How the Citizens’ Curriculum supports engagement in city life

February 25, 2015, by Guest Blogger. filed under Uncategorized; No Comments.
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In our latest blog from one of the NIACE Citizens’ Curriculum pilot sites, Munawara Sattar and Hoshna Huda from Leicester College explain how a Citizens’ Curriculum approach is benefitting learners who have recently migrated to Leicester. 

Many of us walk through the city centre and don’t take time to stop and enjoy our surroundings, or think about its past.  If we are new to the city, we might not even be aware of its history, what the city centre has to offer, or perhaps lack the confidence to explore the attractions, opportunities and the possibilities.  However, learners on our Citizens’ Curriculum course were delighted to be given the chance to find out more.

Working with recent migrants to the city, Leicester College’s Citizens’ Curriculum pilot combines English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) with health, digital, financial and civic capabilities to enable them to make the best start to a new life in a new country and a new city.

As part of the civic capability strand of the course, tutors and three groups of learners braved the cold and undertook a fact-finding trip of Leicester City centre.  The purpose of the trip was to develop learners’ understanding of the historical backdrop of Leicester, the diverse range of faiths in the city and to encourage pride in being a citizen of the city. The trip took us through the historic part of the city, starting at the Clock Tower, onto Leicester Cathedral, Newarke House museum, the Jain Centre and the Buddhist Centre.  We learnt about the industrial past, the story of Richard III and the Great Wars, and about the history of immigration to Leicester.

All the learners agreed that they had experienced parts of Leicester they had never seen before.  It was great to see them feel empowered to go into local buildings they were previously afraid to visit. The best part was finding out that many went back to the local attractions independently, this time with friends and family.

The Citizens’ Curriculum approach allows tutors to respond to the needs and interests of the learners, who play a crucial part in shaping the course content.  The city centre trip is one example of the value of this, but it can be seen in other parts of the course too.  For instance, in the digital and financial capabilities strands, the learners expressed an interest in an online lift-sharing scheme, offering the possibility of affordable travel.  They are now developing the language and digital skills to find out more about how they can use the internet to access these types of ‘sharing-economy’ initiatives.  This isn’t just about saving money of course – it’s clear that, as with the city centre trip, the Citizens’ Curriculum has the potential to bring about greater civic engagement to benefit everyone.

How do you think a Citizens’ Curriculum benefit learners in other settings? How would you use it?


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Local Approaches to Boosting Earnings

February 24, 2015, by Guest Blogger. filed under Uncategorized; No Comments.

Damien Conyngham-Hynes is a Policy Advisor in the Cabinet Office’s Cities and Local Growth Unit specialising in labour markets and skills. In this blog, Damien details three innovative ideas that could help people increase their earnings through work.

What is the challenge?

Low pay continues to dominate the policy debate in the UK, and rightly so. Whilst the employment rate at 73.2% is at record levels (1) and wages for people who have remained in continuous employment have, for the most part, continued to rise in real terms(2); for some people – particularly those who lost their jobs during the recession – this has not been the case. For instance, it remains the case that over half those living in poverty live in a household where someone works (3).

The issue is one of progression as well as low pay. Almost three quarters of workers who were low paid in 2002 were still in low paid work a decade later. And whilst 46% of these workers did experience high pay at certain points during the decade, cycling between low and high paying jobs, 27% never earned above low pay during that time (4). This figure is significantly worse for some groups, including lone parents and people with disabilities.

These issues have a significant human impact, but they also have a striking fiscal impact. Improvements to the welfare system are expected to save money – Universal Credit alone is projected to save £20.7 billion through higher earnings for people moving into employment and reduced spending on benefits (5). However, there remains scope for improvement. For instance, a recent report suggests that if all UK workers earned the living wage – the wage rate required to provide workers with a basic but acceptable standard of living – the Treasury could achieve gross savings of up to £3.6 billion a year through increased tax revenue and lower spending on in-work benefits.

Structural drivers

Long-term structural trends have contributed to the current low pay-low progression equilibrium.

Stagnant productivity levels and an increasingly polarised labour market are two of these trends. UK output per hour worked in 2013 was 17% lower than the average for G7 countries, and 30% behind the US (7). As productivity is, in the long run, the main determinant of living standards, this marks a worrying trend.

