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Recently the newspapers heralded the ‘record high’ number of people in work in the UK, as the unemployment rate fell to 4.3%, the lowest it has been since records began.[1] While, of course, this is a figure to be positive about, I’m concerned that the media coverage surrounding the release of this data may have been too quick to overlook the challenges that remain for the UK employment sector.

The truth is that while employment opportunities have increased for some, they haven’t increased for everyone. There are still over 1.4 million unemployed people in the UK,[2] and many of these individuals are those who have been out of work for the longest, with the most complicated and ingrained barriers to accessing the labour market. Pockets of society may be thriving in the recovering economy, but these 1.4 million people have found themselves on the wrong side of a widening ‘opportunity divide’ and, as an industry, it is our responsibility to not allow them to be left behind.

Providers in the employability sector today are working with a very different set of participants compared to a few years ago. In the years immediately following the Global Financial Crisis we were faced with a large number of people with more limited need for support, who were in many cases only out of work for a short period of time. Today a significant proportion of participants have serious health needs and disabilities, requiring personalised support and specialist advice. This means that the employability industry’s well-discussed need to work together on innovative, evidence-based solutions is more pressing than it has ever been.

I’m pleased to say that Ingeus is committed to achieving this vision. In 2016 we commissioned RAND Europe to review the global evidence base for computerised Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (cCBT) as a means of improving mental health and helping people into work. As a result we have incorporated SilverCloud and Be Mindful, digital apps that have proven to be most effective through the study, into services for our participants, bringing the best of cCBT to their fingertips.

Innovation like this is happening across our industry. For example, I was excited last year to see the outstanding programme run by Hillside Clubhouse and Future Path for ‘Camden Work and Wellbeing’. This was a pilot programme commissioned by Camden Council to test a modified version of the IPS (Individual Placement and Support) approach for long term unemployed people living with mental health issues. It delivered an 8% increase in positive job outcomes for participants with mental health issues, demonstrating that expert collaboration can solve some of the complex problems that our participants face.

Of course, mental health needs are only one part of the picture, and bringing about change is not only about working with those out of work. Employers also need support to adjust to the shifting landscape. Surveys show that 45% of employers fear that it may be difficult for the public to engage with a disabled employee, resulting in disabled people being two times more likely to be unemployed than a non-disabled person.[3][4] To help employers become more confident in accessing disabled talent, we worked with the Business Disability Forum to publish a toolkit to help employers understand, recruit and retain disabled staff.

This work has been complemented by another project in Plymouth called Project SEARCH, run by Plymouth Hospitals NHS Trust, Serco, Pluss and City College Plymouth. This scheme aimed to support young people with learning disabilities into work experience positions to build up their employability skills and to show employers the value that they can add in the workplace. The results spoke for themselves; 69% of participants were supported into paid work, compared to 6% of individuals with learning disabilities nationally. This is another example of the successes we can have when we draw on the strength of our industry partners.

This is an exciting time for the employability sector. To rise to today’s challenges we must innovate and change. In order to close the ‘opportunity divide’ we need to better support those who have been less well served by our previous programmes. We need to create new solutions that are based on a strong, rigorous evidence base and provide the individual support that our participants need.

Without doubt, this is a very challenging proposition, but it also provides a great incentive to move forward. It is through this expert collaboration, innovation and hard work that we will be able to offer paths to employment for those who now need them the most.

Barry Fletcher Managing Director, Ingeus

[1] CITYAM, UK unemployment falls with number of people in work at record high as wage growth slows, June 2018

[2] Office for National Statistics, Statistical Bulletin: UK Labour Market, June 2018

[3] Guardian, Companies fear employing people with learning difficulties, survey reveals, 2015

[4] Scope, Disability facts and figures, 2017

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Universal Credit remains a good idea in theory.  Back in the summer of 2010, the government set out its vision: a simpler benefits system, with modern payment systems, fewer ‘cliff edges’ around housing, work and childcare, and improved financial support in work .  It predicted that by now, in 2018,  Universal Credit would be fully rolled out and there would be 300,000 more people in work as a result – with many more to follow, because of its new, ‘dynamic’ effects.

