person and is based on what they want to achieve. This is adaptable to different settings and it sets people up with the tools to learn and become independent. Groundwork looks at NEET at risk indicators, and focuses on the GCSE years. Barriers to this provision include a move to the Payment by Results (PBR) framework. The approach requires time and traditional youth work, and funding has been reduced. Other barriers include delays in the decision making process and a short delivery timetable. There may also be a temptation for employers to use the apprenticeship levy for older people already in the workplace.

Breakout 6: Mindfulness: the route to happiness and employment
Sylvia Tijmstra, St Mungo’s (chair)
Marc Molloy, One Housing
Rosa Connor and Vicky Johnson, Museum of Happiness

Marc gave an introduction to the employment work that One Housing undertakes with their clients. Marc and his team are constantly looking for new ways to innovate and help unemployed residents on their pathway back to work. He was approached by an organisation called the Museum of Happiness which uses techniques such as mindfulness, meditation and yoga to help people feel better about themselves and their circumstances and offered them some space to operate as a social value partner.

Rosa and Vicky from the Museum of Happiness talked through some of the science around the human body’s fight and flight response and related this to the anxiety and depression faced by the unemployed. Marc and the team from Museum of happiness started to use breathing techniques, yoga and mindfulness to prepare for interviews and whilst it is early days the initial feedback and outcomes have been extremely positive. They finished the session with some practical and fun exercises with the audience.

Plenary 2: Cutting through the noise: Working together to deliver holistic support
Derek Harvey OBE and Neil Hodgson, Department for Work and Pensions
Mary-Kathryn Rallings Adams, HACT
Tracey Gyateng, New Philanthropy Capital

Derek explained the changing role of Jobcentre Plus (JCPs), as well as the practical realities of the Dynamic Purchasing System and new employment support programmes. Derek explained that JCP has three current priorities around social justice, making work pay and improving the disability and health condition unemployment gap. To help them meet these priorities, JCP is undergoing significant changes and Universal Credit is proving the catalyst for a fundamental change in  how it interacts with customers. For instance, under UC, Work Coaches will have greater agency over the decisions they take, including with sanctions. The Flexible Support Fund will also provide considerable discretion to Work Coaches in how they approach getting someone into work, and they will have access to a range of programmes, including Specialist Employment Support, Work Choice, New Enterprise Allowance, Access to Work, and the new Work and Health Programme. Derek finished by explaining that the Dynamic Purchasing System has been designed to increase access for small specialist providers.

Mary-Kathryn talked of the power of carrying out robust research of the programmes and initiatives that organisations deliver. HACT specialise in undertaking Randomised Control Trials (RCTs) - the gold standard for evaluation research – in the housing sector. Alongside providing robust finding n the efficacy of an intervention, RCTs also allow researchers to test a range of variables that can help organisations with future programme design. Mary-Kathryn explained that the Joseph Rowntree Foundation has made funding available to match-fund any RCT trials in the employment sector. For interested attendees, the deadline for applications is the end of October.

Tracey then tackled how to evidence effectiveness in circumstances where RCTs are not possible. Harnessed correctly, data has huge value, both in terms of understanding what’s working, but also for designing future interventions. Too often, organisations are unaware of what’s already been tried, and even if they are aware, they are unable to see the results. To tackle this, New Philanthropy Capital has worked with ERSA for the past two years building a Justice Data Lab, and are now in the process of building an Employment Data Lab. The data labs harness previously inaccessible government data to serve as a guide to organisations on how to design optimum services, based on what works.