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Working Communities: The Future of Housing and Employment

Wednesday 12 September | St Bride Foundation, 14 Bride Ln, London EC4Y 8EQ

Plenary One: Devolution Now
• Joe Dromey, Senior Research Fellow - Employment and Skills, IPPR
• Phil de Montmorency, Principal Policy Officer, Skills & Employment Team, GLA
• Rachel Egan, Programme Lead for Skills, Employment & Productivity, West Midlands Combined Authority

In this session, Joe talked about the challenge of unemployment, inactivity and low pay in social housing. In a high employment economy housing association tenants are important people to focus on, as 3 in 5 tenants rely on housing benefit to help pay the rent. Housing associations are well-placed to support employment, with 4 in 10 of them providing employability and skills and an overall sector investment of c.£70m pa. The IPPR report makes recommendations around localism of the Work and Health Programme and other future programmes.

Phil then spoke of how the GLA welcomed the renewed focus that the IPPR report brings and stressed that it needs to be made easier for housing associations to engage with the employment support and skills sectors. Residents need to be seen as assets to housing associations, in the same way that the bricks and mortar are. With regard to devolution of the Work & Health Programme and Adult Education Budget, Phil said this offers an opportunity to better align the Work and Skills systems to meet the unique challenges we face in our capital.

Finally, Rachel gave some background on the formation of the WMCA and the scope of its work. The WMCA’s regional skills plan was published in June 2018 and it was the first combined authority to secure a skills deal in July 2018. It is running an employment support pilot which has far wider eligibility criteria to ensure anyone in the community has access to the support they need, and the payment model is designed to avoid ‘cherry picking’ of customers. WMCA sees devolution as an opportunity to connect funding and policy partners on the ground and a chance for partners to be clear about what they can offer locally.

Breakout one: Enterprise
• Sacha Anthony, Director, ASE Assist

The gig economy has grown extensively over the last few years, with companies like TaskRabbit, UpWork, Etsy and others meaning that people can do real work and get real money. People have skills, experience and hobbies which can be turned into work. Through the ASE Assist accredited course, people can look at the possibilities, gain confidence and gain a certificate too. Questions during the breakout focused on issues with Universal Credit, tax bills, post-course support and advised on good resources to use.

Breakout two: Housing initiatives: Apprenticeships and Local Partnerships
• Nick Parker, Executive Manager, Vestia Community Trust (part of The Community Housing Group)
• Mark Maddison, Love London Working Programme Manager (Strategic) and Alex Dean, Clarion Futures

Nick Parker from Vestia Community Trust talked about Fusion, a housing-led voluntary and community sector consortium in the Worcestershire area. Nick explained that it is important to talk to commissioners with shared goals and values in mind: housing associations are not just about housing tenants but have a broad reach across issues such as homelessness and mental health. The delivery model and contract management are kept simple. Job coaches meet on a monthly basis to share experiences and to support each other, and senior job coaches carry out case audits to make sure people are getting access to quality jobs. They are currently working with 608 participants, with 192 job outcomes so far. They are looking to double that figure in the near future.

Mark Maddison from Clarion Futures then gave an overview of apprenticeship delivery. Clarion’s reach means that they are in a strong position to be able to offer apprenticeships internally. Their aim is to employ 250 people per year and 10% of their workforce into new apprenticeships. The salaries that they offer are at real living wage, and they ensure that their contractors pay at least National Minimum Wage level. Barriers include some employers requiring only taking on graduates with urban planning qualifications, as well as low budgets. Bad experiences can also make apprenticeships more difficult to pitch. However, it is about winning hearts and minds, and making the case internally about the importance of apprenticeships.

Breakout three: Young People
• Matt Dronfield, Senior Employability Manager, London Youth
• Chris Adams, Employment Skills & Enterprise Team Manager, Radian

With youth unemployment at its lowest rate since 1992, the session focused on building young people’s confidence to help them thrive and achieve in society. Matt Dronfield talked about Talent Match, a programme that helps 18-24-year olds who have been out of work or full time education for over a year, but he also highlighted that there is an estimated 480,000 hidden young people. These are young people that are not accessing support from the system, possibly because they find it too restrictive. Moving forward, there is a need for dedicated, funded employment support for young people, and providing them the informed choices they need.

Chris from Radian then focused on projects that have been set up to help young people in the South of England. The Arcadia Project was started, created as an outside catering service, and aimed at helping young people who were struggling or failing at school. The service was fully run by young people, and became so successful, that further support projects have been set up. The session realised that there is huge potential in young people, and that this potential needs to be tapped into.

Breakout four: Impact and measurement
• Dr Katy Jones, Research Fellow, Sustainable Housing & Urban Studies Unit, University of Salford
• Gemma Hope, Director of Policy, Marketing and Communications, Shaw Trust

Katy Jones, Research Fellow at the University of Salford gave the group an overview of emerging findings from their work with GUAC on employment support. The research focuses on interviews and focus groups with residents and staff from a range of locations. Support varies across geographies, but across all areas support was described as person-focused and flexible to individual needs. Tenants were very positive about the support on offer and stated that issues such as low confidence and mental health would have been worse without this support in place. Support was often contrasted with what is on offer from Jobcentre Plus. The need for a non-mandatory service was shared amongst both tenants and staff. Challenges included the diversity of provision and different ways of measuring impact. In addition, some providers were sceptical of the value of existing impact measures and questioned the appropriateness of blunt measures for a complex client group and a changing job market. 

