Employability programmes have transformed our communities

Employment

​Ross Ahlfeld argues employability programmes should not just be promoted but protected 

26th February 2018 by Robert Armour 1 Comment

Sometimes, I feel as if we should embrace and fight to save our employability programmes, just as nurses, teachers and public sector workers often defend their own services.

For example, back to 2009 Labour launched the ‘Future Jobs Fund’ to help  unemployed people into work by taking them off benefits. The Tories eventually ended the fund but those of us tasked with the delivery of FJF felt as if we had deliver a positive initiative which achieved very many good outcomes for those individuals who accessed the fund.

Uniquely, the funding was given to local authorities and then outsourced to self governing, community development trusts such as my own, rather than large, private sector agencies. FJF also offered people a real waged alternative to JSA rather than mandatory, unpaid, ‘workfare.’

More so, the labour force remained within their own areas, doing meaningful jobs within community centres, arts and heritage projects, social enterprises, community gardens and cafes, elderly befriending projects and community benefit construction programmes.  FJF was a positive example of investment into local communities during a downturn which resulted in a flourishing of social value.

FJF also accepted the economic reality of post-industrial towns simply having no jobs for job seekers to move into. Rather than placing the blame for joblessness on the workers themselves, FJF allowed local authorities to find creative solutions to their own budget gaps, while at the same time, doing something positive about unemployment. FJF was also an act of decentralisation, despite criticisms levelled against Mr Brown’s Government for its tendency towards centralisation.

DWP also considered the scheme to be good value for money, resulting in a net benefit though tax contributions and a reduction in benefits being paid out. Participants were also far more likely to find unsubsidized employment. Even today, FJF still offers a template for good statecraft, local authorities and local voluntary orgs all working together for the common good.

Meaningful work is always performed better when there is humanity in the system

It’s also worth noting that FJF was rooted in Keynesian economics, FJF could have come straight out of John Maynard Keynes ‘The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money’. This is the idea that Governments must spend to create jobs as to stimulate domestic demand. Keynes argued that job creation initiatives were necessary during times of economic depression, its part of what he described as the multiplier effect’.

And so, some awareness of economics can be useful for us employability workers as to identify the return of negative social attitudes towards the unemployed. I say ‘return’ because such social attitudes towards the poor are always cyclical.

Today, we see a resurgence of 19th century social attitudes which make the unemployed responsible for their own joblessness while describing poverty as a vice or a personal choice. These are the very same attitudes which resulted in the creation of the Poor Laws, designed to deter the working classes from reliance on welfare.

The demonization of the jobless, the restoration of the laissez-faire state and monetarist economics all have the potential to influence policy and inform how we deliver our services. Yet, meaningful work is always performed better when there is humanity in the system as opposed to a transactional client and service deliverer relationship.

As such, we should be wary of any social policy which places an emphasis on correcting the ‘bad habits’ of the jobless alongside the delivery of punitive schemes. Ultimately, employability is something we do with, and alongside people, not to them.

To do this we need job creation to build up community, create local jobs and mitigate the worst effects austerity. Rather than programmes which commodify our solidarity with the unemployed people we serve.

Ross Ahlfeld works for Inverclyde Community Development Trust as centre coordinator at Port Glasgow Business and Training Centre 

Comments

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28th February 2018 by RealFreedom

Under the New Deal programme under the last Labour Government, SCVO had the contract for delivering "work placements" in two regions of Scotland, including the Highlands. All they seemed to be able to offer was doing unpaid working in charity shops (or at least your JSA equivalent with a small additional amount for travel costs), with nothing in the way of assistance in getting a proper job. Anything suggested outwith these parameters was not acceptable. Failure to comply with SCVO edicts, meant you were sanctioned.Having the third sector deliver these programmes does NOT automatically mean that it is better than the private sector.