Full employment will strip-mine neighbourhoods says new nef research
The government’s emphasis on full employment threatens to strip neighbourhoods of the people who make the difference between success and failure of public services – like volunteers, care workers and ‘co-producers’.
This is one of the key findings of a pioneering study, published today, into the concept of co-production – where the users of services are regarded as assets, involved in mutual support and the delivery of services.
The report, ‘Hidden work: Co-production by people outside paid employment’, is published by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and based on research led by nef (the new economics foundation). nef trained people outside paid work to research the co-production phenomenon in London, Glasgow and the Welsh Valleys.
The nef-led research found a vast range of informal, unacknowledged work undertaken in those neighbourhoods considered to be most ‘disadvantaged’, by people frequently considered a ‘drain on society’ – single mothers, refugees and asylum-seekers, people with mental health problems, and those too young or too old for conventional jobs:
Sandra, a 28 year-old single mother lives in a run-down and inaccessible estate in the Welsh Valleys is unemployed, but not inactive. She helps to run and raise money for the local youth club – the only facility of its kind in the area, helped to launch a local community garden, and is among those who run a scheme with a local police station. Local police, interviewed during the project, said that her ‘adopt-a-station’ scheme (volunteering to look after a local railway station) has reduced vandalism and saves them time and money.
Karen (two children) and Molly (three children) from the same flats in the Welsh Valleys, help run the local playgroup and the community flat.
A single dad (two children) in Glasgow can’t work but helps with the fruit barrows at SEAL, a community health project, ‘to keep from going mad’.
This is work that keeps local neighbourhoods safe, clean and inviting, keeps people healthy and happy and enhances people’s abilities as parents, friends, neighbours, and potential employees – but never appears in government employment statistics.
The report’s authors conclude that when public services or charities regard their clients as assets – and engage them to work alongside them in the community – it can have a dramatic effect on their health, self-esteem and social networks. They warn that policy-makers discount the vital work that many people are doing in their own neighbourhoods, binding communities together, helping local young people, caring or preventing crime and social breakdown.
They ignore it because it is done by public service or welfare clients, and because the work isn’t paid. As a result, government emphasis on ‘full employment’ means that they will often be prevented from carrying on this vital work because they are forced instead into inflexible, low paid work.
‘The government urgently needs to recognise that not all vital work is paid, and that they threaten to strip-mine neighbourhoods – leading to worse health, higher crime and higher public spending – unless they recognise the value of this hidden work, and the potential value of the people doing it,’ says report’s lead author and nef associate, David Boyle
‘And if public service professionals ignore the potential of involving clients in this way, they are likely to impact only on the symptoms, and not the root causes of society’s problems.’
The report also identifies a growing co-production sector in Britain, though it is generally outside the remit of the nationally-funded services that are supposed to be benefiting, and usually despite – rather than because of – administrative systems inside public services.
It concludes that, all too often, these potential assets are wasted by public services, and that:
Some kind of reciprocal relationship between users and organisations seems to be able to broaden the social reach of the projects, and time banks are an effective way – though not the only way – of valuing their contribution.
Organisations that want to develop co-productive ways of working need to focus, not just on clients’ problems, but on enabling their abilities.
Co-production project co-ordinators can be isolated and over-stretched, even based inside public services.
‘Hidden work: Co-production by people outside paid employment’: http://www.jrf.org.uk/bookshop/details.asp?pubID=796
Source: New Economics Foundation