Life after Brexit: Trouble ahead?
In the weeks following June's vote to leave the European Union the news seemed to be on fast forward. To date the economic Armageddon predicted by some is not yet visible. But we need to prepare for a potential rise in unemployment and make the case for social investment to replace European funding.
Take an umbrella
On one level, the labour market looks like the referendum never happened. Our employment rate is at record levels, our economy creating jobs as rapidly as Team GB won Olympic medals in Rio. But most economists are predicting a slowdown in economic growth in the next couple of years. Today's sunny skies may be followed by storm clouds tomorrow.
Any economic slowdown will surely feed through into a slowdown in the labour market, likely seen in lower growth in wages and employment. We need to prepare for a rise in unemployment now: the Autumn Statement should ensure Jobcentre Plus and employment programmes have sufficient resources to support higher demand for their services.
Keep calm and carry on
It is just as important not to lose sight of underlying challenges that were there before the referendum. Perhaps most stark are the much lower employment rates for people with health problems and disabilities. Our analysis suggests that on current trends halving this gap will take 200 years. This is unacceptable: the Conservative Party manifesto pledge to halve the gap by 2020 offers a clear call to action.
The Work and Health Programme is welcome and important. But it will not be enough. We need to engage more people with health problems and disabilities in employment support, and work together to ensure that support works better for them. This means structured innovation as well as returning to an Invest to Save model to get more resources into the system. You can't do this on the cheap, but it will pay off.
Linked to this, we need to work together to make the case for social investment in learning, skills and employment to continue at its current levels when European Social Fund investment ends. In part the referendum showed that some in our country feel left behind: we need to invest to ensure everyone has the opportunity to work, build a career and succeed.
But it's not just about the level of investment: it's what we do with it. Learning and Work Institute argues this funding should be devolved to cities and local areas, with outcome agreements setting out what will be achieved by investment. Those cities and local areas can then determine how best to deliver those outcomes, including by integrating support such as health, housing, skills and employment.
This should be supported by a What Works centre, mirroring those for those already in place for wellbeing and local economic growth, to spread best practice, innovate and continuously improve services.
The strength of the labour market is not an accident. It has come back from decades of concerted policy action and the hard work of providers and frontline workers. We need the same concerted action and partnerships to ensure this success is maintained and that more people are able to benefit from learning, job and career opportunities.
Chief Executive, Learning & Work Institute