This morning, Groundwork gave evidence on employment support before a committee of MPs in the House of Commons.

Graham Parry, Director of Youth, Employment & Skills at Groundwork London, was invited to speak to MPs on the Work and Pensions Select Committee about the Plan for Jobs and employment support. The session covered a range of topics, drawing on Groundwork’s 40-year experience of improving people’s prospects through employment support.

Importance of local community networks

Asked about the best ways to engage people who are economically inactive with the opportunities available through employment support, Graham highlighted the need to value the role of the community and voluntary sector.

“Take a food bank, they’re not just going to be distributing food, they’ll be having conversations with people that are helping them find solutions to their problems… I think the work of some of these organisations could be incentivised, so they take it one stage further and help them engage in the system… They could do it more effectively if they had some resource to go with it.”

Groundwork’s experience with Kickstart

Groundwork employed 426 young people on six-month paid work placements through the Kickstart scheme and a further 224 were placed with other employers. The committee asked about our experience of the programme and ways that it could have been improved.

Graham explained that Kickstart was set up at pace during the pandemic and was designed to help young people aged 16-24 who were work ready. Organisations like Groundwork used it as an opportunity to offer supported work placements to young people who had more barriers to work because we have experience and specialism in doing that, but the programme wasn’t designed for that. It could have helped more people if organisations were offered more funding to cover support costs, if the only route in wasn’t through Job Centres and dependent on claiming certain benefits, and if employers were expected to support people to progress into longer-term employment at the end of it.

Providing a more holistic employment support service

Employment support does a lot more than simply help get people into work. Where people experience complex barriers to work, such as poor mental health, insecure housing, or limited English language skills, these things need addressing to enable them to meet their goals.

The committee asked about the role of employment support in helping people already in work to progress towards their goals, for example to take on more hours or find a higher paid or more secure role. Graham’s answer highlighted the need to sustain support after someone has secured a role, to make sure that they are successful in adapting to the world of work.

There are also some potential quick wins: “You can get more holistic provision without spending more money”. For example, there’s huge potential for Groundwork staff delivering employment services and social prescribing services to work together but because of the way programmes are set up and funded, at the moment they are often unable to make referrals to each other.

Changing funding for employment support

The employment support sector is facing significant changes, with the end of European Structural Funds (ESF) and the transition to the replacement UK Shared Prosperity Fund (UKSPF).

Graham highlighted the gap between the end of ESF funded projects – many of which have already finished – and the people and skills element of the UKSPF which is not due to kick in until 2024, which presents a risk for individuals and for the capacity of the sector:

“Unless those organisations and those programmes have already got a clear progression into locally procured UKSPF provision, then participants are going to get dropped off the end of it and huge amounts of talent will be lost from the sector.”

However, he also highlighted opportunities for the Department for Work and Pensions to step in and play a more active role in commissioning local services and taking the learning from them to inform improvements elsewhere: “Rather than thinking it has to be funded locally or it has to be funded nationally, co-production and co-funding of projects could be a good way forward”.

Notes to Editors

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About Groundwork

Groundwork is a charity working locally and nationally to transform lives in the UK’s most disadvantaged communities.

We’re passionate about creating a future where every neighbourhood is vibrant and green, every community is strong and able to shape its own destiny, and no one is held back by their background or circumstances. We help people gain confidence and skills, get into training and work, protect and improve green spaces, lead more active lives and overcome significant challenges such as poverty, isolation, low skills and poor health: