13th February, 2015

Local voluntary sector organisations in Wakefield district have achieved brilliant results in supporting people into employment. But the scheme is ending shortly and despite 160 people finding (and staying) in work, there are no plans to continue it. Alison Haskins, CEO of Nova, wonders why.

Support for Families is an ESF/DWP funded programme that provides support to unemployed adults to overcome barriers to work and to find a job. It’s an England-wide scheme, and in Wakefield it’s been delivered by three voluntary sector organisations: Dominion Training Services, Groundwork Wakefield and SESKU, with Nova managing the contract. And what a contract! Payment comes only when results are achieved, and this takes many months. The first income didn’t start appearing until a year into the contract, which creates massive cash-flow challenges for small voluntary organisations. The ‘results’ that are paid for include participants completing training courses & volunteering placements, and staying in a job for at least 6 months. This might not sound difficult but some of the people who take part have to overcome deep-seated psychological problems; severe lack of confidence; language barriers; lack of work experience and many other issues that can make finding and staying in work really hard.

The voluntary organisations employ Key Workers who build a positive relationship with their clients, finding out what their aspirations are and what steps they can take to achieve them. Sometimes this is practical, such as a training course or achievement of a qualification. Sometimes it’s about helping to untangle an overwhelming situation, or just lifting the load on a couple of critical occasions to give the client time and space to get their life back on track.

When Nova took on the contract, we were expected to deliver 6% of the programme in Yorkshire. As of today, we have delivered 13% of the training and placement activity and 25% of the jobs. 160 people locally have found and stayed in jobs – this compares with the second highest achieving area (with a much larger population) where 83 people are still in employment.

So why has it gone so well in Wakefield? I think there are several reasons:

  • Delivery by local voluntary sector organisations which have operated in Wakefield district for years, and therefore understand and are trusted by the local population
  • Delivery by organisations whose motivation is socially-driven, not profit-driven. This means they spend more time with clients, go the ‘extra mile’ and think creatively about how to make the programme work for their clients (e.g. clients have been employed within the programme as administrators and peer key workers)
  • It’s not a mandatory programme for unemployed people, so people want to get involved with it.
  • There is more of a focus on overcoming issues in a realistically paced way (health, mental health, literacy, confidence etc) than on getting people into jobs as quickly as possible
  • The organisations delivering the programme have all sorts of other activities/projects that participants can also benefit from – much more holistic than being stuck on a ‘back to work programme’ that isn’t connected to other community-based activities and opportunities 

Unfortunately, the DWP is not continuing the programme, and although it was supposed to work closely with the government’s Troubled Families scheme (known as Think Family locally), this has never really happened.

So unless Nova can find independent funding to continue the scheme (and there may be opportunities in the new European Structural and Investment Fund), it will become a memory – like so many other successful schemes operated by the voluntary sector, but which never seem to influence mainstream provision.

(n.b. Two other blogs recently have covered similar issues, which I can thoroughly recommend. BarbaraHarbinson, CEO of the Halifax Opportunities Trust and Mark Law, CEO ofBARCA-Leeds)

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