Community Links

Community Links blog

Summer in the city

August 26th, 2016

Five young people are walking slowly in front of me.  The youngest might be 10 or 11. The oldest maybe 14.  At each parked car, and there are many, they try the door handles without breaking step. Catching sight of me they pause silently at the corner shop and wait for me to pass. They don’t go in.  There is no hurry. They have nothing to do.

These kids aren’t on a mission.  They are idle and bored.  For the sake of their young lives as much as for the residents of Canning Town we must hope that nothing has been left unlocked on this hot afternoon. It is easier to make an insurance claim than it is to start adult life with a criminal record.

Later I will look randomly through old annual reports. I will check my memory. 20 years ago, in 1996, we were running 80 holiday play schemes open to all and offering more than 100,000 child day places. In the summer of ‘97, 2200 young people enjoyed a Community Links camping holiday – mostly in Epping Forest but some as far away as Scotland, Wales and even climbing in the Alps. Under the inspired leadership of Kevin Jenkins, now Community Links life president, we were touching the lives of generations for more than 30 years. Other organisations were doing similar good work on a smaller scale.   None of it was rocket science but it was constructive activity, it didn’t cost much, it built relationships and it kept children out of trouble.

Today across East London there is no more than a scattering of voluntary holiday programmes, mostly offering specialist provision. The larger number of commercial care schemes may be okay for the parents who can afford them, but they are expensive and out of reach for most of the families we know. The big, open community play scheme has very largely disappeared along with the statutory grants that paid for it.

Local councils spent £1.2bn on youth work in 2010/11 but, according to the British Youth Council this had fallen to £712m by 2013/14 – a drop of almost 40%  across the UK. The top line number is bad enough but it is worse on the ground because the cuts are disproportionately focused on those embattled authorities, like Newham, which have suffered most from successive and heavy reductions in their government settlement.

This is the harsh and mindless edge of austerity.  Holiday schemes were constructive, effective, fun, cheap and life enhancing.  The alternatives for young people like those in front of me today are none of the above.

Times change and organisations must change too. Community Links  moves positively in new directions but we would like to think that when we stop doing something it is either because the job has been completed or because someone else has found a better way of doing it. I realise with a heavy heart that neither apply in this situation.

A Question of Growth: Preventing Harm and Taking the Longer Perspective

August 23rd, 2016

Over the past month we have been posting a range of guest blogs on the topic of early action growth. In this final blog we attempt to draw out some common themes across them all and highlight the big questions.




In common policy maker parlance “growth” – largely referring to an increase in Gross Domestic Product (GDP) – is often synonymous with “economic success”. By this traditional measure alone it would appear that the economy has not done particularly well since Brexit, with the latest estimates from the National Institute for Economic and Social Research (NIESR) suggesting that in July GDP fell by 0.2%.

Measuring success

In reality GDP is just one indicator. It therefore only captures part of what constitutes “economic success”, and economic success is in itself only one way of thinking about progress. As many of our bloggers suggested in their pieces, this is fundamentally a problem of emphasis. The weight that we give to different measures frames what is recognised as contributing to human progress, and also therefore what is disregarded as unimportant. In this sense it is unhelpful to assume that any growth in GDP is axiomatically a good thing, particularly when we take into account wider social and environmental indicators.

Indeed, as Professor Anne Power of the London School of Economics (LSE) pointed out in her blog, “beneficial growth cannot be measured” by traditional economic indicators such as GDP, profit and Gross Value Added alone, as they are not necessarily “the best drivers of human progress”.

How, then, should we measure and define “good” or “beneficial” growth?

Many of our bloggers would agree that we should be wary of dismissing GDP entirely, with Dan Corry (New Philanthropy Capital) pointing out that this risks alienating policy makers and losing what is a useful, if partial, indicator of economic change. We must therefore supplement it with other concepts and measures. One suggestion, as advocated by most of our authors but particularly strongly by Anna Coote (New Economics Foundation), is to think about well-being: understood here as “the way people feel when they lead a good life, functioning well on personal and social levels”. This can be further expanded to include environmental wellbeing: although some of our authors differed on whether ‘growth’ in and of itself was an intrinsically damaging focus, they all broadly agreed that economic success cannot be decoupled from environmental protection and social progress.

Ultimately since growth is such a deeply embedded concept in our political lexicon, disregarding it doesn’t help us to communicate effectively with policy makers and politicians. However, we can be much clearer about the characteristics of good growth and much more explicit about promoting beneficial growth as opposed to any old growth. We are not attempting to come up with a concrete definition of “beneficial growth” in this summary blog, but it is clear that it has some fundamental elements to it. This was encapsulated by Anne Power when she wrote that we desperately need “a less greedy, more socially just, more equitable and more environmentally sensitive approach to growth”.

Early action is the foundation upon which this can be built.

Beneficial growth and early action 

So what does beneficial growth supported by early action look like in context?

