by Connor Stevens
As seems to be post-2015 norm, it’s been an eventful week in the world of politics and, as usual, the rumblings-on of Brexit seems to have drowned out other important happenings…
So just in case you missed it, this week came confirmation from JRF of a worrying trend in Britain: the continued reversal of the fall in poverty witnessed over the past 20 years. The report explains that the factors which secured previous reductions in poverty– rising employment, state support for low-income families and the contained impact of rising rent – are simply no longer in effect.
As a result, in-work poverty is rising, with an astonishing one in eight workers now living in poverty. London is no stranger to this issue, with the combination of low pay and spiraling housing costs blighting a record number of Londoners. One endeavor to overcome this issue is the West London Alliance Skills Escalator pilot, an ambitious pilot aimed at tackling low pay amongst residents living in private rented and temporary housing who are in receipt of Housing Benefit.
The west London-based pilot, which Learning and Work Institute were commissioned to evaluate and the report of which we publish today – provided an innovative programme of tailored support and funded skills provision. The main objectives of the pilot were to help residents overcome obstacles hindering their progression, improve their skill-set and knowledge of opportunities and increase their earnings – reducing the pressure of low pay and high housing costs, and the consequent need for in-work benefits.
To achieve this, the pilot focused on personalised support through regular one-to-one adviser meetings and the provision of learning, training and employment opportunities through the development of a network of key partnerships. This included partnerships with the housing team to enlist eligible residents, Jobcentre Plus to coordinate and market the support offer to in-work Universal Credit claimants, services to provide further wrap-around support and local employers to source job opportunities for clients.
Over the course of the pilot:
On top of the local successes achieved through the pilot, the findings reveal important lessons about the use of employment support for low paid workers, demonstrating the value of expanding provision, beyond job entry, to support those who are already in employment to escape low pay and stalled progression. The main lessons which underpin the successful design and delivery of this type of support include:
At a point when just one in six low earners manage to progress onto consistently higher wages within ten years, the scale and urgency of low pay and stalled progression seems ever-present. The Skills Escalator pilot adds to a growing evidence base on in-work provision and demonstrates that only through the pursuit of an innovative redesign of the support landscape, involving stakeholders from both the public and private spheres, can we respond to the challenge facing us today.