Friday, 2 August 2013

Dashed hopes, lives on hold: Single homeless people’s experiences of the Work Programme

a report from CRISIS by Ben Sanders, Lígia Teixeira and Jenna Truder published June 2013

About Crisis

Crisis is the national charity for single homeless people. We are dedicated to ending homelessness by delivering life-changing services and campaigning for change. Our innovative education, employment, housing and well-being services address individual needs and help homeless people to transform their lives. We are determined campaigners, working to prevent people from becoming homeless and advocating solutions informed by research and our direct experience.

Key points

Entering the Work Programme
  • Homeless people want to work but often face multiple and complex barriers to finding and staying in employment.
  • The Work Programme was designed to help some of the most marginalised people in society. Yet, homeless people on the Programme are being forgotten and excluded, just as they are marginalised in society. All this reinforces feelings of exclusion and marginalisation.
  • Many of the homeless people interviewed recalled feeling more positive about their employment prospects and the future when they were referred to the Work Programme. But their initial hopes turned into disappointment as it became apparent that it would not help them to find the right job and transform their lives as originally promised.
Quality of support
  • The lack of high level personally tailored support appears to be in part the result of a referral and assessment process that struggles to adequately identify homeless people’s multiple barriers to employment.
  • Courses and training intended to improve participants’ opportunities in the job market are often too generic and not specific to the particular needs of participants to be beneficial.
  • Advisors’ large caseloads means that appointments are often cut short or interrupted. Feelings of exclusion are reinforced as it can feel appointments are no more than a tick-box exercise.
  • High staff turnover as well as high levels of sickness absence also affects the quality of support homeless people receive. According to most of the people we interviewed continuity-of-care is lacking.
  • The lack of personally tailored support combined with over-stretched advisors meant participants felt increasingly marginalised to the point at which they had ‘slipped through the net’. Participants’ experiences support growing evidence that those facing greater disadvantages in the labour market are being ‘parked’ by contractors, so that they may focus on people who are more ready to engage with work.
  • Communication problems (e.g. appointment letters not arriving on time) appear to be endemic in all aspects of the Work Programme experience and can result in homeless people being unjustly sanctioned.
  • A number of the people interviewed have been sanctioned. Yet, upon learning the news, many had not been told the reason why and had to wait several days before finding out (thus causing further distress and anxiety).
Leaving the Work Programme
  • One of the twenty-seven homeless people we interviewed has secured employment but they feel their success was in large part due to the support they received from Crisis and another charity – not because of their participation on the Work Programme.
  • The vast majority of the homeless people interviewed are still on the Work Programme and continue to visit their advisors (often irregularly). Most deem these meetings a ‘waste of time’ as their early hopes of finding work that suits their personal circumstances have long been dashed. Many report feeling ‘forgotten’ as if they have ‘slipped through the net’.
Charities are subsidising the Work Programme
  • It is left to organisations such as Crisis to provide the personalised one-to-one employment support the Work Programme originally promised. But while third-sector organisations are effectively subsidising the Work Programme with all the pre-employment support that they provide, they receive none of the recognition or reward when a participant does succeed in getting a job.
  • The Work Programme contractors are not motivated to risk spending on homeless people and/or those who appear hard to help. But even though these people cost more to help, they are also the ones that deliver a greater return in reduced long-term benefit savings. Therefore, if the Work Programme fails to help unemployed people with complex and multiple needs it will also fail to help reduce the benefit bill in the long-term (one of the Government’s original objectives).
Full text (PDF 24pp)

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