But £1.3 billion later, today’s report from the National Audit Office lays bare just how wrong things have gone.  Universal Credit is running at least six years late, it causes hardship, these problems aren’t being mitigated, its employment impacts cannot be measured and it is benefits are unlikely to be realised.  Sometimes, NAO reports can be dry affairs – with the real meanings obscured by the numbers, charts and official language.  This one, though, pulls no punches.  Universal Credit is not now, and is not ever likely to be, value for money.  In nearly 20 years I can’t remember having read a report this scathing. And, this is after DWP had the chance to critique the draft.

For those who have been following Universal Credit, today’s report is shocking but not surprising.  We and others called for Universal Credit to be paused a year ago, as some of the impacts from the ‘full service’ rollout were starting to become clear.  And last week we had the first independent research on Universal Credit ‘full service’, which nailed the myth that these reforms were now back on track.  Half of claimants reported that they were in either housing arrears or financial difficulty.  Half reported having to get additional funds – usually from family and friends – to make ends meet.  Just one third felt that Universal Credit was easier to claim than the benefits that it had replaced.

The saving grace for claimants, then, is that Universal Credit is running so far behind schedule.  Not only does that mean that fewer claimants will experience the hardship, delays and difficulties of claiming, but it also means that overall there will be more money in the pockets of low-income families (as Universal Credit is ultimately a savings measure – as we explained in November).  These delays are also likely to get worse, as they rely on the government finding the time and political energy to get new ‘enabling’ regulations through Parliament before the summer.  As with the trains, expect more delays…

In the long run, the Government is still forecasting hugely positive impacts from Universal Credit, worth £34 billion over ten years.  However, this report reveals just how heroic some of these assumptions are – such as work coaches being able to support nearly four hundred people at a time, and running costs being one fifth what they were in the old system.  In practice, the NAO show that current caseloads are four times smaller and unit costs four times larger than these targets – and that even small changes in the business case assumptions will increase costs by billions.

Perhaps the most troubling thing in today’s report though is the long list of things that the Government isn’t measuring or doing.  It doesn’t recognise that there are ongoing local costs, so these were left out of the business case. It doesn’t accept that the reforms can cause hardship, so it won’t talk to partners about how to address it – leading to what the NAO describe as a culture of ‘claim and counter-claim’.  And most remarkably, the report also reveals that the government can no longer measure the impacts of Universal Credit on employment – because there are no comparable groups that UC claimants can be assessed against.  So we will never know whether all of this upheaval has really been worth it.

Despite this absence of any evidence, and again this morning, the government continues to claim that Universal Credit increases employment and earnings.  However this is based on analysis of a small sample of claimants, who started claims under the ‘live service’ at least three years ago, and who were in the earliest (and best resourced) pilot sites.

Under Full Service we now know (from last week’s survey findings) that fully one third of those claimants who should be looking for work ‘intensively’ are doing no job-seeking at all, while one quarter report not having regular meetings with their work coach.  At the same time, our own analysis suggests that the number of ‘claimant’ unemployed doubles after Universal Credit rollout – which is likely to be driven by changes in how claimants are classified in the benefits system, but may also reflect people taking longer to find work.  Increasingly, I am concerned that Universal Credit may actually be harming employment prospects for those out of work.  But without any evaluation or impact assessment, we may never know.