Gemma Hope, Director of Policy, Marketing and Communications from the Shaw Trust then talked about how the organisation measures its impact. Gemma gave the example of Live Well Kent, which provides housing advice, employment support, debt management and therapeutic interventions. The project was made up of around 60 different organisations but was built into a bigger contract. Outcome measures include wellbeing, employment and housing outcomes. The intention is to collect the data so that they can do something positive with it: trends are analysed, and the service delivery is developed in response. Shaw Trust also aim to capacity build other organisations in the supply chain. Gemma then went on to talk about the Work and Health Programme: Shaw Trust does not just measure employment outcomes but also looks at ‘key life areas’, which include health, finance, life skills, housing, social support and networks.

Breakout five: In-Work Progression
• Jackie Sumner, Head of Community Investment, Town and Country Housing
• Hannah Murphy, Research, Learning and Work Institute

In this session Hannah Murphy, Research lead Learning and Work institute gave an overview of the economic backdrop with 4.9 million people in low paid jobs and three quarters of people in low paid jobs ten years ago are still in low paid jobs today. There are three main ways to tackle the issue of low pay and progression including using an employer focus, individual focus and skills-based focus. It is important to ensure the personal advisors who will deal with people in low paid jobs have the right skills and training to help them and in particular a thorough knowledge of the local job market. 

Jackie Sumner, Head of Community Investment Town and County Housing gave insights of their experiences in Tunbridge Wells, an outwardly prosperous area which actually has had entrenched areas of disadvantage for the last 60 years. Jackie started using research from observatories to establish a baseline. The results of which when laid over local geography saw correlation with disadvantaged areas. They decided to focus on three sectors, hospitality and catering, care and security to concentrate effort and subsequently started the process to gain funding as a Business Improvement District.

Breakout 6: Disability and health
• Steve Hawkins, Managing Director, Pluss
• Matthew McLean, Community Investment Services Manager, Southern Housing

With 17.2% of the tenants in social rented housing being disabled, the session opened with Merron Simpson, NHS Alliance, stating that work and health doesn’t always go hand in hand. Matthew Mclean (Southern Housing), further echoed this, stating that 50% of people with disabilities are in work, compared with 81% of able-bodied people. He continued, by saying that mental health is a big issue, in relation to help they are able to access, and levels of unemployment. He summarised by stating that it was clear that unemployment went hand in hand with rent arrears, and a more person-centred approach was needed to help improve this. This could be done by designing more suitable programmes and providing early tenancy support.

As a prime contractor for the Work and Health Programme (WHP), and a deliverer of WHP, Steve Hawkins (Pluss), said that Pluss helped over 50% of people with disabilities into employment. Steve also stated that Brexit has meant that companies are struggling to recruit, making a gap in the labour market open to people with disabilities and mental health issues. He concluded by saying that preventing people falling out of employment was as important as getting them into employment.

Plenary Two: Into the Future
• Lord Best, British social housing leader, Vice President of the LGA, Chair, CSJ Housing Commission and crossbench member of the Lords
• Robert Tinker, Policy Officer, Joseph Rowntree Foundation
• Victoria Whittle, Head of Jobs and Training, Clarion Futures

Lord Best spoke about the positive work that MHCLG is doing with regard to the Homelessness Reduction Act. However, this is being undermined by the DWP’s freeze on housing benefit, which causes a gap in the ability to pay rent and in turn causes homelessness. The private rented sector is disappearing as an option for those on housing benefit, with 91% of London’s private landlords not accepting tenants on housing benefit. Lord Best reiterated that employment support needs to be a part of housing associations’ remit and they will have an increasingly large part to play in supporting those on housing benefit going forward.

Rob then talked about Britain’s decision to leave the European Union and how ERSA, NCVO and other partners had lobbied for a replacement for the European Social Fund (ESF). ESF’s replacement, the UK Shared Prosperity Fund (UK SPF), will likely be driven by the Local Industry Strategies (LIS), which are to be completed by 2020. LIS will in turn be led by LEPs, which promote local growth and may be tasked with administering UK SPF directly. For this reason, it is key that LEPs are focused on and driven by reducing inequality and responding to local need. Joseph Rowntree Foundation is publishing a report on the principles of UK SPF.

Finally, Victoria talked about Clarion Futures and its approach to supporting residents into work and training. Clarion Futures has a 150-strong community investment team and sets itself a target of 4,000 people into work and 250 apprentices per year. Clarion offers training, grants, placements and in-work support and assists residents in managing their money. It has also set itself a target of 50,000 new homes in the next 10 years and for every £1m Clarion gives to a contractor, they must provide apprenticeship and job opportunities in return for residents.