Both Debbie Pippard (from Barrow Cadbury Trust) and Dan Paskins (Big Lottery Fund) suggest we should think differently about how we relate the early action agenda to market forces. Debbie’s argument is that the poverty premium, in which poor people end up paying more for essential services and goods, is hugely problematic not just for moral reasons but for economic ones too. If we could reduce or abolish it, one answer being through collective consumption practices, then we could free up more money for spending in the wider economy. Dan Paskins’ argument mirrors this, calling for early action strategies that “ensure the aggregate benefits of globalisation are shared more equitably”. By investing in early action – arguably the ‘social infrastructure‘ of the UK – we can intervene more efficiently in market failures and societal problems, leaving us with more money to invest in classic growth strategies around physical infrastructure such as transport, education, and science.

The point about investment is crucial. As Caroline Slocock (Civil Exchange) notes, early action is not a cost but an economic investment. We therefore need a positive cycle of investment in early action that clearly yields a return on investment (arguments around investing in science and education to increase our ‘human capital’ already recognises this), and there are already tools out there that can help us to measure this (for example in New Zealand). Other early action areas that are traditionally seen as costs rather than investments include welfare – something the Task Force has written on before – as highlighted by Neil McInroy (CLES), employment support, and mental health.

Ben Jupp (Social Finance) takes (un)employment as his focus, arguing that the massive inequalities individuals with mental health problems face in the labour market constitute “a major drag on our economy”. Governmental attempts to address this have been patchy to date – the Work Programme for example has been particularly unsuccessful at helping those with health problems – but there is hope if we can invest more money in early action activities such as Individual Placement Support that integrates health and employment support, starts with people’s wishes and aspirations, and aims to get people into work they actually want to do as fast as is appropriate. In doing so we can harness people’s potential and enable them to flourish.

Also thinking about mental health, Cliff Prior (Big Society Capital) discusses Social Impact Bonds (SIBs) as a newish form of investment that can yield social and economic benefits. For him – and indeed many of our authors – the argument that it is too costly to invest in early action is glib, particularly when you consider the huge economic and social costs of mental health problems. He points to several SIBs such as Newcastle’s Ways to Wellness and the Fair Chance Fund that are aligning funding from different sources for positive social and economic outcomes for individuals, communities, and for society as a whole.

Do no harm

Bobby Kennedy’s speechwriters did not write the following for our blog, but they could well have done. Of course the specifics are dated (it was written almost fifty years ago), and it is so frequently cited that it’s now a bit clichéd, but it’s worth repeating in full:

“Too much and for too long, we seemed to have surrendered personal excellence and community values in the mere accumulation of material things.  Our Gross National Product, now, is over $800 billion dollars a year, but that Gross National Product – if we judge the United States of America by that – that Gross National Product counts air pollution and cigarette advertising, and ambulances to clear our highways of carnage.  It counts special locks for our doors and the jails for the people who break them.  It counts the destruction of the redwood and the loss of our natural wonder in chaotic sprawl.  It counts napalm and counts nuclear warheads and armored cars for the police to fight the riots in our cities.  It counts Whitman’s rifle and Speck’s knife, and the television programs which glorify violence in order to sell toys to our children. 

“Yet the gross national product does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education or the joy of their play.  It does not include the beauty of our poetry or the strength of our marriages, the intelligence of our public debate or the integrity of our public officials.  It measures neither our wit nor our courage, neither our wisdom nor our learning, neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country, it measures everything in short, except that which makes life worthwhile.  And it can tell us everything about America except why we are proud that we are Americans.”

Therefore thinking about growth in terms of GDP/GNP (themselves not interchangeable terms) alone is unhelpful, and will only lead us down increasingly narrow corridors of thought and action. Relentlessly chasing meaningless targets – take, for example, the incessant focus and triumphalism around record employment figures by the current Government, with no real critique of the quality of the work that people find themselves in – will not create beneficial growth.

Early action provides an opportunity to not only broaden the debate, but to widen the horizons of what we want to achieve and how we want to achieve it. All future growth strategies should therefore take two principles as their starting point: for growth to be truly beneficial it must do no harm – to individuals, communities, or the environment – and take a long term view.

Applying these basic tests to any policy or activity would highlight those that were not likely to lead to beneficial growth – for example, a policy helping people into work, but mainly into poorly paid and insecure jobs – and those that were – for example, employment support that takes into account people’s needs and desires, enabling them to find appropriate, sustainable and fulfilling work.

To steal Cliff Prior’s conclusion: “good growth – sometimes you know it when you see it”.

Seeking the sunshine, then and now

August 18th, 2016

What would James Keir Hardie have done to end the civil war currently engulfing the Labour Party?

Probably not much more than anyone has been able to do in these recent turbulent times. He resigned the leadership of the party in 1908 largely because he couldn’t manage the internal rivalries. The path to what the Labour Party founder and one time MP for West Ham called the “sunshine of socialism was as bitterly contested 108 years ago as it is today. None the less there are lessons to be learnt from a man who truly broke the mould of British politics and who was, and who still remains, a local hero to many in east London

As the modern Labour party lurches like a Saturday night drunk from one clumsy fight to another we have an intriguing opportunity to reflect on the legacy of Keir Hardie.  A new play called “ A splotch of red” retells the story of this pioneering radical. It will run for 4 nights and one afternoon next week in the big hall at Community Links that once echoed to the perorations of the blazing Scotsman.  Written by acclaimed play write (and a Newham resident)  James Kenworth, it is the third in a series of unique collaborations between local young people and established artists. The Independent thought the last one was “terrifically powerful…highly recommended”.