The National Audit Office concludes that it’s now too late to turn back on Universal Credit.  In effect, there is no legacy benefits system to go back to. However, it’s also not too late to try to fix things.  For us, this means doing four things:

  • First, pausing the ‘migration’ of existing claimants until at least 2020 – which in practice will surely happen anyway.
  • Secondly, use this autumn’s Budget to reverse the damaging £2.3bn cuts to ‘work allowances’, so that Universal Credit always pays to work.
  • Thirdly, reset the partnership with local government and agencies. This report paints a picture of fraught and difficult relationships, distrust and piecemeal funding.  From our evaluation of the Universal Support pilots, it was clear to us that Universal Credit will only work if local partners are empowered (and resourced) to work with government to support the most vulnerable, address hardship and manage the impacts on local services.
  • And finally, review and reform how we support claimants to prepare for work, get into work and get more and better work. This means having caseloads closer to 100 than 400; regular, face-to-face and expert work coach; better alignment with adult skills, apprenticeships and other local provision; and the funding to commission and deliver the right support.

This blog first appeared in The Staggers in New Statesman on 18 June 2018.

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Tony Wilson, Director of Policy and Research at Learning and Work Institute, comments on the recent National Audit Office report on Universal Credit:

“Universal Credit remains a good idea in theory, but today’s report lays bare just how wrong things have gone in practice. With nearly half of claimants experiencing financial problems and one quarter getting their benefits late, the saving grace is that Universal Credit is running so far behind schedule. Full roll out will now be at least six years late, and even this relies on the government getting new regulations through Parliament before summer – so expect more delays.

Perhaps most troubling in today’s report is the long list of things that the government isn’t measuring. It doesn’t recognise that there are ongoing local costs, so these were left out of the business case. It doesn’t accept that the reforms can cause hardship, so it won’t talk to partners about how to address it. And most remarkably, the government can no longer measure the impacts of Universal Credit on employment – so we will never know whether all of this upheaval has been worth it. Given that the government’s own research shows that one in four Universal Credit claimants who should be looking for work are not doing so, and our analysis suggests that the number of ‘claimant’ unemployed doubles after Universal Credit rollout, this needs to be urgently addressed.

Despite this, in the long run the government is still forecasting hugely positive impacts from Universal Credit, worth £34 billion over ten years. However these are based on heroic assumptions – like work coaches being able to support nearly four hundred people at a time, and running costs being one fifth what they were in the old system. In practice, the NAO show that current caseloads are four times smaller and unit costs four times larger than these targets – and that even small changes in the business case assumptions will increase costs by billions.

The NAO concludes that it’s now too late to turn back. However it’s also not too late to fix things. We want to see action in three areas. First, by reversing the Treasury’s £2.3bn raid on work allowances so that under Universal Credit it will pay to work; secondly, by resetting the relationship with local partners in order to support the most vulnerable, address hardship and manage the impacts on local services; and thirdly, by ensuring that Universal Credit transforms support to prepare for work, get into work and get more and better work.”

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In response to today’s publication of  the apprenticeship and levy statistics, our Chief Executive, Stephen Evans said:

“It’s Groundhog Day for apprenticeships with numbers still well down, some 28% lower than by this time last year, greater falls in Level 2 Apprenticeships and rising numbers of higher apprentices. The Government’s target of 3 million apprenticeship starts by 2020 looks increasingly out of sight. The Government will claim quality is rising, but we think it’s far too early to say that. Critics will say the Levy isn’t working, but we’re clear it was the right move. McVitie’s, our Festival of Learning award winner, shows the difference the Levy can make when employers use it to support people development and improved productivity.

Changes are needed to make apprenticeships work better. But this should be about reforming the current system, not ripping it up. We must improve quality, including beefing up the Institute for Apprenticeships approvals process, so all apprenticeships match the best in the world. We must also focus more on making sure anyone  – and particularly young people – who could benefit can get an apprenticeship. We should be planning now to reinvest any underspent Levy funding in widening access, boosting quality, and other ways of improving workforce skills.”

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Last week the Department of Health and Social Care published its new cross-government action plan for carers. Two years ago, L&W, and many other organisations responded to the Department’s call for evidence, to inform a new carers strategy. Changes in government meant that the new strategy was never published. However, though it’s taken a while, in the main we’re not disappointed. The new action plan is comprehensive and provides real opportunity for joined up approaches that will improve carers’ lives.

