In the April/May 2007 issue of Briefing, David Grayson laid out new challenges facing the UK in addressing social exclusion and made suggestions on how companies could make a real contribution through volunteering and community investment programmes.
As if to underline the scale of the problems facing society, the last month saw a shocking series of new statistics on the increasing levels of inequality in the UK with some of the data focusing on the long-term unemployed. In the UK there are currently 4.5m people of working age on out-of-work benefits and 3m of these have been on benefits for over a year. Disturbingly, much of this unemployment is concentrated in major cities often close to thriving labour markets. In addition, certain groups are more likely to be in this situation, including people from ethnic minorities, disabled people, lone parents, and people with low or no skills. The last time inequality was so stark was in the 1980s when there was a shortage of jobs, but today there are 600,000 unfilled vacancies in the UK. What the statistics also reveal is that once a person has been on incapacity benefit for a year, they are then on benefits for an average of eight years. This means that the value to the state of helping a person on long-term benefits into work is around £62,000. The benefits accruing to the individual of a return to work are immeasurable.
As corporate citizens, many companies are putting up their hands and saying they want to and can make a difference. In other words, helping to regenerate the social, and not only physical, environment in which people are living by empowering them through the provision of job opportunities.
Earlier this year, prime minister Gordon Brown announced that he wants to work with companies to help 250,000 people into jobs and plans to do this through Local Employment Partnerships. This is a government-run initiative that aims to help the long-term unemployed back into the working world. So far over 60 of Britain’s major employers have committed themselves to helping some of the country’s most disadvantaged people such as lone parents or people on inactive benefits to get back into work. Companies that have signed up include Marks & Spencer, Carillion, Asda, McDonald’s, B&Q, Tesco and Sainsbury’s. The government is currently consulting on this across the UK through a green paper – In work, better off: next steps to full employment.
This is the big picture, but what do these partnerships mean on the ground?
I talked to an advisor at the Shaw Trust – a national charity that works with employers, social services and the disabled to help people with disabilities find employment – who is already working with companies such as Tesco, Hilton Group and Barclays in the north west of England. Clients are referred to the Shaw Trust through Jobcentre Plus or specialist disability organisations, and what follows is a programme of support, based around the aspirations of the person. They could be referred for training in areas like literacy and numeracy or to help build their self-esteem. The advisor and the client then meet every two weeks to discuss progress. In east Lancashire, many clients have worked in the textile industry or local engineering firms straight from school, and have never completed a job application or been to an interview before. The chance to get an interview is often all they need to prove to the prospective employer that they are the right person for the job. Once in work, clients are given a further 26 weeks of support from the Shaw Trust including helping to sort out any benefit issues – often a significant barrier preventing people moving into employment.
Through existing programmes, companies like Tesco provide work placements to boost confidence and the all-important guaranteed interviews. For example, a new Tesco Extra in Oldham has just recruited 400 new employees, and a fifth of these have been filled by long-term benefit customers. Marks & Spencer also has a long track record of creating jobs through their Marks & Start programme.
Programmes like these, which support employment driven socio-economic regeneration, are a fundamental way in which companies can demonstrate their corporate citizenship and combat social exclusion throughout Britain. There will always remain a need to move beyond traditional recruitment channels and reach out to the most excluded to spread the opportunities for growth and development to all members
Alison Braybrooks joined The Corporate Citizenship Company from EDF Energy in September as a corporate community involvement consultant. Prior to working at EDF Energy, Alison held business development and corporate fundraising positions at Shelter, NCH and Macmillan.