At the time of Keir Hardie’s election in 1892 the borough that we now call Newham was “a little isolated republic outside the vast area of the metropolis where the factory and dockyard workers swept their human rubbish, the flexible labour of those marginalised women and men who powered and serviced the capital, concentrated in overwhelming numbers”.  (Claisse J, Will Thorne, the campaign for West Ham south.) Poverty today is of a different order but the distinctions between the work force in this borough and in some of our more prosperous neighbours is miserably consistent.

Some of Keir Hardies first campaign demands were met long ago –  an old age pension for instance. Others would not be out of place in Canning Town today. Lower and controlled rents, for example, and the taxation of land values are the kind of radical, heavyweight solutions that are needed now to shift the housing problems affecting so many of our current residents.

The new MPs first period in parliament, and tenure as our local MP, was relatively brief. A combination of a patchy performance in Westminster, local divisions and a revitalised opposition, led to his electoral defeat in 1895 but what the then cabinet minister Sir William Vernon Harcourt first described  as a “little splotch of red”  didn’t go away.  The first Labour Council was elected in West Ham four years later and Newham Council has remained Labour controlled ever since.

Of course James Keir Hardie was a 19th century politician and Community Links is a 21st century charity. We are very different animals but the connections are much more than locational. Keir Hardie believed it was important, indeed essential, to share the experience of poverty with the rulers of the day whether or not they wanted to listen. During his time as our local MP his was, often quite literally, a lone voice but he persevered, both in his period here and long after.  This determined visionary never lost his conviction that the world could be a better place.

Talking about poverty however was nowhere near enough. He was later to say “my work has consisted of trying to stir up a divine discontent”. This was the community organising of its day and profoundly pragmatic.

James Keir Hardie both spoke out and enabled the might of other voices to be heard.   Times change but challenges remain. The right principles have timeless application and they still live here.

Tickets for “A splotch of red”, are currently available here and priced at “whatever you can afford”.  I imagine that the driven and passionate man who once sat where I sit today, would have appreciated that.

Early action is vital to tackle the rise of youth violence in Newham

August 12th, 2016

Last month, London Mayor Sadiq Khan pledged £400k for the “growing problems” of youth violence and knife crime in Newham and other parts of London.

The Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime (MOPAC) figures, show there were 6,290 victims of serious youth violence between 2015 and 2016 in London, a 20 per cent rise since 2012-13.

Some 331 of these victims were in Newham.

We are very concerned that the number of reported serious youth violence incidents in Newham has increased dramatically in the last five years.

With nearly 40 years of working in Newham, it is clear to us that there is a definite requirement to help young people and prevent them from getting caught up in gang activity.

The new funding from the Mayor is welcome, however alongside working with young offenders, we need to act earlier and address the wider unemployment, housing insecurity and poverty issues which blight the lives of many young people and too often push them towards violence and crime.

What we are doing to tackle youth violence 

Community Links supports more than 2,200 young people across Newham every year, providing employment, enterprise and community development programmes to help young people build prosperous futures.

Our youth team work with young people at an early stage in schools, reach out to hidden young people through peer-to-peer outreach work and provide safe environments at our youth centres.

Our work with young people who are at high risk of entering gangs, is delivered through a range of dedicated activities via our community hubs, where young people can explore issues relating to gang culture.

We invite police officers to attend our early action workshops with young people to encourage healthy, trusting relationships between the police and young people. These workshops cover the consequences of offending behaviour, substance misuse and its role within gangs, girls and gangs, as well as ex-gang members who share their experiences.

This September we will be launching ‘More than Mentors’ across schools in Newham, which is an early action peer mentoring programme, engaging young people between 13-17 years of age. We will provide support/mentoring & coaching around mental health issues and empower young people to attain higher self-esteem.


Carrots, sticks and in-work progression

August 12th, 2016

Applying sanctions to benefit claimants in work remains the elephant in the room as the Work and Pensions Committee publish the Government’s response to their in-work progression in Universal Credit inquiry.

In an age of rising housing costs, stagnating wages and benefit cuts, it goes without saying people want to progress in work and earn more. The question is what role Government should play in enabling progression for claimants who are in low-paid work?

Over the last six months we have been keeping a keen eye on the Government’s emerging in-work progression trials being piloted with 15,000 claimants in Jobcentres across the country. In previous blogs we have called for more progression and less conditionality, alongside greater clarity on the role of Jobcentre work coaches, and the capacity of DWP to deliver this ambitious scheme to 1 million new “customers” by 2020. The Government’s latest response sheds light on some, but not all of these issues.

The carrots

There are reasons for wary optimism. The Government’s response includes a commitment to better understand the skills, experience and training needs of work coaches so they can deliver an effective in-work service. Claimant’s individual circumstances will also be considered, including their skills, confidence, and family and caring responsibilities. The Government say the trials will support employers to open up progression opportunities for people in part-time work (however provide little detail on what this support actually entails). They have also agreed to publish a dedicated information page on the trials, alongside an interim update in 2017.