Our work with young adult carers has consistently highlighted the challenges they face. Children and young people with caring responsibilities often experience bullying, stigma and discrimination; restricted opportunities to make friends, socialise and develop their own interests; and they often miss out on education and training opportunities. As a result, they are more likely to be NEET (not in education, employment or training) compared to other young people, more likely to have a mental health difficulty and less likely to achieve good GCSE results. These aren’t the outcomes that young adult carers deserve and it’s time we reversed the trend.  We’re really pleased that the new action plan recognises the difficulties that young adult carers face, alongside the importance of flexible education opportunities that will give them the same life chances as other young people.

In our response to the 2016 call for evidence, we highlighted the need for improved support for young adult carers to enable them to make positive transitions between the ages of 16-24. We’ve consulted and engaged hundreds of young adult carers over the last ten years. We know that young adult carers often fall through gaps in support, at key transition points – sometimes from school to college, or employment. Sometimes from young carer services, when they reach an age where they are no longer eligible for support. We’re delighted to see a commitment to securing positive transitions for young adult carers in the new plan, and look forward to working with the department, and a range of other stakeholders across the care, learning and skills sectors, to make this a reality.

Finally, the plan highlights the work we’ve been doing with the Department for Work and Pensions, to make the rules around learning and claiming Carer’s Allowance clearer. In September 2017 we jointly published new materials. Carers’ rights to claim benefits and other entitlement is a complex minefield, that is difficult for many professionals to navigate. For young adult carers it can feel like an impossible task on top of the other pressures they face in their daily lives. We look forward to continuing to work with the Department, carers services and colleges across the country, to ensure that young people who have often missed out on education, are able to study and claim Carer’s Allowance, where they meet the criteria. Whilst we’re confident that this work is enabling more young adult carers to combine caring and studying, alongside claiming the much-needed financial support that they’re entitled to, I’d like to finish with an ask…

The 21-hour rule that prevents carers from studying for more than 21 hours per week and claiming £64.60 per week in Carer’s Allowance is a barrier to learning. Young adult carers miss out on a range of opportunities because of their commitment to caring for their families. We estimate that the 314,000 young adult carers in England Wales save the economy over £5.5 billion in unpaid care each year. Young adult carers are proud of the work they do. We should be proud too. Scrapping the 21-hour rule in Carer’s Allowance would remove the complexities and confusion that young adult carers constantly face. It would make access to learning a reality; an opportunity to gain new skills, build successful careers and have a life of their own, outside caring. So, whilst we welcome the government’s commitment to support young adult carers’ transitions and understand their rights, we’d like them to go a step further and support young adult carers to claim the financial help they and their families need, whilst pursuing their right to learn and build successful futures.

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This week is Carers Week, when organisations across the country celebrate the hugely valuable contribution that carers of all ages make to our society. To mark this important campaign, Learning and Work Institute is pleased to announce the launch of a new resource for young adult carers: Making the Transition to Adulthood: Framework and Resources for Young Adult Carers.

The theme of Carers Week 2018 is helping carers to feel healthy and connected. This is particularly important for the one in 20 young people aged 16-24 in England who is a carer. In total, they provide over £5.5 billion worth of care every year, often at serious costs to themselves. The physical and emotional strain of caring often seriously impacts on these young people’s educational attainment, opportunities to socialise and develop support networks, and their ability to think about their plans and aspirations for the future. Their choice of jobs and careers are also likely to be affected, as they tend to limit their job searches to local, part-time roles which they can fit around their caring. These factors all contribute to making the transition to adulthood extremely challenging for young adult carers.

