Jobs, opportunity and fairness – Derbyshire is showing the way on pay

Derby City Council is showing policymakers how to respond to the long-term unemployment crisis.

Rob Johnston is regional secretary of Midlands TUC

Jobs, opportunity and fairness. For too many people in the country today, these three simple aspirations are but a pipe dream. For half a decade now unemployment has ravaged communities. And despite a welcome uptick in employment in recent months unemployment is still high.

The economic cost of large scale, long-term unemployment in terms of lost growth and tax receipts are huge. And the impact on individuals is devastating. We know that those people out of work for an extended period are more likely to suffer from physical and mental ill health, whilst long-term career prospects likely to be permanently hampered.

So that is why getting a policy fix for unemployment really ought to be front and centre for policy makers.

The government’s decision to scrap the ‘Future Jobs Fund’ is now widely accepted to have been a costly mistake. This job guarantee scheme, designed to get 35,000 young people off the dole queue, provided people with real work for a real wage. Just a cursory glance at the statistics shows that the FJF was cost effective and delivering before it was scrapped.

The DWP’s own statistics showed that the exchequer gained £7,750 for every  participant on the Future Jobs Fund through wages, increased tax receipts and reduced benefit payments. Indeed, participants personally gained £4,000, employers gained £6,850 and participants were 16% less likely to be in receipt of welfare two years after joining the scheme than non-participants.

In short it worked, unlike the present government’s current job subsidy scheme, where only 10,030 – just 6.3 per cent – of the targeted 160,000 18-24 year olds have found work.

Clearly, if we are to follow the evidence, job guarantee programmes work. And policy makers would do worse than to take a look at an innovative job guarantee scheme that is about to start at Derby City Council. Not only does it provide unemployed people with a job, but it also ensures that these jobs are paid at the Living Wage.

That is delivering fairness to go alongside the jobs and opportunity.

Derby City Council have taken advantage of government funding to introduce the ‘Local Assistance Scheme’ and to press ahead with the ‘Derby’s Working’ job guarantee scheme. The government grant is a small proportion of what was previously spent by central government on the Social Fund which was designed to support vulnerable people.

The funding has not been ring-fenced, and therefore local authorities have been able to spend the money on differing priorities. In Derby, part of the Local Assistance Scheme has been used to help those citizens in crisis by paying for food vouchers, utility bills and laundry costs. And now the Local Assistance Scheme is funding the ‘Derby’s Working’ job guarantee scheme.

There is no restriction on who is eligible to take part in ‘Derby’s Working’. Whilst the programme is targeted at the over 25’s, no person will be turned away from participating. The scheme will fund people to work for six months for either 20 or 30 hours a week and to be paid at the Living Wage rate. Over 70 local organisations have signed up and there will be genuine partnership working between the employers and Jobcentre Plus staff.

Participants will have a dedicated mentor to coach them through their period of employment. Training will be provided throughout the employment to help develop skills.

It is hoped that, at the end of the six month period, participants will either secure long term sustainable employment with their host employer or, to have new skills and a decent reference that will help them find employment elsewhere.

Crucially, participants will be followed after their placement finishes to monitor the success of the programme going forward.

But this is just the latest example of positive, progressive policies emanating from Derbyshire. Derby City Council already pays the Living Wage for staff and uses their procurement policy to encourage suppliers to pay the Living Wage too.

Derbyshire’s Police & Crime Commissioner has also made Derbyshire Constabulary a Living Wage employer, recently adopted a policy of entrenching the Living Wage in the Constabulary’s procurement policy and pay interns at the Living Wage rate.

Over at Derbyshire County Council, the Living Wage is presently being rolled out to staff and they have recently ensured that all apprentices receive the recognised age-related NMW rate, rather than the apprenticeship pay rate of just £2.65, a move that has also been adopted by at Derbyshire Constabulary.

Evidently there is the political will and determination in Derbyshire to put jobs, opportunity and fairness front and centre in the policy programme across the County. Derby City Council deserve great credit for this latest job guarantee scheme that will deliver jobs, opportunity and fairness  for the people of the city. You can’t ask for more than that.

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