Whilst these intentions and commitments are commendable, the long-term success of in-work progression is dependent on significantly increasing the capacity of Jobcentres to deliver an in-work service. This comes at a time when the DWP is expected to reduce its day-to-day spending by 19% between 2015-16 and 2019-20. Such belt-tightening poses the danger of a regime of sticks being prioritised over a regime of carrots.

The sticks

In its response, the Government boldly state ‘that active labour market regimes help people into work’, despite there being no hard evidence to support how effective the current system of sanctions is at getting people into sustained employment (a point we reiterated in our recent submission to the National Audit Office benefit sanctions survey). The Government qualify this by saying that sanctions will only be used ‘appropriately’ and ‘as a last resort’, yet they have refused to publish regular data on the numbers of workers being sanctioned. This is of little comfort to hard working claimants who have had their benefits stopped as part of the trials.

Frank Field MP, Chair of the Work and Pensions Committee raised doubts about the Government’s reluctance to publish the number and rate of in-work sanctions on a quarterly basis. He said the committee “want to see that the use of financial sanctions for employed claimants are being applied very differently to those for out-of-work claimants… If financial sanctions are being used appropriately for employed claimants, there is no reason why the DWP should not publish it now.”

The conclusion

The reluctance of the DWP to address the committee’s concerns poses the worrying question: are we going to see a new generation of claimants in work subject to the punitive sanctions which have blighted the lives of many out-of-work claimants in recent years? Community Links has previously called for a full evidence-based review of the sanctions regime. Alongside this we believe the DWP should provide a clear rationale for applying conditionality to claimants in work and regularly publish data on the use of sanctions for this group. Failure to do so could drastically undermine its in-work progression agenda, leaving people feeling like it’s all stick, and no carrot.

A Question of Growth

August 11th, 2016

This blog – originally featured in NewStart Magazine – is written by Neil McInroy, Chief Executive of the Centre for Local Economic Strategies (CLES), and is the ninth in our “A Question of Growth” series. Over the next few weeks we will be posting a new piece every Tuesday and Thursday. You can read all of the previous blogs in this series here.


In recent months, there has been a global recognition that we must make growth more ‘inclusive’. In the UK, this has culminated in the RSA announcing an inclusive growth commission.

This is welcome. There is no doubt that in recent years we have neglected what we have known for decades – namely that economic growth does not guarantee poverty reduction and that inequality hampers growth. Indeed, high levels of welfare and low levels of spending power is a shaky basis to a local economy. An inclusive local economy needs the poor to not be poor.

The inclusive growth commission is seeking to identify practical ways to make local economies in the UK more economically prosperous and inclusive. Whilst I have been critical of the inclusive growth agenda generally, I am supportive of anything specific. We must turn empathy and concern over poverty and inequality into action.

In that spirit, I now highlight some key questions and themes which I think are central to the commission’s work.

  1. Aim for an inclusive economy, not just inclusive growth. The inclusive growth commission must not draw its terms of reference and focus too narrowly. Inclusive growth is about making growth inclusive. This may be limiting. This matters. Many post-industrial, coastal and rural local economies struggle economically and may have no or little growth to make ‘inclusive’. How do they fit it into this agenda? Furthermore, the global economy is not that robust and our national economy may feel the ill winds. We therefore need to be thinking much more about the heterogeneous nature of our local economies and focus on resilience. We must build an inclusive economy and society, not just growth.
  2. Question the prevailing agglomeration model for our cities. Agglomeration is the dominant local economic model. This fully complies with HM Treasury version of the English economic state and the role of local economies in it. This model favours city centre economies, and has winners- firms who enjoy flexible labour markets, rentiers, and those who work within new high end jobs accrued through creative proximity. This approach has dis-economies (in terms of pollution, congestion, and aggressive gentrification). It also has losers – city region peripheries, smaller towns and the low skilled. We must look at areas beyond city centres to outer boroughs. We must focus much more on local supply chains and ensure investment to local small businesses is on an equal footing to global corporates and global investors. We must challenge boomgoggling.  Growth through agglomeration is not the only path and neither should it be the pre-eminent one.
  3. Accelerate new forms of ownerships and local wealth retention. Local economic growth too often follows a complacent set of thinking –  the economy grows, more jobs are created and then people are assumed to be better off. But the problem is that wealth stays with the wealthiest and does not filter down to the poorest. Trickle down is just that- a trickle.  The commission needs to look at the ways in which we can develop wider local ownership and retention of wealth. This includes new institutional forms of ownership which tie wealth to local people. This includes accelerating the potential of the foundational economy and local ownership of utilities and seek to advancecommunity wealth building.
  4. Challenge an unfair austerity. The poorest areas are suffering the most. Austerity is stymying the ability of public services to innovate and make creative inputs into successful economies. For all the talk of a ‘devolution revolution’, the fact is that any resource devolved through city deals is relatively small beer compared to the scale of cuts to local government and wider public sector.  Austerity is creating exclusion, hardship and a social recession.
  5. Open up and democratise economic decision-making. To be in poverty is not just about lack of money or opportunity, it’s also about lack of power over decisions which affect you. In this local economic decision-making is too often exclusive – too frequently between the interests of financial capital and the big local and nation state. This is especially the case with devolution and city deals. How do we democratise decision-making to involve small and medium sized enterprise, citizens and the poor?
  6. Treat welfare and social policy as investments. As its stands, welfare is broadly seen as a cost and drain on society. Alternatively, it should be seen as an investment in human capital and a critical factor in individual and collective productivity and local economic success. We must reshape local economic development policy, so thateconomic and social growth outcomes are wedded and interdependent. In this we must challenge a devolution model which has broadly omitted the social inputs to economic success, including welfare, employment policy and education.
  7. Will the commission be brave and convey truth to power? The setting up of the inclusive growth commission is an admission that we have a problem with local and national economic policy. Of course, the commission should be pragmatic, but this does not mean blind support to existing power and the prevailing policy direction. Individual commissioners must acknowledge the power imbalance, where wealth and power influences the fortunes of the poor and powerless. The commissioners will empathise with the poorest and the havenots. And they must also be on their side when conveying the necessary truths to power.