Developed in partnership with carers’ services and young adult carers, the Making the Transition framework aims to support young adult carers to overcome some of these challenges. It provides practical resources and activities that carers services can use with young adult carers to help them think about their needs; make decisions about working, learning and living; and plan for the future, as they move into adulthood.

The framework and resources are completely flexible and can be adapted in whichever way is most likely to engage young people and meet their needs most effectively. Some activities can be used when working one-to-one with a young adult carer and others are best delivered with a group. Alternatively, the framework can be used in a more structured way, with young people working through the modules in one section before moving on to another.

Nicola Aylward, Head of Learning for Young People, said:

“Young adult carers face a range of challenges when making the transition into adulthood. Their caring responsibilities often mean that they do not have the qualifications or experience needed to progress into their desired careers. They also might not have the time or space to explore their values, think about their career aspirations or make plans for their future. This can mean that they get trapped in low-paid, insecure work with little opportunity for progression.

“Making the Transition aims to provide carers services with a flexible framework and set of resources to help young adult carers take stock of their experiences and reflect on who they are, manage their day-to-day lives and take steps toward achieving their plans for learning and work.”

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Learning and Work Institute is delighted to announce their Festival of Learning award winners for 2018.  

Festival of Learning is the biggest celebration of lifelong learning in England. The national annual campaign, led by Learning and Work Institute and supported by the Department for Education, celebrates the outstanding achievements of individuals, employers and learning provision.   

Today, 35 winners and highly commended nominees were revealed at the Festival of Learning National Awards Ceremony in central London. These inspiring stories highlight how learning benefits individuals, their families, the communities they live in and the places they work. 

Winners and highly commended nominees were selected for various awards such as learning for work, social impact, learning for health, tutors, employers and innovative projects.

Stephen Evans, Chief Executive at Learning and Work Institute, said: “Festival of Learning is all about inspirational people who show that anyone can benefit from learning. Lifelong learning is vital for all of us as jobs and society change around us.” 

“We encourage everyone to give learning a try, and there’s hundreds of free activities to pick from during June on our ‘Have a Go Month’ calendar. Learning can help us at work and at home, and to build a fair and inclusive society.” 

Further information on learning opportunities and support with the costs of courses is available through the National Careers Service, colleges and community learning providers. 

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The Lord’s Economic Affairs Committee have today published the report of their Inquiry into the Economics of Higher, Further and Technical Education. Commenting on the report, Dr Fiona Aldridge of Learning and Work Institute said:

Today’s report will make for some challenging reading in government.  But beneath the headlines there is a lot here to welcome and a lot that Ministers and officials will likely agree with.  It is welcome to see the Lords’ Economic Affairs Committee challenging what it calls the ‘monoculture’ in post-18 education, and the ‘unfair’ funding system that has contributed to steep falls both in adult learning and part-time study.  At a time when we’re living and working for longer, with the skills needed for work changing faster than ever, doing nothing is not an option.   We strongly support their call for a new deal in higher education funding and hope that the government’s post-18 review will rise to these challenges.

On apprenticeships, we welcome the committee’s focus on driving up quality and improving access.  This echoes calls made by ourselves and a range of leading experts in our All Change report, released last week.  As things stand, the government risks missing its apprenticeships target while also missing the point – which must be to deliver a world class, work-based vocational skills offer that meets the needs of the economy, employers and learners.  While we agree with much of the committee’s findings, we would not support at this stage the abolition of the Institute for Apprenticeships.  The system has seen near-constant reform over the last decade and the IfA has jobs to do, particularly on standards and end-point assessment.  We should focus on getting this right first.

Finally, we strongly support the committee’s calls for full funding for a first Level 3 qualification – for all students, full- or part-time, irrespective of age.  Our performance in intermediate skills is among the worst in the OECD, and creating entitlement and opportunity for adults to develop their skills at this level will be good for them, good for business and good for our wider society and economy.

Learning and Work Institute’s submission to the Committee is available here.

