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UK government must do more to help people back into jobs. But what's the best way forward?

Our person-centred, strengths-based approach with Big Issue is a model the government's Back to Work Plan should take inspiration from

Big Issue Recruit

Katy Wright, Programme Director. Image: Chocolate Films

The government must reduce the number of people locked into in-work poverty. It is the silent threat to the life chances of so many. And for the country. Today, around two-thirds of working-age adults in poverty live in a household where at least one adult is in work. Increasing numbers are finding themselves in insecure low-quality jobs which lack guaranteed hours to give certainty of guaranteed, consistent income. Sustained low-quality employment has significant knock-on impacts for an individual’s health and wellbeing. 

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However, an increase in sanctions for people who do not take on any roles offered to them will have the opposite effect, creating increased fear, stress levels and mental health issues for those affected.  

At the end of last year, the Big Issue reported that an increase in sanctions is evidenced to directly increase the numbers of people claiming disability benefits citing mental health issues. We have been contacted by hundreds of people who have shared harrowing experiences of proving their eligibility for benefits, leaving them in extreme distress, more impoverished and, in some cases, suicidal. 

There is a different way possible. And we urge government decision-makers to listen to what we’re doing and see our blueprint for success. 

For the last two years, we have been building Big Issue Recruit to give marginalised people who face barriers to work the same access to jobs as everyone else. And we have managed to prove not only that we can do it, but that there is both appetite and a market for our approach. 

From this perspective, we share the government’s aim of bringing people back into employment and off universal credit and other benefits so people can earn, learn and thrive. But we know there is more to it. 

As I write this piece, the rate of unemployment in the UK is 4.2%, and 1.45 million people aged 16+ are unemployed.  

Unemployment levels have increased by 206,000 on the year and were 77,000 above pre-pandemic levels. However, with nearly one million job vacancies in the UK and 531,200 skill-shortage vacancies in 2022, more than twice the corresponding number in 2017 (226,500). 

We believe there is a flaw at the heart of the government’s Back to Work Plan which will only exacerbate the current situation and risks, leaving vulnerable people in a worse position. 

Job coach Shak Dean helps candidates to figure out where their skills and interests lie, and assists with CVs, job applications and interview prep. Image: Matthew Horwood

We have now worked with hundreds of people from across the UK, with a wide variety of background and experiences, who approached us to find good-quality jobs and sustainable employment. Our candidates are highly motivated and genuinely want to work but face very real and varied barriers. 

Our person-centred, strengths-based approach has enabled our job coaches to get to know each candidate, develop a tailored journey to becoming work ready and then place them in appropriate roles. It has also allowed us to identify a common barrier experienced by the vast majority of our candidates – and this is the lack of confidence they present with, after years of existing in a system that does not meet their needs.  

Every single candidate has benefitted from an increase in wellbeing through our service, and Big Issue Recruit’s job coaches are often the critical first connection in a professional network. This builds our candidates’ resilience so they can navigate the barriers to employment and find work that will meet their individual needs. 

We welcome additional support announced in the Back to Work plan, such as increased access to talking therapies and an increase in the local housing allowance, for example. These initiatives will go some way to removing barriers to work if delivered within a holistic support package.  

For every job coach we employ, we can support over 75 people back into employment in a year, creating an estimated £1.4 million in social value. We urge the government to abandon the punitive and pointless sanction regime and divert the tens of millions which are currently being wasted on fighting people who are appealing benefits decisions.  

We want to see taxpayers’ money invested in scaling solutions like Big Issue Recruit, working with major employers to get more people back into work and create system change through inclusive practices and workplaces of the future.  

Katy Wright is Big Issue Recruit’s Programme Director

This article is taken from The Big Issue magazine out this week. Support your local vendor by buying today! If you cannot reach your local vendor, you can still click HERE to subscribe to The Big Issue today or give a gift subscription to a friend or family member. You can also purchase one-off issues from The Big Issue Shop or The Big Issue app, available now from the App Store or Google Play.

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