Overall, the plans to build a more inclusive growth model faces a choice. On the one hand the commission can add a stronger social face to an economy which works for the few, not the many. In this, they will reveal some of the problems of growth and this will prompt some policy changes. However, will the commission’s recommendations alter the longstanding frame to local economic activity – where productivity and growth has a pre-eminent position and is viewed as having much higher importance than that of inequality and poverty?

On the other hand, they can put tackling deprivation, inequality and poverty at the centre, and remake local economic policy. To do this will require a disruption of prevailing policy, on the ground action, some radical social innovation and a step far beyond what has gone before. Many of the most excluded are relying on this step change. I wish the commission a fair wind and a brave heart.

Neil McInroy is Chief Executive of the Centre for Local Economic Strategies (CLES).

A Question of Growth

August 9th, 2016

This blog is written by Debbie Pippard, Head of Programmes at the Barrow Cadbury Trust, and is the eighth in our “A Question of Growth” series. Over the next few weeks we will be posting a new piece every Tuesday and Thursday. You can read all of the previous blogs in this series here.


The Early Action Task Force argues that by using financial resources differently, and acting earlier, we can help everyone to thrive, reduce costs to public services, and enable people to contribute more to their communities and society. The first of these is undoubtedly a social and moral good, the second saves the public purse, and the third has the potential to contribute to national economic growth. Other bloggers have challenged the wisdom of economic growth as an end in itself, and argued that we should not use it as a reason to invest in early action.  But can we look at market forces in a different way?  Can we use the levers provided by our economic system to make more of the resources we have, by enabling individuals to be agents of change in the economy?

The income of many people in the UK is insufficient for them to live on.  Making ends meet becomes a struggle: there may be choices to be made between food and heat, new shoes and an evening meal.  Finding and staying in work is difficult if travel costs are prohibitive, and mental and physical health problems are more likely to occur in households under financial strain.

Those who struggle to make ends meet pay a penalty: the poverty premium. Being poor is expensive.  For example paying for gas and electricity through pre-payment meters is more expensive than being billed.  Low credit scores bar access to low cost loans, and small weekly budgets mean that bulk buying food and household necessities becomes impossible.  If we could reduce or abolish the poverty premium, funds in poorer households would be released to spend in the wider economy: savings on expensive fuel costs for example could be spent on a family break, or on buying something for the house.  Local economies would be greatly boosted by increased purchasing power and, unlike those in the upper income brackets who tend to spend any spare cash on luxury goods and services, those with smaller amounts to spend are more likely to shop locally.

A possible model of how we might reduce costs is illustrated by Scope’s Extra Costs Commission, funded by the Barrow Cadbury Trust.  Disabled people face a substantial disability premium, analogous to the poverty premium, spending an average of £550 per month just on disability-related expenditure.  If this spending was reduced, funds would be released for spending on other things, thus potentially boosting the economy, as well as improving health and wellbeing (and thus reducing demands on public services).

Many campaigns for disabled people focus on the need for more resources, calling for a reinstatement of lost benefits, or additional support for the activities of work and daily living.  Scope’s Commission turned this on its head, by exploring how costs could be driven down through harnessing the collective purchasing power of disabled people and their families.

There are 12 million disabled people in the UK, and collectively their household expenditure totals £212 billion per year.  This represents a very substantial consumer movement.  There are plenty of examples of how self-identified sections of the population, such as older people and the LGBT community have successfully used their shared identity and purchasing power to change the market place (think collective action on insurance, lobbying for better customer service, businesses specialising in holidays for older people).

Scope’s Commission calls for disabled people to flex their consumer power by getting behind a “purple pound”.  Social media and the availability of technology platforms mean that collective purchasing is easier than ever before. The strength in numbers of disabled people means that they can press for better deals on goods and services, as well as demanding access to things that non-disabled people enjoy as a matter of course.    Scope identifies others with a part to play: for example disability organisations could set up affiliate schemes to attract discounts and deals, and could broker better deals on energy, insurance and bulk purchasing.  Businesses could do more to recognise the needs and aspirations of disabled people and their families, and growth would be made possible by tapping into the new commercial opportunities available.  Regulators and government should step in where disabled people are under-served.

