Carving a new future
Landlords in Wales have successfully helped unemployed people into new jobs. Could the government’s new work programme now thwart their efforts?
Trudi Munn, a 37-year-old single-mum, is working her first week of paid employment for ‘at least a decade’. Her friend and colleague Naomi Gilfillan, 27, hasn’t worked for a similar length of time.
Both women have been hired by construction company Kier as apprentice carpenters. They are working in and around Cardiff on its contracts with housing association United Welsh, which specify apprentices must be employed.
Meanwhile, 20-year-old Richard Higgs struggled to get a job until he was given his break by the 4,200-home social landlord. The computer whizz-kid, who has a host of IT qualifications, is now working in the housing association’s head office in Caerphilly, building its intranet site.
In neighbouring local authority Blaenau Gwent, Tai Calon Community Housing, another association, has given 19-year-old Jamie Griffiths the opportunity to discover he has a ‘knack’ for carpentry. In a matter of months, he’s gone from being what he describes as ‘a boy on the street’, aimlessly hanging around with his mates all day, to someone eagerly waiting to hear if he’s landed a job as an apprentice carpenter at the housing provider.
These four are not alone in needing some help to find a job. Wales has the highest levels of unemployment in the UK - according to United Nations agency the International Labour Organisation, 7.9 per cent of people of employment age in Wales were out of work between March and May; the UK national average, meanwhile, was 7.7 per cent.
Social landlords like United Welsh and Tai Calon have a strong track record helping people into work, both through apprenticeships organised as part of their deals with suppliers and an array of welfare-to-work programmes. These include the Future Jobs Fund through which until earlier this year, they offered work placements to 16 to 24-year-olds and, in certain areas of Wales, Job Match, which is supporting a final few participants into training and employment.
Getting the word out
However, state-run initiatives social landlords have grown used to are being wrapped up to make way for the coalition’s new work programme, which began in June across Great Britain. According to the Department for Work and Pensions, the flagship scheme aims to streamline welfare-to-work initiatives to create a ‘single package of personalised support for everyone who finds themselves out of work regardless of the benefit they claim’.
Social landlords that want to offer employment opportunities through the work programme must get used to a completely different system. Gone is the familiar route of liaising directly with local authorities and Job Centre Plus when helping people like Mr Higgs into work. Instead they must work with 18 ‘prime contractors’, private and not-for-profit companies the government has selected to deliver its £5 billion employment drive. Ministers expect this to secure jobs for 605,000 unemployed people this financial year, and a further 565,000 in 2012/13 across England, Scotland and Wales.
In Wales, the government’s two appointed work programme contractors are multi-national company Working Links and not-for-profit organisation Rehab JobFit. It’s these two organisations that the country’s 51 social landlords will now need to strike an agreement with if they want to offer opportunities through the programme. And many will be eager to do so as it is likely to involve a large proportion of their tenants.
Michelle Smith, targeted recruitment and training manager for Integrate, a consortium of seven housing associations that work together and pool resources, says around 70 per cent of their tenants are on benefits. The work programme is therefore going to have a massive impact on its member organisations - United Welsh, Cardiff Community Housing Association, Cadwyn Housing Association, Valleys to Coast, Newydd Housing Association, Taff Housing Association and Coastal Housing Group - and their customers.
Most unemployed 18-to-24-year-olds who have claimed jobseeker’s allowance for more than nine months will be compelled to join the work programme, while those aged 25 and over will have to sign up after 12 months.
If their tenants are losing benefits, housing providers which don’t want to risk rising rent arrears must ensure residents are going into jobs they can stick with. Employing them directly through the work programme is one way of doing this. Social landlords have ‘20-year-or-longer business plans so they can offer sustainable employment,’ states Ms Smith. ‘We need to make sure tenants are aware they can access opportunities through us.’
But just how involved in the government’s work programme social landlords can get depends upon the delivery models of the appointed providers in their areas and how much they’re planning to rely on assistance from other organisations, explains Deri ap Hywel, operations manager for Working Links in south west Wales. ‘Working Links is delivering
78 per cent of the end-to-end services and subcontracting 22 per cent,’ he says. It will also be working with the ‘hundreds of organisations’ across Wales which will deliver services specific to individuals’ employment and training needs.
Social landlords can potentially participate in several ways. When job vacancies arise, they can choose to work with prime contractors like Working Links and Rehab JobFit to fill these posts with people on the work programme, or they could offer to provide employment and training support services to participants.
Alternatively they could look to become more intrinsically involved in the programme by negotiating with prime contractors to become subcontractors. A small number of housing associations in Wales are known to want to pursue this option, which involves taking on more risk, but could also lead to greater financial rewards in the long-term.
Under previous welfare-to-work programmes, housing providers could offer placements to people, which were funded by the DWP. But under the work programme the amount the government department will contribute is based on results. ‘The programme is back-end weighted - it involves lots of upfront costs to carry,’ explains Mr Hywel.
Average individual contracts awarded through the work programme’s framework are approximately £10 million to £50 million per year. The maximum fee a provider can attract for getting an individual client a job ranges from £4,050 for a jobseeker’s allowance claimant aged between 18 to 24 to £13,120 for an ex-incapacity benefit claimant. However, it is thought that some prime contractors bid below these prices to secure a place delivering the government initiative, which means landlords they sub-contract could receive less than advertised.
The DWP’s payments to organisations are staggered according to the length of time the unemployed person stays in work. After a small upfront payment of about 10 per cent of the total, the next payment only comes after the jobseeker has been in work for six months. The remainder is paid in instalments that last up to two years.