At the same time, increased globalisation and rapid technological advances have led to a growth in both high-paying and low-paying jobs, coupled with significant falls in middle income jobs (8). This pattern of polarisation further entrenches low levels of progression by removing the middle-income jobs that low paid workers may progress into.

Three proposals to counteract the trend

One of the Government’s key policies aiming to tackle this issue is Universal Credit. By ensuring that people are always better off the more they work and by simplifying the system by introducing a single taper, people are incentivised to find and progress in work. This is a positive move; although on its own may not be enough.

NIACE’s proposals for a National Advancement Service in its latest report is innovative, not least because it makes the case for how skills investment could contribute to efforts to boost earnings (9). However there are a number of additional ways to improve the existing system, and the Government is testing these approaches through City Deals and Growth Deals. These include:

  •  Tweaking existing programmes to include metrics for progression. The Work Programme’s focus on long-term outcomes is a positive step, but providers should be paid in part for improving their participants’ earnings (10). Through its City Deal, Plymouth have been testing this approach using a randomised control trial to assess how to boost the earnings of young people who have found work through the Work Programme. More radically,  in the future there may be scope for a structural move towards implementing earnings programmes rather than employment programmes. In this case, providers’ primary focus would be on improving earnings for participants, with employment used as a mechanism to achieve this goal.
  • Developing estate-based employment and progression programmes. For residents of deprived estates, there is evidence that housing provider-led employment initiatives can support residents of deprived estates to find and progress in work. The Jobs Plus programme, previously delivered in the US, offered residents financial incentives to work, alongside employment and community support. The scheme was very successful. Tenants’ yearly earnings increased by 6.2% compared to the control group, and in the three sites that did not experience any implementation issues, the figure was 14% (11). These gains continued even after the programme ended. The Black Country, through its City Deal, is piloting a similar approach to reducing welfare dependency in two areas of high unemployment. Further testing and  evaluation of this model in a UK context should be a priority.
  • Generating stronger evidence of ‘what works’. Whilst there is significant evidence of what works in helping people find employment, there is little robust evidence of what works in helping people progress in employment. The previous Employment Retention and Advancement pilots in the UK showed evidence of earnings gains for participants, but did not identify which interventions caused this improvement. A commitment to more sophisticated piloting to generate robust impact evidence at scale should be prioritised so that future policy makers and providers can identify which interventions or combinations of interventions work in the coming years.

The UK labour market’s twin challenges of low pay and low progression are significant but not insurmountable. By improving existing programmes, introducing well-targeted additional support and joining up Whitehall silos, they can be overcome.

1 Office for National Statistics – Statistical Bulletin: UK Labour Market, February 2015
2 Emmerson et al – The IFS Green Budget (Institute for Fiscal Studies, February 2015)
2 MacInnes et al – Monitoring Poverty and Social Exclusion 2013 (Joseph Rowntree Foundation, 2013)
4 D’Arcy, Hurrell – Escape plan: Understanding who progresses from low pay and who gets stuck (Resolution Foundation, November 2014)
5 National Audit Office – Universal Credit: progress update (26 November 2014)
6 Lawton, Pennycook – Beyond the bottom line: The challenges and opportunities of a living wage (IPPR, Resolution Foundation, 2013)
7 Office for National Statistics – Statistical Bulletin: International comparisons of productivity – First Estimates, 2013 (October 2014)
8 Goos, Manning – Lousy and Lovely jobs – The rising polarization of work in Britain (Review of Economics and Statistics, 89)
9 NIACE – No Limits: From getting by to getting on (February 2015)
10 Ben Galim, Krasnowski, Lanning – More than a foot in the door: Job sustainability and advancement in London and the UK (IPPR, 2011)
11 Bloom, Riccio, Verma – Promoting work in public housing: The effectiveness of Jobs Plus – Final report (MDRC, 2005)

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Progression Starts With Entry

February 20, 2015, by Guest Blogger. filed under Uncategorized; No Comments.

Charlotte Pickles, Senior Research Director at Reform

Responding to the publication of ‘No Limits: from getting on to getting by‘, Charlotte Pickles, Senior Research Director at leading think-tank Reform discusses how we can address the specifics of unemployment and progression:

Earlier this month, DWP Director General Jeremy Moore told a Reform conference that Britain is very good at getting people into work, but more needs to be done to help people progress once there. This is certainly true for the bulk of people making the transition from benefits into work, though more needs to be done to support those with more complex barriers. Nonetheless, whatever its political make-up, an incoming government will inevitably make in work “progression” a key priority. No Limits: from getting by to getting on is a timely and important contribution.