By recognising the needs, wishes and consumer power of disabled people, money currently wasted on expensive, sometimes poor quality, goods and services could be better spent.  Local economies would be boosted; health and wellbeing improved, and the stimulus created by a new consumer movement market could even encourage in innovation, something the UK traditionally excels in.

By approaching an issue from a different angle and harnessing the power of consumerism and the market, we can help people to be agents of change both in their own lives and the wider economy.


Debbie Pippard is Head of Programmes at the Barrow Cadbury Trust and a member of the Early Action Task Force and Early Action Funders’ Alliance. She has a background in funding, charity leadership and the public sector.


A Question of Growth

August 4th, 2016

This blog is written by Cliff Prior, Chief Executive of Big Society Capital, and is the seventh in our “A Question of Growth” series. Over the next few weeks we will be posting a new piece every Tuesday and Thursday. You can read all of the previous blogs in this series here.


Working out what good our actions will achieve in the long run is highly speculative. The world is not linear. Plenty of good intentions prove to have bad consequences: biofuel planting that puts up food prices for the poor, medicines like thalidomide that have savage unintended effects, government targets that drive appalling behaviour like the ambulances waiting in the carpark to avoid triggering the 4 hour trolley wait.

The world is, in reality, a spider’s web of interlinked strands. Pull one in the direction you want, and plenty others get distorted out of place. Good growth is seen in hindsight. We used to quote Zhou Enlai saying about the French revolution, “it’s too early to tell” – and now we know he didn’t even mean that after all. Hindsight…

And that’s before all the challenges of turning “good” into any kind of economic answer – particularly when any benefits are dispersed over different areas, different Government departments or families and communities, cashable versus virtual savings, questions of attribution and contribution, the burden and complexity of data collection.

But despite the difficulties, good growth is sometimes overwhelmingly clear in its value. Mental health is one of the most compelling cases.

For some time, the Government has committed to a mantra of “No health without mental health”. Their economic case for this is powerful. Estimated annual costs for key conditions include: depression £7.5 billion, anxiety £8.9 billion, schizophrenia £6.7 billion. At each stage of the conditions, from positive promotion through early identification and intervention, there are solutions which can make huge savings to health and social care, and generate substantial gains – good growth – in greater employment and social contribution.

Going earlier in the journey of life, the Analysis of the Impact on Equality (AIE) gives estimates of net savings to the Exchequer from providing parent-training programmes to cohorts of children with conduct disorders. Many of the benefits from childhood interventions extend into adult life. Total gross savings over 25 years have been estimated at £9,288 per child and exceed the average cost of the intervention by a factor of around eight to one.

All good, all important. But the financial costs are only part of the story. A child of between 3 and 8 years showing antisocial behaviour costs £5960 a year. Part is on NHS and social services provision, but the lion’s share of the cost is on the family.

Premature mortality is a well-known phenomenon among people with severe mental health problems, with an average reduction in life expectancy of 15 years for women, 20 years for men, compared to the general population. That is worse than long term smoking. These are human costs, and human losses on an appalling scale.

People with untreated mental health problems stand much less chance of employment. Less chance to support a family. Less chance of living a good old age. Less chance of contributing to “good growth”.

So why are the preventative and early intervention approaches not used widely?

Cost is a glib answer. The cost of double running – prevention and care – is a more solid one. The quantum of intervention is another – you have to get to a substantial scale of benefit before you can close a hospital ward or clinic, and even then the closure may jeopardise the viability of the wider institution. Lack of trust that the benefits will really flow. The knowledge that there are thousands more people seeking help who are just below the severity of the people you are working with right now, so do you really make savings or “just” help improve lives?

One of the solutions to these problems is the model of social impact bonds. Investors put up funds to pay the running costs. The agencies delivering the services get paid by the investors. Commissioners commit to pay on results. It helps with the double running. It also commits the commissioners to follow through for a set period of time, allowing the service providers to focus on doing the job and improving their work.

Social impact bonds or SIBs are often seen as over complicated, expensive, clunky models. Meeting people from the charities and social enterprises who have delivered social impact bonds, I hear a very different story: the results are great, the process can be painful, but leaves the agency much stronger to deliver excellent results into the future.

For example, in Newcastle, Ways to Wellness is a Social Impact Bond which is supporting people with long term conditions, often accompanied by anxiety and depression, through social prescribing.  In the model, the health commissioner only pays if individuals’ wellbeing improves and if secondary care use is reduced as a result of better self-management. This approach has enabled upfront investment in preventative support with the aim of avoiding acute care costs down the line.

The Fair Chance Fund uses a SIB model to support homeless, unemployed young people with the commissioner only paying for entry into and sustained education, employment and accommodation. Many of the young people in the programme suffer from mental health problems and the flexible approach of an outcomes contract has allowed the delivery bodies to provide personalised support for those young people, helping them overcome some of those problems and lead a better life. It’s investment for good growth.

Social impact Bonds can also help align funding from different sources for outcomes which fall in the gaps of departmental silos. For example, the Mental Health and Employment SIB in Haringey, Staffordshire and Tower Hamlets seeks to address the employment gap between those with mental health conditions and the wider population. The commissioners of the SIB only pay if job outcomes, including user engagement, are achieved. This outcome focused approach has allowed the providers to deliver Individual Placement Support (IPS) with both local funding as well as top up from central government for the employment outcomes delivered.

