The government has recently announced the ‘Way to Work’ campaign which aims to move half a million people into jobs by the end of June, predominantly targeting those on Universal Credit. Reflecting on our employability services, Catch22 considers whether the scheme addresses some of the social barriers impacting those who are looking for work.
At Catch22, we work hard to support those furthest from the labour market, into quality and sustainable jobs. We understand the social barriers – sometimes blockades – people have to overcome in order to achieve employment. We understand the wrap-around support that is often needed to help someone survive, and then thrive in their job. We develop programmes of work to do all of this more effectively, in partnership – with civil society, with government, and, crucially, with socially responsible businesses.
The newly-announced ‘Way to Work’ campaign will see the Department for Work and Pensions policy tightened for Universal Credit claimants, with people given only four weeks, down from three months, to find a job within the sector they want, or they risk facing sanctions. This will force many people into ‘any’ job, rather than a sustainable job.
This scheme fails to understand many of the reasons that prevent people from getting into work – from challenges such as leaving care or previous involvement in the criminal justice system, to being digitally excluded, or struggling with health. Therefore, the 4-week timeframe fails to take into account such barriers. It also fails to acknowledge that many young people, and adults, who are looking for a job are not claiming universal credit. Learning and Work analysis shows that there are 1.1 million fewer ‘economically active people’ than pre-pandemic. This means people who are not, for a variety of reasons, currently in education or searching for work. This programme does little to support many of those who need the most help.
One young person supported by Catch22, was living at home with his mother who struggled with substance misuse. He gained only 2 GCSEs at school and had poor mental health. Claiming universal credit was something that he didn’t know how to do – nor did he have the digital skills, access or support to do so. With tailored pre-employability skills training, coaching and support to access a secure, high-quality job, this young person is now motivated, enthusiastic, and in a sustainable, long-term job.
We are at record vacancies but there is also a massive skills shortage. This scheme also fails to take into account the skills training that many people need in order to gain – sometimes even enter – ‘entry level’ roles. The Government’s plan for a highly skilled, highly productive workforce requires more investment in functional and entry level skills so they can progress to higher skills and flourish in work, rather than being pushed to take ‘any job’. Removing agency and choice has a damaging effect on a young person’s confidence, and will result in more complex issues further down the line. We will all lose out when that happens.
Catch22 worked with a young chef in Liverpool. He was made redundant in February 2020, just prior to the pandemic lockdowns beginning. But he couldn’t get back into work as he did not have the digital skill level to use Microsoft Word, a basic level which is needed in a huge majority of roles today. Through support on one of our employability programmes and support accessing a device, he gained the skill level needed to get back into employment with a catering company. This individual did not lack motivation, but without pre-employability skills support, he could have faced long-term unemployment.
Everyone deserves the chance to fulfil their purpose in a high-quality and sustainable job of their choosing. And while it’s fine to tell people to ‘get on their bike’, and look for work, it helps to appreciate that some don’t have a bike and others might need some more help learning to ride it.