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It’s time to think about doing things differently: CEO Naomi Hulston on public service reform

A woman stands in the foreground wearing an orange Catch22 tshirt with a Catch22-branded fabric tote bag. In the background, people are taking part in a workshop. Overlaid is text that reads "Reform Agenda".

At Catch22, our mission is based around what we call the ‘3Ps’; the idea that in order to thrive, everyone needs good people around them, a safe place to live and a purpose in life.

Unfortunately, these seemingly basic pillars are often missing or have crumbled away in people’s lives and it’s not always easy to rebuild them.

Public services play a major part in supporting people to achieve these 3Ps. But, for reasons too numerous and complex to cover in this short blog, public services are severely under strain.

Reforming public services

That’s why at Catch22 we’re committed to what we call our Reform agenda. In our view, the delivery of public services should not be the monopoly of anyone; not the State, the private sector nor the public sector. Public services are too often transactional, bureaucratic and risk-averse, resulting in them becoming too distant from the very people they’re there to support.

The more this happens, the less effective public services are. And the less effective they are, more those who are struggling financially, are without work or find themselves in an unstable situation, will be pushed further to the edges of society.

We’re seeing this happen now – with more than 14 million people living in poverty in the UK and more than a fifth of adults economically inactive.

Securing good quality work

One example of our Reform work in practice is in the field of employment services.

Being in a job – and a good quality job, that provides security and opportunity – can be life changing for many individuals struggling to generate a stable income and to find their purpose.

And it’s a good example of where public services are not as impactful as they should, or could, be. Job Centre Plus are incentivised to place people into ‘any’ job – regardless of the quality of that work.  Sanctions are in place to decrease, or remove, benefits from job seekers should they fail to accept a job offered to them or fail to demonstrate they are actively seeking role.

These arbitrary measures not only encourage people into low quality work, but also fail to take into account the complex barriers that many people face when trying to enter the job market. These might include caring responsibilities, which mean standard 9-5 hours are impractical, a physical disability, poor mental health or lack of a support network.  The fact is, such policies disproportionately impact the most vulnerable – and there have long been serious doubts as to whether they work.

A different approach to employability support

Our approach to employability support harnesses the expertise of the voluntary, private and public sector. It is centered around the needs of individuals and their specific challenges.

Catch22 runs 14 different employability services, some focusing on specific sectors (such as tech and digital roles) and some aimed at certain groups of people (such as those at risk of falling into crime for example).

The majority of our programmes are the result of philanthropic funding. Our Digital Edge programme, funded by Microsoft and our Digital Leap programme, funded by Salesforce, are helping hundreds of young people a year secure jobs in the tech and digital sectors. The programmes are short (4 weeks) and combine traditional employability support with sector specific insight.

Our partners JPMorgan Chase & Co and the Rothschild Foundation fund our Horizons programme– which not only provides career support to people facing barriers who are unemployed, but also (in what we believe to be a first for an employability programmes), it helps people who are underemployed.

We work with Barclays to deliver their pioneering LifeSkills programme, supporting individuals who are not work ready with bespoke pre-employment support and help them to make the connections needed to get into work.

And most recently we’ve partnered with TikTok to create the TikTok Creative Academy– an employability programme that is set to help hundred of young people into roles in the fast growing cultural and creative sectors.

The secret of success

Part of the reason these programmes are successful is because our Careers Coaches spend a lot of time with each participant; they’re treated as much more than just a number and we really care about them and their aspirations. Our staff work also hard to build relationships with local and national businesses and to challenge outdates recruitment practices to ensure that our programme participants have a chance to succeed and aren’t falling at the first hurdle.

But another major ingredient of success is the voluntary sector-private sector partnership. Our partners not only bring money to deliver, but also many offer us volunteers who can inspire and inform participants. They share their career journeys, challenges and experiences which is often as valuable as careers advice.

Social value

Public services are designed to deliver social good – but the way they’re set up and commissioned is often counter to that ambition.

It’s time to think about doing things differently; to find organisations (whether public, private or voluntary), that can align behind a common cause and that can use their respective expertise and experience to deliver real quality services. Only then can the desire to create a truly level playing field for people accessing public services – whether that’s health, education, employability or anything else – be truly realised.