Interesting pre-Christmas rumblings in parliament where MPs on the Work and Pensions Committee have published an initial report into the abruptly curtailed youth jobs creation scheme, the Future Jobs Fund (FJF). FJF involved the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) funding 25-hour per week jobs for young people aged 18-24 (and some older people from specific groups). The jobs had to be ‘additional posts’ – not unreasonably meaning you couldn’t fire people and take on someone else to do the same job for free – that provided benefit to local communities.
The programme was obviously particularly useful for social enterprises. I’m not sure how things worked out for those based elsewhere in the country but, for us, Social Enterprise London’s Future 500 scheme was vitally important in making the FJF accessible to our social enterprise. I know because I tried to sign-up with the scheme which, in theory, was part-run by our local council. The joy of Future 500 was that it achieved what so many government-funding streams fail to do, it kept the paperwork to a manageable minimum so that social enterprises (including those with only a few members of staff) could access the money and get on with supporting the young people they were employing rather than getting buried in a mountain of forms.
The scheme worked for social enterprises partly because the Future 500 scheme included a well managed referral scheme – SEL parternered with Striding Out and Prevista to deliver this – and partly because getting to over-paid jobs for six months at no cost to your organisation is really useful. It’s very different to offering volunteering placements. Making successful use of volunteers within a mostly paid structure is usually extremely difficult to do and, even when it works, takes lots of management.
People who are being paid (even a fairly paltry wage) are more likely to turn up and more likely to do what they’re asked to do – partly because, as an employer, you don’t have to deal with moral uncertainty about the extent to which you can expect them to do those things.
So, did FJF work? If you don’t want to read the Work and Pensions committee report, I can tell you that the basic conclusion is that FJF was relatively expensive compared to other back to work provision but that social enterprises and other job providers thought it was really good. Given that I’ve just told you in 24 words what the report tells you in 48 pages plus appendices, and that I could have told you this based on my existing knowledge if the report hadn’t been written, you may or may not want to question whether collecting evidence for and publishing the report provides value for money.
That’s obviously a fairly silly comparison but it’s almost as silly as comparing FJF directly with back to work schemes that involve artificially simulating the experience of making a phone call or being repeatedly encouraged to have a more positive mental attitude. While these activities may have their place and may contribute to some people getting jobs quicker than they otherwise would have done, they’re definitely not directly useful to the local community.
It might be a monumental feat of holistic thinking, de-siloing or whatever else a civil servant might be told to call it but it’s worth considering the cumulative impact of programmes that have several different effects. So when a scheme like FJF simultaneously provides an employment opportunity for a young person and some extra capacity for a social enterprise, then it’s worth taking both into account. The committee report doesn’t ignore this dual function entirely but only 3 of the 48 pages are on benefits for employers and communities. This is not because the committee members are stupid, it’s because they’re the Work and Pensions Committee and their primary concern is scrutinizing whether the DWP is getting people off benefits and into work as cost effectively as possible.
It’s got to be possible that these times of austerity will finally be the catalyst for greater practical consideration of the effects of policies beyond departmental boundaries, based on the potential impacts on (The Big?) society as a whole.
A new FJF-style scheme could be a vehicle for simultaneously achieving the aims of several departments:
- the DWP need to get people into work
- the Department for Communities and Local Government (and others) attempts to build the Big Society
- the Department for Culture, Media and Sport’s need to support arts activity (and broaden access to jobs in the media)
- any spending department’s need to get some stuff done a bit cheaper – this is unequivocally not a call for any trained professionals to be replaced by unemployed young people on the minimum wage but, for example, their are many non-clinical functions in the NHS currently unnecessarily delivered by clinical staff.
As the report suggests, it’s too soon to judge the full impact of FJF, but what we know so far offers some good suggestions about what could usefully happen next.