However, within this, we need to be clear what exactly it is we’re trying to address. Discussions about low pay, low hours, low skill jobs can miss the fact that each of these elements may benefit from specific reforms – and that for many, getting on the first rung of the employment ladder remains the most pressing issue.

Take low skills. To state the obvious, this is not just a problem of progressing in the labour market, but of joining it in the first place. ONS analysis of the 2011 census data shows that fewer than half of those with no qualifications are in employment, versus eight in ten of those with at least one qualification. It is absolutely the case that helping people to increase their skills should enable them to progress in work, but, as any Work Programme provider will tell you, better integration between skills and employment services is needed just to get those furthest from the labour market on the first rung.

Addressing low pay as its own problem is also key. Of course we want entry level jobs to provide a stepping stone to increased earnings, but we also want those jobs to pay a fair wage in themselves. The Government currently pays out around £30 billion in Tax Credits, the vast majority of which goes to working families. Tax payers are subsidising employers paying wages deemed too low for families to survive on. With one in five workers earning less than a living wage, government and business should be looking at their respective roles and responsibilities in tackling this. Reducing the Tax Credit bill might also enable greater investment in the sorts of services that NIACE are arguing could help people progress.

In a Universal Credit world these issues become all the more important. The distinction between “in work” and “out of work” benefits is blurred, with those in work not deemed to be earning enough subject to conditionality. A new approach to employment support is needed that (a) ensures a more seamless offer of support from unemployment to progression and (b) introduces support for those in work but needing to earn more (through increased earnings and/or hours). A payment by results model linked to increased earnings (or a reduction in Universal Credit entitlement) would therefore appear sensible.

There is no doubt that a personalised approach which integrates the current set of fragmented services is the right way to proceed. Nor that services should be offered via “trusted” agents. The National Advancement Service is therefore certainly worth testing, all the more so given the limited evidence-base for what works to enable progression.

However, whilst we must embrace ideas and initiatives that seek to move people from “getting by to getting on”, we must not lose sight of the need to support people to move into work in the first place. Work is itself good for people, clearly “good” work is even better.

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Time to Act on Progression

February 18, 2015, by Guest Blogger. filed under Uncategorized; No Comments.

The latest labour market figures from the Office for National Statistics, published this morning, show that the employment rate is now at 73.2% – the highest it has been in 30 years. Despite this, relatively low average earnings growth suggests the economic recovery is not yet improving productivity. Here, Kathryn Ray, Senior Researcher at The Work Foundation blogs about NIACE’s proposals to help people in low-paid progress:

The government has been talking about the importance of sustainable employment and progression for a number of years, but, as we have argued before, has not thus far put sufficient resource behind this agenda. Last week, NIACE published proposals for a National Advancement Service to enable people in low-paid work to build their career and boost their earnings. This is an idea whose time has surely come. There are currently no incentives for employment support providers to place people into work that pays a living wage or that offers opportunities for progression; there is limited financial support for people in low-paid work to take up training; and the National Careers Service is under-resourced and beneath the radar of people in work.

This might not be a problem if career pathways existed within the workplace for people to move easily from entry level jobs to better paid positions. But we know that in many low-wage sectors flat organisational structures predominate, while outsourcing and delayering have disrupted career ladders even in large organisations. This is reflected in the UK’s high share of low-paid jobs – at 21% of the workforce one of the highest levels in the OECD – and more importantly a high level of persistent low pay. One study found that only a fifth of low-paid workers moved into a consistently higher pay bracket over a 10-year period. In addition to causing difficulties for individuals, this is not good for the economy – both because lower wages mean lower tax revenues and because low paid jobs signal a structural problem of low-cost, low-productivity business models.

So what prevents people from progressing out of low pay and what should an advancement service seek to do? Previous research suggests that a combination of structural and individual factors are at play in hampering progression.

At the individual level, people in low-paid work may lack confidence in their abilities to take on more responsibility or to undertake training, especially if previous experiences of education have been negative. Moreover, the limited and uncertain financial rewards that might accrue from progression – particularly if this means moving into a different occupation or sector – means that trade offs may be made in favour of stability or protecting family time over increases in income. This is where careers advice and guidance has a key role to play, both in raising aspirations and in guiding individuals’ decisions by providing information about education and training options and their likely outcomes in terms of career and income. A service targeted at low-paid workers with sufficient resources for outreach is therefore a critical first step. It will be important to engage people via as many avenues as possible, and not just in the workplace where employers in low-wage sectors may well be sceptical about its value.