Exactly how prime contractors will decide to split this payment with their sub-contractors and other service providers depends upon an individual jobseeker’s employment and training-related needs. The fact that sub-contractors will not get paid upfront means it ‘will be difficult for third sector organisations to get involved’, suspects Mr Hywel. However, he adds, ‘there could be all sorts of different agreements we could consider.’
Providing the best options
That said, housing providers are better-placed than other not-for-profit organisations, argues Gordon Keenan, head of funding and partnerships for the National Housing Federation in England. If social landlords join together in a consortium like Integrate, which has helped more than 200 people into training and employment since 2009, they’ll further protect themselves from risk by signing up to deliver jobs collectively, he points out.
Yet, so far, social landlords seem to have been largely ‘omitted as a key piece in the jigsaw’ by the DWP’s prime contractors, which have tended to start working with organisations they already know, Mr Keenan states. ‘A lot of primes aren’t clear about the work the housing sector does. I don’t think we’ve been explicit enough about the results we deliver,’ he says.
It’s not too late though. The shortage of private sector jobs is currently the ‘elephant in the room’ for everyone involved in the initiative. Organisations like Working Links and Rehab JobFit could decide to specifically target social landlords as they begin to recognise they can offer ‘quality jobs and quality apprenticeships either in-house or through the procurement process’, Mr Keenan adds.
The latter is something that many housing providers in Wales are already used to doing through the Can Do Toolkit, which was launched by i2i - part of the Chartered Institute of Housing Cymru - in 2008. The toolkit aims to help social landlords include ‘targeted recruitment and training’ requirements in their Welsh housing quality standard and other contracts. Between 2008 and 2010, it helped create 1,183 jobs for local people.
‘The Can Do Toolkit is now mainstream throughout the housing sector in Wales,’ says Elin Jones, housing and regeneration manager for i2i. She suggests the toolkit can be used to offer jobs to people on the work programme.
Social landlords certainly have a ‘huge appetite’ to get involved in the programme, according to Integrate’s Ms Smith. And 6,300-home Tai Calon, which has worked with Working Links in the past, is hoping it will ‘continue to do so depending on how its role develops under the new scheme,’ says David Lloyd, its director of resources.
The housing’s sector’s message seems to be getting across. ‘Housing associations have a well-established record of working within their communities not only for the benefit of their tenants but also in offering job opportunities to local residents. We are actively encouraging the formation of partnerships with them as our aims are aligned,’ states Mark Priday, head of operations at Rehab JobFit.
Now it’s up to housing providers to continue to demonstrate how they’ve already helped formerly unemployed people find work they love. They can do this by asking people like Mr Griffiths for references.
‘If it wasn’t for Tai Calon, there’s no way I’d be doing this,’ says the 19-year-old, summing up how Tai Calon has given him the enthusiasm to strive for a job as a carpenter. ‘I wouldn’t have bothered getting a job otherwise I don’t think. It’s so hard where I live, there’s no point.’
How housing has helped
‘They’d asked me what experience I had, I’d say “none”, and then they weren’t interested in hearing any more,’ recalls, 20-year-old Richard Higgs (pictured right) of his attempts to find employment. However, because Mr Higgs lives in former mining town New Tredegar, in Caerphilly, south Wales, he eventually managed to get the opportunity through the £28.2 million employment programme, run by the Welsh Assembly Government in partnership with Job Centre Plus, and backed by the European Social Fund.
Through the Job Match initiative, Mr Higgs was given a placement working in community investment at housing association United Welsh, which has helped 61 people through the scheme.Job Match is now being wound down, but Mr Higgs has been taken on by the 4,200-home provider.
Meanwhile, Trudi Munn, 37, and Naomi Gilfillan, 27, had no qualifications before Michelle Smith, targeted recruitment and training manager at the Integrate consortium of housing associations, helped them onto industry training body Construction Skill’s Pathway to Apprenticeship scheme. This led to them completing NVQ level 2 qualifications at Barry College.
Both women have been employed by construction company Kier as apprentices working on United Welsh’s £2.7 million refurbishment of Newtown Court, a scheme for residents aged over 55, and temporary homelessness accommodation at neighbouring Adams Court, in Cardiff.
‘Before this I was sitting at home doing nothing, it’s changed my life,’ says Ms Munn, who has a 14-year-old son.
Ms Gilfillan, meanwhile, has brought up her nine-year-old nephew alone. ‘It’s only now that he is old enough that I am able to do something for myself,’ she says.
In Blaenau Gwent, where according to the Office of National Statistics 6.8 per cent of people of working age are claiming jobseeker’s allowance (3.8 per cent of the entire Welsh working age population are claiming this benefit), Tai Calon Community Housing has secured 14 apprenticeships for local young people since the housing association formed in July last year.
‘This is a very poor, yet beautiful area - and it’s even more beautiful now that the coal mines and steelworks have gone,’ says Jen Barfoot, chief executive of Tai Calon. ‘The social and economic decline since the closure of the mines [in the 1980s] has been massive, which means there are now some families who have three generations of unemployed [people],’ she explains.
Some 15 per cent of young people aged 18 to 24 in Blaenau Gwent claim jobseeker’s allowance. Nineteen-year-old Jamie Griffiths, who did not want to be photographed, is one of them. However, things have been looking up for him since he took Tai Calon up on its offer of training. ‘I wasn’t doing a lot,’ explains Mr Griffiths recalling how the housing association approached him and his friends to offer them places on a six-week course run by the Construction Youth Trust.
Mr Griffiths did so well, Tai Calon arranged for him to complete a BTEC level 1 in carpentry. Now he’s waiting to hear whether he’s landed a job as an apprentice carpenter role at the housing association.