Reducing poverty in Wales: some examples to inspire change
The aim of this report is to illustrate some of the ways in which action is being taken to reduce poverty in Wales, focusing on those which help people who are furthest from the labour market and those which address low pay and / or hours of work. The projects are included because they are relevant and demonstrate the range of activity being delivered – the projects are not recommended, representative or necessarily the best and by no means the only examples in their field. They simply included to show what can be done at a time when the prospects for a large-scale reduction in poverty in Wales, as in the UK as a whole, look remote.
Even though the examples are not representative, there are some points worth noting. The first is the dearth of examples of action to address the question of pay and hours compared with those helping people into employment. Given that about half of low-income working-age adults live in a household where someone is working this is a potentially significant gap. While many employment matters, such as the National Minimum Wage and much pay bargaining in the public sector, are not devolved there is surely more that could be done in Wales to help to increase pay, support people’s progression at work and support increased hours of work (if desired) on a non-statutory basis or by local negotiation.
The second point relates to action to help people furthest from the labour market into jobs. The examples included here vividly illustrate the length of the journey many people have to take even to get close to the prospect of employment. Whether it is getting a stable home, having enough confidence to leave the house or the ability to drive to and from a workplace, there are some basic pre-conditions of becoming an employee that too many people in Wales simply do not have.
It is also clear that supporting people with sometimes multiple challenges is not easy. All the examples included here involve intensive, one-to-one and personalised support to individuals. The projects are often small-scale, and involve trusting relationships with between the organisations delivering the project and their ‘clients’. Despite the intensity of support, many projects are relatively low cost – some are funded by organisations themselves without recourse to public funding, while in others the costs of provision are far outweighed by savings elsewhere in the public purse.
It is striking that participation in all the various projects is voluntary. Involvement proceeds at the individuals’ own pace and typically involves education and training during the journey. The approach in these examples contrasts sharply with the compulsion, sanctions and ‘work-first’ mantras of many Department for Work and Pensions programmes (even though some of the projects are financed by DWP).
Fourthly, the examples demonstrate that, even in an economic downturn, individuals who were some distance from the labour market can get employment. Most examples of action report success rates in terms of people entry into employment of between 10% and 25%. This might at first glance seem low, until they are compared with the outcomes from the Work Programme. Here, the most recent data show success rates of between 11.4% and 13.7% for job seekers referred to the programme between January and March 2012. Job seekers referred to the Work Programme are, by definition, closer to the labour market than many people supported by the project examples in this report, so equalling or exceeding Work Programme rates is no small achievement. At the very least, this suggests that small-scale, specialist projects to help people into work have an important role to play alongside Work Programme provision.
We hope that this collection of examples will inspire others to take action. We also hope that it will encourage a refocusing of public policy on to the underlying drivers of poverty identified in the New Policy Institute report. Support for people furthest from the labour market ought to continue to be a key intervention, along with action to raise incomes earned from work.