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Learning and Work Institute has launched a new essay collection with leading experts setting out ways to improve the quality of apprenticeships and ensure fair access to training.

The Government’s apprenticeship reforms are the biggest in a generation and include the Apprenticeship Levy, a payroll tax on large employers with the money ring-fenced for apprenticeships. One year in, the number of apprenticeship starts is down 25%, leaving the government increasingly off target for its aim of three million starts by 2020.

In the new essay collection, Rt Hon Robert Halfon MP, Chair of the Education Select Committee, calls for half of young people going to higher education to be apprentices and for part of the Levy to be set aside to help prepare people for apprenticeships.

Tom Richmond, Senior Research Fellow at Reform and one of the architects of the reforms calls for a much greater focus on the quality of apprenticeships, and argues that many of today’s apprenticeships would not meet international benchmarks. He cites the example of retail apprentices who learn a much narrower range of skills in England compared to apprentices in Germany.

Other essays highlight stark inequalities in access to apprenticeships. Apprenticeship applications from people from Black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds are half as likely to succeed as applications from white backgrounds. Women made up only 600 of 17,500 engineering apprenticeships.

The new report calls for urgent action to tackle these inequalities and boost quality. Ideas for change include devolution so cities and local areas have greater control; an Apprentice Premium to better support under-represented groups; and requiring all apprenticeship standards to meet the world’s best.

Rt Hon Robert Halfon MP, Chair of the Education Select Committee, said:

“My dream is for this country to become an apprenticeship and skills nation, where everyone, no matter their background, can climb the educational ladder of opportunity. I believe we are making progress, but there is more to do. Money should be set aside from the Levy to create an apprentice social justice fund to help people reach the ladder of opportunity and aid their climb. And as I have said many times, half of students in higher education should be apprentices. “

Stephen Evans, Chief Executive of Learning and Work Institute, said:

“The renaissance of apprenticeships in recent decades is welcome and the introduction of the Levy and other reforms were a bold step. But we need to do more to ensure all apprenticeships reach the standards of the best and so everyone has a fair chance to be an apprentice. Our research shows stark inequalities that need radical reform and a social partnership between government and employers.”

The essay collection will be launched at an event in the Houses of Parliament hosted by Rt Hon Robert Halfon MP and including a speech by Gordon Marden MP, Shadow Skills Minister

The full essay collection can be read here.

For more information or interview opportunities please contact Fiona Aldridge, Assistant Director Research and Development on 07775 698181.

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Festival of Learning is encouraging everyone to learn something new, or re-connect with an old hobby or passion, this month.

In June, hundreds of free learning activities take place across England, such as short taster sessions, talks and lectures, online courses as well as college and university open days. For the whole month, people have the chance to try their hand at a huge range of activities or enhance their knowledge on a particular topic.

Italian opera, intermediate French, deaf awareness, tablets for beginners, childcare taster, adult ballet, Arabic cookery, stress management, ECDL taster, introduction to archaeology, yoga for beginners, guitar and ukulele are just some of the activities being offered by colleges, councils, libraries, museums and other community hubs. With hundreds of activities happening, there is sure to be something of interest to everyone.

Each year, Festival of Learning award winners show that learning increases self-confidence, enhances career prospects, improves health and well-being, enriches family relationships and empowers people to change their lives for the better.

Stephen Evans, Chief Executive at Learning and Work Institute, said:

“Festival of Learning is all about inspiring people to learn, highlighting the various learning opportunities available, and demonstrating the positive impacts of lifelong learning to society and the economy.

“We know that learning not only helps the learner but their families, the communities they live in and the places they work. People also discover new passions, find new friends and become more active in their community.”

Run in partnership with Hotcourses, the UK’s number one online search site for adult learning, Festival of Learning’s Have a Go Month takes place throughout June.

Visit our website to find out more and search for learning events near you.

Contact: Sarah Horner, Head of Policy and Communications | sarah.horner@learningandwork.org.uk

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