Do you know? What can be done to rescue one million people from poverty and social exclusion? Are local Councils an answer for one million unemployed people who don’t get benefits? Has the sanctions regime cut the benefits bill but just transferred the costs of the most vulnerable elsewhere? I’ve banged on for ages about the growing number of people who are not working but who are not receiving any benefits or Government support to get back in to employment.  Significant problems are: Numbers.  There are now over a million people in this situation – more than are claiming Job Seekers Allowance (JSA). Causes.  There has been recent furore over unfair/fraudulent benefit sanctions decisions by Government  plus questions about possibly 60 benefit-related deaths.  In relation to disabled people, issues with the Work Capability Assessment on fitness for work/benefits entitlement continue, the Work Programme has had limited success, there has been criticism of the secretive Government decision making about eligibility for Access To Work support and a Parliamentary Select Committee heard evidence that sanctions are having extreme impact on disabled people.   It’s not surprising that many people are simply walking away from the benefits system and employment programmes as being just too difficult and too risky. Consequences.  There is now high risk that these million people will now raise costs to the State and society as they place more demand on the criminal justice system, the health sector, food banks and the voluntary sector.  At the same time, they are becoming even more remote from many types of interventions – becoming a large group detached from society with increasingly intractable and high cost issues. Some local Councils have been making a difference for such vulnerable and distant-from-work residents through locally delivered, one-to-one, tailored support.  But this is unlikely to continue in the face of further funding reductions as reported by the Local Government Association (LGA). Big national programmes (whether delivered by Jobcentres or external contractors) can be effective for mainstream job seekers.  Those who face more challenges and represent the highest costs across Government Departments need more “human scale” bespoke services.  But Government, understandably, doesn’t want to return to the costly management of a plethora of small contracts.  Instead, as advocated by the LGA and many others, funding could be devolved more locally – perhaps to Councils to commission and manage contracts singly or collectively (such as the Combined Authorities that may provide some political/financial devolution in England). But such new contracting arrangements need to avoid previous pitfalls: “Creaming” of people with most work potential and “parking” of those with least. Unpredictable levels of people referred for support. Targets restricted to work outcomes that fail to acknowledge savings to other parts of government. Excessive focus on young people at the cost of the larger numbers of other vulnerable unemployed people (i.e. re-focussing the aspirations of the LGA ). The vested interests of current Work Programme and Work Choice prime contractors. Whoever wins the May election, there are a million people who need real cross-Government vision, fair benefit systems and far more successful interventions – or they may continue as an increasingly disadvantaged and deprived under-class. Bouquet of the week. The Bolsover Partnership and District Council are prime examples of how a local Council can make an impact in bringing many different support organisations together and helping their most vulnerable residents to improve their lives and health, fulfil their potential to work and forge stronger communities.  See some of their work at www.helptowork.org.uk. Yours helpfully Penny Melville-Brown penny@laylands.co.uk
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