Is social enterprise the answer to exclusion?

We have been working with a local authority recently to identify the gaps in their services and one gaping hole is in opportunities for those who fall out of the current eligibility criteria for support and work opportunities.

In many of our colleges of further education are people with learning disabilities who began college courses from special education as part of their transition from children to adult services.  But because of a lack of any opportunities at the end of their courses, many remained at the college.  They enrolled every year, gaining a variety of certificates, re-doing courses and after twenty years, in their mid forties, they are still there.

It is not that the colleges haven’t tried to ease people’s transition to work.  They have developed work experience placements, support for completing job applications, practiced interview techniques with students and done their very best.  It is the world of work and the imposed restrictions of the agencies which exist to help people back into work that are failing this group of people.

‘We can help you get back to work!’ say the adverts for government agencies with responsibility for the unemployed, but:

  • Local authority adult services mostly support only those who met their high eligibility criteria
  • There is no requirement for local authorities to provide a ‘transition’ service for vulnerable adults who do not meet their criteria, but who nevertheless are at risk of social exclusion
  • Connexions cannot support anyone over 25
  • JobCentre Plus staff struggle to find work for those who fail to meet Access to Work Scheme eligibility
  • Supported Employment Schemes have their own criteria which exclude many who have never worked
  • Employers, in times of recession, are less prepared to take on workers with additional needs

So what is to be done? There are existing schemes of support which work successfully across the country but provision is patchy and localised.  The government’s vision for reform in health and social care services includes developing a provider market that is increasingly plural and diverse.  This gives an opportunity for new kinds of organisations to emerge, including social enterprises that could provide opportunities and support for those who have never worked.

There is now a Social Enterprise Investment Fund which was developed in April 2007 and gives advice to social entrepreneurs who want to develop new models to deliver health and social care services.  It will help them to address the problems of start up, as well as current barriers to entry around access to finance, risks and skills and to develop viable business models.  Our research shows there are successful social enterprises which are employing those who have never worked before.

We have therefore recommended local authorities take a leadership role in supporting people into jobs and promoting social entrepreneurship as a solution for those who are not currently job ready – and provided them with the evidence to substantiate it.

Contact us if you want to know more.

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