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October 23, 2013

National problems, local solutions

While youth unemployment in this country falls short of the appalling levels endured in Spain (56%) or Greece (65%), it remains stubbornly high.  Over the years, government schemes to tackle unemployment amongst young people have met with varying degrees of success. Oddly, there seems to be a reluctance to learn from what approaches worked best in the past.  It may be administratively more efficient to outsource this work in mega-sized contracts, but experience suggests that when it comes to achieving best outcomes, there’s no substitute for locally run schemes.


Katie Allen, The Guardian, 15/10/13

When the latest unemployment figures are published on Wednesday, Jacob Deverill will not be among them. But not because he is in a job. The 19-year-old is out of work, was thrown off benefits in March and has not signed back on. Since then he has earned just £84 from a handful of shifts at a local factory. He has spent £40 of that on taxi and bus fares to more shifts at the plant, only to be turned away as he was no longer needed.

Deverill is one of thousands of young people classed by statisticians as “economically inactive”. His benefits were suspended, he says, when he was sanctioned by his jobcentre for going on a different college course from the one it recommended. He has not been back to sign on as a jobseeker.

Sitting in the community centre on the Nottingham estate where he lives with his mother, Deverill stares into his hands as he tries to sum up his status.

“I’m listless,” he says.

Not for much longer. Next week, Deverill starts on a job-finding scheme with local councillor and community worker Carole McCulloch. She smiles at him and says: “You’re on our list, duck. Don’t you worry.”

McCulloch, 48, is putting a group of young people from her estate through a training course with mentors from the council’s street cleaning team, helping them write CVs and apply for apprenticeships. It is the third time she has done it and she is becoming known locally as an alternative to the big private sector organisations running the government’s Work Programme.

She says: “I haven’t had to go out and find these kids. I have parents knock on my door and say ‘You’re the woman who gets people jobs.’ I say: ‘I don’t get them jobs, I get them the skills to find jobs.'”

McCulloch, who has four children, started her Communities Taking Control scheme three years ago when several families on her estate in the Aspley area of Nottingham were repeatedly reprimanded for antisocial behaviour. The complaints centred on a group of unemployed young men.

“They had been throwing eggs, intimidating other residents, breaking fences,” she says. “Some of the families were going to be evicted and I thought, that can’t happen.”

She invited the aggrieved residents, parents of the alleged troublemakers and police officers to a meeting where she suggested an alternative: “They had to clean up the mess they had made.”

They agreed to give it a go. Day by day the group of young people grew bigger and tidied up the road they had vandalised. Inspired by their enthusiasm, McCulloch launched a bigger scheme a few months later. The participants cleared alleyways, mended fences, tended gardens and gave out hanging baskets planted by primary school children.

McCulloch and other volunteers at her organisation, Aspley and Bells Lane Partnership, then helped the young people apply for work in the same field, including taking some of them out shopping for clothes.

Of 36 people on the estate clean-ups in 2011 and 2012, 18 went into jobs, 15 went into education or training and three remained on jobseeker benefits.

“These kids got thrown out of school with no prospects, only negativity from the community, and now they are working for the community, in the community, at barely any costs,” says McCulloch, who is a Labour councillor for Aspley.

She has calculated that the scheme costs £115.50 per young person. In contrast, the relative cost per job of the work programme is £2,097, according to back-to-work industry body the Employment Related Services Association (Ersa).

That makes the work programme the most cost effective scheme relative to any comparable scheme so far, says Ersa. But McCulloch and her colleagues are angry about the budgets given to big private sector organisations getting government back-to-work contracts.

“The organisations I can see are doing it for their own gain … I’m doing it for the community. I have a vested interest in these kids’ lives,” she says.

Nottingham city council is now looking into rolling out similar schemes across the city in the hope that bespoke, community-based help can get young people into long-term jobs.

Deverill hopes the scheme will give him a chance to prove he can and will work. He wants an income to help his mother, who was made redundant from her NHS job in January. He also wants an end to the crushing pattern of over-subscribed factory shift work.

“I want a job where you can turn up and not get turned away,” he says.

Lives changed

Rebekah Beresford was getting sick of people coming into the chip shop where she worked to report the latest misdeeds of her sons Daniel and Benjamin McGlinchey.

Until a community scheme helped to get them into apprenticeships, they were hanging around on the streets of their Nottingham estate. Daniel left school unable to read and write. Neither boy had GCSEs and they were struggling to find work or training.

“The routine was, get up in the morning; listen to me shout and scream and say, ‘I am fed up, I’m going to work.’ They would go out on the street, come back for something to eat, go out again,” says Beresford.

Then local councillor and community worker Carole McCulloch put them on her scheme to clean up the streets and get help applying for jobs.

When they got apprenticeships with the council’s cleansing team, life changed for the whole family, says Beresford. On the first morning her son put on his work clothes, she did not recognise him at first glance and thought someone had broken into her house. “He was stood there and said: ‘Do I look the part?’… He had gone to bed a boy and become a man overnight.”

“The biggest thing I got out of them having this apprenticeship is it gave them self respect and pride and something to get up for every day,” says Beresford.

“If we didn’t live on Carole’s estate, where would my boys be now? Leeching off the state in prison.”

Daniel, 21, has learned to read and write with help from his apprenticeship scheme and has moved out to live with his partner and young daughter. His younger brother, 19-year-old Ben, says he is loving going to work and the monthly pay cheques. He is keen to break down the perception that young people choose to “scrounge””. . “I could get 100 lads and say to them there is a job picking dog mess up, I am not exaggerating, and 95% would be up for it: ‘Give me a black bag, I’m off’. They would see the pay check of £1,100 for 27 days work and you can go to the shops and buy whatever you want.”