Of course SIBs are only one variety of outcomes based funds. And again, they try to convert human suffering – and loss of human contribution – into cash. But that doesn’t mean the human benefits are not there.

So think of the child with a mental health problem, and the life she or he will have if helped or left without help. Think of the family supporting that child, and the life they will have. Think of the future decades of contributing value and feeling esteem through a job, or the damage and cost of long term employment.

Good growth – sometimes you know it when you see it.

Cliff Prior is Chief Executive of Big Society Capital. He originally trained as a scientist and spent over a decade working in health with the NHS Modernisation Board, the Medicines Commission, the Healthcare Commission and others.


A Question of Growth

August 2nd, 2016

This blog is written by Dan Paskins, Head of Policy and Learning at the Big Lottery Fund, and is the sixth in our “A Question of Growth” series. Over the next few weeks we will be posting a new piece every Tuesday and Thursday. You can read all of the previous blogs in this series here.


When thinking about the role that Early Action can play in enabling good growth, it is worth starting with research published in 2012 for the World Bank by Professor Branko Milanovic:
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Dubbed ‘the elephant chart’ (as depicted above), it shows how most people have gained from globalisation over the past twenty five years, but that many middle income citizens of rich countries such as the UK have seen their incomes stagnate.  As a result, these citizens have become increasingly sceptical of globalisation, leading to a whole new set of divisions within Western societies between the winners and losers of our economic system.

The elephant chart therefore poses a key challenge for policy makers looking to understand the British referendum vote, the success of U.S. populists, and the rise of isolationist separatist movements in Europe, as Luke Kawa of Bloomberg News notes.

For Deutsche Bank AG’s Global Head of Rates Research Dominic Konstam, the elephant chart “calls for a radical policy rethink from the established political class and, at this stage, there are limited options but all of them have one thing in common: the need to redistribute spending power from those that have to those that have less.”

Early Action can be a key part of this response, and a way to ensure that the aggregate benefits of globalisation are shared more equitably.

There are at least three mechanisms where early action supports economic growth. Firstly, the principle of acting early, of recognising and following the early warning signs that so many problems give out, allows us to intervene in market failures or societal problems more efficiently (£1 for £1) leaving more public and philanthropic spending available to pursue spending on positive growth strategies such as investment in infrastructure, education, and science.  This kind of investment both drives economic growth and particularly benefits people on middle and lower incomes.

Secondly, early action policies lead to the core public services that support growth being delivered more effectively.  By providing targeted support to certain groups that might otherwise struggle people will be better able to engage with society, Early Action helps people to thrive, be ready for the challenges which life has to offer, have an increased earning potential and more opportunities to take advantage of the benefits of globalisation.

These are the kind of early action interventions which the National Audit Office and Early Action Task Force describe as ‘secondary’ and ‘tertiary’ prevention.  There has been a lot of focus on the role which funding approaches such as social investment can play in unlocking more resources for this kind of work, and how public services can be reformed in line with these principles.

Important though this kind of work is, perhaps the greatest opportunity which Early Action offers for good and inclusive growth is in the field of ‘primary prevention’.

At a first glance, the postal workers who pop in to see elderly people who would otherwise be socially isolated might not seem like they are growing the economy while they deliver their mail.  The same goes for the people who put on community events which bring together people from the local area to have fun together and celebrate what’s great about their community, or the volunteers who set up the ‘Library of Things’ which lets people borrow items from their neighbours such as lawnmowers, blenders and other goods which can be expensive if you are on a low income.

But what these people, and millions like them, are doing is creating a society in which people from different backgrounds get to meet and get to know each other, and where people have a chance to get stuck in and work with others to improve their communities.

There is increasing evidence about the role which this kind of social capital, and happy and strong relationships plays in enabling better quality services and preventing the need for expensive acute services.  But above and beyond that, this kind of social infrastructure creates the environment in which people can contribute more and see the direct and tangible benefits from doing so.

We know that this social infrastructure does not always emerge spontaneously, particularly in those places where it has the most potential to do good.  Targeted, thoughtful public and philanthropic investment in charities and community groups, using the resources generated by economic growth and globalisation, can have a critical role to play, with benefits that significantly outweigh the costs.

Critically, when thinking about a growth agenda which can effectively respond to the Elephant Chart, this kind of Early Action also unites, rather than divides.  The entrepreneur who has made their millions and now wants to give something back, and the migrant who has come to the UK to work may be the ‘winners’ of globalisation, and the couple in their fifties whose adult children are still living at home because they can’t afford a home may be the ‘losers’.  But creating opportunities where they can all work together to enable everyone to contribute and make their communities better places to live shows them that what they have in common is far more important than what divides them.


Dan Paskins is Head of Policy and Learning at Big Lottery Fund. He works on a wide variety of topics including Building Capabilities, Early Action, Coastal Communities and more.


A Question of Growth

July 28th, 2016

This blog is written by Ben Jupp, a director at Social Finance, and is the fifth in our “A Question of Growth” series. Over the next few weeks we will be posting a new piece every Tuesday and Thursday. You can read all of the previous blogs in this series here.


