Give young people all the chances they need
Give us a Chance (GUAC) is delighted to be at the Youth Employment Convention again this year. We started out six years ago, as a small group of like-minded social housing providers, inspired to help young people into work placements following the demise of the Future Jobs Fund. GUAC members came together to create a new model for work placements, support best practise in recruiting and supporting young people into (often) their first experience of work, and negotiated with the new Prime Contractors who were handling their first-year contracts and customer flows into the newly DWP commissioned Work Programme. The housing associations engaging back then understood that they had unique access points to many tenants and residents that needed employment services, that their social purpose matched an ambition to support more people into sustained employment, and that sustained employment can also mean sustained tenancies. From the start GUAC have been clear that both business and social drivers matter, when increasing ambition and support for more people into work and into decent, stable homes.
The Future Jobs Fund feels like a long time ago now, and we’re all moving concertedly to Work and Health based commissioning for 2017, with refined priorities for employment services and skills budgets corralled to apprenticeship growth. The commitment from the housing sector to play its part in supporting all people, including young people, with their life chances and opportunities has grown, as has the membership and ambitions of GUAC. With our founding Board of Directors in place, drawn from our membership which together provides homes and services to over one million tenants and residents, we’re seeking more and better ways to combine resources, expertise and advice, to inform and produce the best service delivery and outcomes on the ground. We are committed to the value and impact of partnership over solo strategies, and seek these in all areas of our work.
GUAC works in close partnership with both ERSA and the AELP; linking our housing providers to employment and skills service partners, creating collective positions to improve services and brokering a practical vision for partnerships. Our joint plan with ERSA remains a key anchor for our influencing agenda, calling for: recognition of our role in employment support; input to ensure frontline housing expertise is there in service delivery; inclusion in devolution and service co-location plans; and finally, support to create a climate where partners, DWP and JCP can share data to improve services and reduce the likelihood people falling through the net.
“Working with the employment sector, housing associations can unlock great potential – supporting the UK’s economy, and helping residents to sustain their tenancies whilst also making a crucial contribution to cutting the welfare bill.” David Orr, Chief Executive, National Housing Federation (Housing and Employment Services Joint Plan 2016).
For GUAC members, the challenge is often to keep diversifying our funding and activity bases, to keep chances open for people to access the help they need, when they need it and to understand new challenges for people as they arise. Several GUAC members are leading Big Lottery Funded programmes across regional and sectoral partnerships, more are seeking peer to peer partnerships to support Work and Health Programme bidders and the case for housing, employment and skills services to consider themselves parts of the same whole, intersecting with the same customer groups, grows ever clearer.
GUAC placed our Joint Plan at the centre of our recent meeting with the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Rt Hon Damian Green MP, where he met people first hand who’ve come through challenging circumstances, from health, to family, to instability at home, got the help they needed and gone on to lead fulfilling and positive lives. The spirit of this work also resonates with the Foyer Federation, whom we met to understand their refreshed approach to supporting young people, with a clear ‘something for something deal for young people, (usually 16-25), who are in housing need with personal development and other services that enable people to ‘reconnect with learning, increase their employability, improve their health and wellbeing and develop their leadership potential’ (foyer.net).
Foyers have been a close part of the social housing sector for many years and they face funding challenges like many services, but they’re placing employment at the heart of progression for the young people they work with and take a refreshing ‘asset based’ approach to young people who can often be classified by the scale and complexity of their problems, and needs. There is much that GUAC and the Foyer Federation could do to meet the housing, wellbeing and employment support needs of young people; creating chances where it may feel there are few, and working closer with exceptional organisations such as Crisis to understand their offer and expertise to the most vulnerable. In the research briefing, ‘Young, hidden and homeless’, Crisis recognised employment as one of the key requirements of support for young homeless people:
‘With a very high proportion of young homeless people having been long term unemployed and youth unemployment currently at a record high, urgent action is needed to support young people to develop skills and move into jobs both to prevent homelessness in the first place and enable those who become homeless to move on.’
Sometimes when our collective services fail, or we simply can’t reach out to all, people can fall inexorably downwards from homelessness, rough sleeping, to addiction, to crime, to prison. Whist prison is surely accommodation of the last resort, there is room for hope and help here too. As Chair of Fair Train, I was privileged to hear some of the amazing, consistent and effective work taking place with one of our newest Gold Standard holders of the Work Experience Quality Standard, HM Prison Onley:
“HMP Onley has developed a fantastic relationship with local employers, enabling prisoners to not only gain skills and experience, but also to gain employment and improve their life-chances upon release, which massively reduces the likelihood of an individual re-offending. A number of other prisons in the region are currently working towards accreditation.”
The Youth Convention always inspires fresh thinking, encourages new partnerships and sense-checks our work with just some of the young people accessing it. We always learn from younger delegates, and accept the challenge to create the right chances for all the people we work to support.
Adviser at Give us a Chance (GUAC) and Chair of Fair Train