A manifesto for employment: How government can help people build skills and get a job

This post was co-written by Paul Winyard and Kristen Stephenson.


Charities help people help themselves – by sourcing employment opportunities, teaching new skills, helping to address long-standing health issues, and promoting social integration. Here are our suggestions for how the next government can make sure charities can continue to improve people’s prospects of finding work and contributing to society, particularly those furthest from the labour market.

Replace European Union programmes that help people get back to work

Among the excellent examples of charities carrying out this vital task are the AIM4WORK programme delivered by the Shaw Trust, which supports people who are out of work and experiencing common mental health conditions, as well as the QED Foundation’s Living in Britain programme, which provides English language, citizenship and vocational support to women in Pakistan before leaving to settle in the UK.

What both these programmes have in common is that they use European funding to meet gaps in service provision that national and local services often fail to address.

The importance of this funding, particularly for some of the most deprived communities, shouldn’t be understated: an evaluation of European Structural Fund (ESF) funding in the UK between 2007-14 found that 1,273,583 participants were in employment six months after leaving an ESF intervention, while 784,074 people gained a qualification.

However, we believe a better designed programme could achieve even more.

Design new, lighter-touch, flexible programmes

Between 2014 and 2020 the UK is set to receive €3.5bn (about £3bn) from the European Social Fund. As the UK leaves the EU, there is a pressing need to ensure disadvantaged communities receive similar, much needed support in the future.

At NCVO, we’re calling on the next government to work with charities, social enterprises and other key stakeholders to replace European Union programmes that help people get back to work or start a social enterprise with new, lighter-touch, flexible programmes.

This is a perfect opportunity to think afresh.

Like the Big Lottery Fund’s Building Better Opportunities programme, the new programme should adopt a place-based approach, focussing on the needs and aspirations of local people. As such, it should be accessible to small local organisations, and where possible, distributed through grants to ensure organisations who are often disadvantaged by complex procurement processes are able to participate in service delivery (the benefits of grant giving are well-rehearsed – see for example this report by the Lloyds Bank Foundation and NHS England’s guidelines on the use of grants).

In particular, a replacement programme should incorporate the principles of additionality and complementarity to maximise impact, not simply plug gaps in existing state provision or be used to replace government expenditure. Reflecting the link between health conditions, disabilities and employment outcomes, any new programme of support should be holistic in its approach, and promote service integration, preventative action, and particularly following last year’s referendum to leave the EU, community cohesion.

Make it easier for unemployed people to volunteer

Any holistic approach to helping people access the labour market should also take into account the important role that volunteering can play in the pathway to employability, especially for those defined as ‘disadvantaged’. Through volunteering people can access opportunities to gain experience and develop their skills, including soft skills like communication and an opportunity to build confidence and self-esteem; crucial for those who are long-term unemployed. We think there is more to do in order to ensure the opportunities to volunteer for people who are unemployed are made available and promoted locally.

Improve understanding to remove barriers

Often, confusion about the rules and a lack of awareness about the role genuine volunteering can play in supporting people back into work is still a barrier. More needs to be done to:

  • get rid of red tape and confusion about the rules
  • ensure that JobCentre Plus (JCP) staff on the ground understand the potential benefits of volunteering and know the rules about eligibility to volunteer, and that these are being applied consistently.

Develop better local pathways

We also need better local pathways to employment through volunteering. This requires ensuring there are effective relationships in place between local JCP centres and the voluntary sector, particularly volunteering infrastructure and support services.

We believe there is more scope for government to work with charities and the voluntary sector to support the development of better partnerships locally; identifying and understanding problem areas and potential opportunities in order to promote volunteering as a positive option for JCP claimants. All partners involved share a common goal of enabling more jobseekers to benefit from volunteering.

There is good practice out there and in some local areas JCPs have really effective relationships with local charities and volunteer centres who are reaching out to demonstrate the potential of volunteering and the opportunities it presents for those looking for work. Good practice should be promoted so that there is a shared vision of what an effective partnership looks like.

Ensure people are well supported

Volunteering is not a panacea and you can’t guarantee that just volunteering alone will lead to a job. There are a complex range of factors which have an impact on an individual’s employability and consequently their experience of volunteering whilst unemployed. Daiga Kamerāde has done some interesting work on this.

However, studies show that volunteering enhances the personal skillset, attitudes and knowledge that help jobseekers in the labour market and so it can still be an extremely valuable part of a solution or intervention. If the intended outcome is employment or at least increased employability, then volunteering roles or programmes need to be designed with this in mind and provide scope for people to develop relevant skills and experience.

Jobseekers also need adequate levels of support during and after volunteering to ensure they can articulate what they have gained through volunteering to potential employers. Here there is a connection to our other manifesto idea which calls for volunteer management to be strengthened.

We’re hoping the next government will take steps to implement all parts of our manifesto in order to further support and harness the potential of charities and volunteering to improve outcomes for all parts of society.


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Paul joined NCVO over seven years ago after working for a leading public affairs agency. Since then he’s led our policy work on a variety of issues, including welfare-to-work reforms, volunteering, the Compact, public service commissioning and procurement regulations. He now leads our work on funding and finance with a particular focus on charity tax relief and safeguarding EU funding post-Brexit.

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