The second hurdle is structural or institutional factors. It is easier for people to take steps to progress if there are structured opportunities to do so within the workplace and supportive line managers. The evidence shows that people are much more likely to get stuck in low pay if they are in sectors which lack these career ladders such as retail and hospitality. There is therefore a role for strategic partners at the local level to foster the development of career ladder schemes within sectors that can clarify and strengthen progression pathways. Finally, while current skills policy is directed towards encouraging employer ownership – a necessary step to ensure a good match between skills supply and demand – there must also be a package of support (funding, guidance and flexible provision) outside of employer control to enable individuals to reskill and move across sectors to enhance their earnings prospects and to meet the changing needs of the economy.

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The big picture challenge of low pay

February 13, 2015, by Guest Blogger. filed under Uncategorized; No Comments.
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Kirsty McHugh, the Chief Executive of the Employment Related Services Association (ERSA) discusses NIACE’s proposals for a new National Advancement Service to help low-paid people progress in their careers.

Well hats off to NIACE – the snappily entitled National Institute of Adult Continuing Education (England and Wales).

Its latest report, ‘No Limits:  From Getting By to Getting On’ takes head on the issue of low pay and lack of progression in the UK labour market.  It outlines clearly the mess we’re in – the 1 million more low paid workers in the UK than the OECD average; the productivity challenge which has been debated since at least the 1970s; and the shocking lack of social mobility which is entrenched within our social structures.

Surely it’s these big picture challenges which should be debated at May’s General Election – not the minutiae which fills our airwaves?

However, in the absence of such debate, I read NIACE’s proposals to fix these issues with interest.  The report tries to get on the table the issues that matter.  And what I found was indeed a brave attempt to come up with an answer to one of the trickiest economic and social conundrums of our time.

It would be easy to criticise. How can the construction of a new body, ‘the ‘National Advancement Service’, have any form of significant impact on such an entrenched and complicated set of issues?  However, at its heart is a simple idea –we provide people on low pay with a career coach and a personal career account; put simply – sound advice and access to a little cash.  That’s what many of us received through our parents and/or our schools/colleges earlier on in life, but many others lack either at the outset of their working lives or thereafter.

NIACE believe this will save money – £200 million per year across England by 2020; a figure which is very difficult to prove or disprove.  Therein perhaps lies the greatest barrier to the creation of such a scheme.  How do we get our politicians to invest at a time of austerity?  How do we get existing institutions to hand over already stretched budgets?

However, I do believe that there is a strong case for investment in decent careers advice at all stages of our working lives and that relatively small investments in skills development can transform lives.  I also believe that we’re not getting sufficient value out of the current skills system, that smaller employers are not sufficiently supported to invest in career pathways  and that many individuals, despite some of the political rhetoric, do have the appetite to increase earnings and reduce their reliance on benefits.

Now, I’m aware that there will be some who believe that ERSA members are part of the problem not the solution.  After all, a considerable number of ERSA members deliver the DWP back to work programmes, including the Work Programme.  Although now delivering well (indeed even the National Audit Office says it is delivering at least as well as predecessor programmes), there remains a perception that such programmes entrench people in low paid jobs.

Let us be clear: ‘into work’ services are helpful.  We know it is far easier to get a job once you are in a job – even if it’s relatively low skilled. But once you’re there, it can take a pretty radical shift to start thinking about taking control of a ‘career’. That’s where NIACE’s idea of trusted intermediaries could come in.  ERSA members know mentors/coaches work well in schools with kids at risk of becoming NEET. They also know they work well in relation to particularly disadvantaged jobseekers who access work for the first time but need help to stay there.  There is thus good reason to believe such coaches could well work for the larger number of individuals on low paid work.

Crucially, the creation of such a service must be in addition, rather than as a substitution, for tackling those big picture issues set out above.  We still need to fix careers advice in schools, to help young people transition into good jobs with career prospects at the outset and help employers to grow and provide decent job opportunities.  However, some decent careers advice and a little money could go a long way.  Let’s hope our politicians see that too.

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