By many assessments, persistent poor health has a more negative impact on people’s wellbeing than any other factor. Unemployment is the second most detrimental.

For those suffering ill-heath and lacking a job, the consequences can be incredibly damaging for them as individuals and for our economy. The challenges often reinforce each other, with poor health making it difficult to get a job, whilst recovery from mental and some physical illnesses often hampered by unemployment.

Despite the severity of these problems, as a society and economic system our recent track record in addressing them is lamentable – those out of the labour market for long periods of time are now typically have a physical or mental health condition. For those with mental health conditions, for example, surveys indicate that between seven and nine out of ten wish to be employment. Yet only around four in ten are currently in work, and among those with a severe mental illness the proportion drops to fewer than one in ten. All told, nearly 5 million people of working age with a long term health condition or disability are not in employment. The proportion rises considerably once people are in their fifties and early sixties.

Collectively, these very difficult individual circumstances now represent a major drag on our economy and the government’s fiscal health. The Department of Work and Pensions estimate, for example, that GDP would grow by around 1% if people could typically work an extra year before retirement. For those out of work, the cost to government of lost taxes and increased welfare payments frequently exceeded £10,000 each year.

As economic uncertainty threatens growth over the coming years, this is one area where earlier action could play a major role to support growth as well as improvements in individual wellbeing.

To good news is that Britain can do much better than recently. For example, we currently languish towards the bottom of the league of developed countries in regard to the employment of people with mental health conditions. Likewise, although retirement ages are rising, we estimate that there are still around 700,000 people who are involuntary retired due to ill health or a disability.

So how could government, employers and civil society start to turn this position around?

Over the last two decades there have been plenty of examples of what not to do, and also some positive approaches to build upon.

The current flagship employment support programme – the Work Programme – has had relatively little success for those with significant health conditions and disabilities. The reasons are various, but typically include: insufficient resources to help people with greatest needs; delays and barriers in receiving appropriate support; and a lack of understanding about the support needs of those with health conditions by some ‘generic’ employment advisors and a lack of trust between recipients and providers of employment support.

We believe that there are much better approaches available.

At the heart of a better model for helping people re-enter and sustain work needs to be the relationships which people already have with the health service and their employers. These represent the foundations of trust and understanding which can allow people to receive the support and encouragement they need. Another central principle should be to help people to fulfil their desires and potential, rather than forcing them into jobs which they do not want.

A great example of applying these two principles is an approach to helping those with severe mental health conditions called Individual Placement and Support. Individual Placement and Support provides integrated employment support as part of people’s recovery from mental ill-health. It starts with people’s wishes: it is always a voluntary programme which seeks to quickly get them into a real, paid job of their choice, rather than squeezing them into any job or a ‘make work’ scheme. It uses employment advisers who are integrated with the rest of the mental health team supporting people’s recovery. It has sufficient resources to allow people to be supported once they enter employment rather than just pushing them into a job and then abandoning them.

In Britain, and around the world, that this approach is now demonstrating impact for those with severe mental illness. Two weeks ago, for example, I was talking to the leader of an Individual Placement and Support service attached to one of the large London mental health trusts. Of 500 referred to the service last year, 270 found a job. Randomised Control Trials also indicate that it is far more effective than more traditional models of employment support for these groups. That is why Health and Employment Partnerships – a new social organisation dedicated to helping those with health conditions improve their wellbeing through fulfilling, sustained employment – is backing the growth of Individual Placement and Support in three areas.

More broadly, the principles of Individual Placement and Support can be applied much more widely than to those with a severe mental health condition. For example, employment support and social care support could be better integrated for many people with learning disabilities. Those with more moderate mental and physical health conditions may benefit from more integrated primary care and employment support.

For those approaching the later stages of their career, and who are beginning to be held back by health conditions, it is important to act before they leave the labour market. Relationships with employers are crucial to this, enabling people manage moves to less physically demanding roles either within or beyond their current organisation. Just relying on employers is not, however, always going to be sufficient. It may be important to draw on the relationships people with the health service, or separately funded support, to build a plan which meets their aspirations for older age and allows them to keep working.

Over the last year, there have been positive signs that government is better recognising this need for more integrated and personalised employment support for those with health conditions. The recent five year mental health strategy announced £100 million for employment programmes including expanding Individual Placement and Support. Employment programmes are being developed to give more of a focus to health more generally. A new central government Health and Work Unit is supporting innovation and learning. This is being matched by strong interest for new models by new ‘city-region’ combined authorities with devolved powers such as Greater Manchester and the West Midlands.

Yet we should not underestimate the further changes which will be required to stimulate a fundamental shift in the employment of those with health conditions. Cultures in both employment and health services will need to evolve significantly. Funding flows and incentives will need to be realigned. Obligations on employers will need to be reconsidered. As we look to develop an early action economy and society, in my mind there is no more pressing an issue around which central government, local services, professions, business and civil society need to come together.

Ben Jupp is a member of the Early Action Taskforce. He is a director at Social Finance and Chair of Health and Employment Partnerships. He was previously Director of Public Services Strategy and Innovation in the Cabinet Office.