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Making time to make a difference

Being busy has become the norm for so many of us, both in work and at home. Workloads increase, deadlines loom, and it’s easy to let the less “pressing” tasks or activities fall by the wayside. Like most people, we’re guilty of this from time to time, and need to plan accordingly to fit in the “non-urgent” stuff, around reports, projects and proposals.

Something we’re committed to at IFF is providing a positive work culture, where our team are engaged and are given opportunities to develop, both professionally and personally. This summer we found a great opportunity to help us achieve that, and which felt like a great fit, linking to our values of being human first and making a difference.

“At the end of the Future Frontiers project, all the young people were enthusiastic and excited about their future careers and it was great to be a part of that.”

Teaming up with charity Future Frontiers, who support disadvantaged young people, 20 IFF-ers from around the business took part in a career mentoring programme for a group of 15-year olds from Kemnal Technology College near Bromley. Running over 4 weeks, the programme offered our team the opportunity to listen to and work with young people during a pivotal time in their academic and future working careers.

Taking time away from our day jobs took a bit of juggling, but Future Frontiers provided loads of support to ensure we were supported throughout and felt comfortable in the programme.Future Frontiers and IFF working together

IFF Associate Director Gill Stewart remarked “I felt prepared for every session, thanks to the resources available – the handbook, the coaching portal and the videos…. It was a lovely thing to be involved in.

Reflecting on her participation in the programme, Mirella Scott, Qualitative Research Manager said:  “I remember what it was like when I was that age, with all the choices laid out before you. When I was at school, making these decisions for myself, and the advice that helped me along the way. The  opportunity to volunteer shows that IFF is interested in helping people with their career and having a positive influence in their lives.

It does make you think about other important things in life and reflect on your own journey through school and starting out in your career. And thinking back – what advice would you give to your 15-year old self?

Other staff agreed that “making time” to break away from the routine of work was really valuable and   found that working with young people was refreshing and energising. The success of the programme was in no small part related to the support that Future Frontiers provided: the use of electronic tablets, links to resources – and even the graduation party; with support from our People team.

Graduation ceremony with Future Frontiers

Reflecting on the opportunity one volunteer said: “Everyone takes ownership and personal responsibility of their work at IFF, so being able to step away from the intensity of your work and take time to do something like this was brilliant. From the start through to graduation, seeing the student preparing to work toward a goal that you’ve influenced, and to work with a young person individually was very rewarding”.

Looking back, the programme was a great opportunity for personal and professional development, and something we’d highly recommend. A wholly positive experience for our team (and we hope for the young people too), it’s been great a great reminder of the value of making time to invest in our People. As well as reiterating how lucky we are to have a great team around us, and give us the opportunity to make a difference.

 

A robust guiding principle in a turbulent time?

Post-election welfare policy: a robust guiding principle in a turbulent time?

Following the recent General Election, the UK appears to be entering a period of political upheaval, one in which the orthodoxies of recent years are being re-examined. Some commentators have interpreted the election outcome as a signal from a part of the electorate regarding their preferred type of Brexit, or their views on austerity.

Amidst this grand drama, the specifics of the benefits systems were not mentioned in any great detail (though it remains to be seen how the issue of the triple-lock on pensions will play out as a bargaining chip in Conservative-DUP negotiations). Beyond bringing a new Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, David Gauke, what else will this new era mean for welfare and employment policy?

The current guiding principles of the Department for Work and Pensions include:

  • Helping people to work for longer: In the context of an ageing population, by removing the barriers to older people working;
  • Simplification: Joining-up the various strands of benefits and tax credits so that working more always pays and there are fewer ‘cliff edges’ that deter returning to, or increasing engagement in, work;
  • Adopting a joined-up approach to tackling employment and health issues, that recognises the inter-relation of the two: health conditions may become a barrier to work and periods out of work exacerbate health issues, especially mental health ones and, conversely, the enhanced status, structures and income attached to work can have beneficial wellbeing effects. A key ambition of this approach is to barrow the disability employment gap, to bring the levels of individuals with disabilities and limiting health conditions in employment closer to those of the population in general.

Measuring success through research:

Underpinning all of this is an increased commitment to robust experimental evaluation to determine which interventions succeed, with whom, and why.

The Conservative manifesto promised continuity – that the roll-out of Universal Credit will continue and the welfare system will continue to be run “system in accordance with our belief that work is the best route out of poverty, that work should always pay, and that the system should be fair both to the people in need of support and those who pay for it”. With the delicate equilibrium of the current House of Commons, radical revisions to welfare policy seem still more unlikely.

More than this, there is a degree of cross-party consensus regarding some of the very broad underlying principles underpinning the current welfare system approach – particularly UC’s drive to deliver increased simplicity and to make work pay, and the goal of reducing the disability employment gap (even if the approach to implementation is much more hotly debated).

Circumstances also point towards maintaining some aspects of the status quo: even if the tide turns against austerity, the UK still faces an ageing population and likely economic turbulence as we renegotiate fundamental trade relationships with our near neighbours.

All this means that the guiding principle of welfare and employment policy seems likely to be surprisingly durable: continuing to use robust evidence to determine how to target interventions more smartly, to incentivise work, and to achieve more with less.

Challenging stereotypes in welfare

There is much speculation recently about how the Government will achieve its pledged £12bn in welfare cuts as part of its drive to eliminate the budget deficit by 2018-19.

A popular narrative has been created of the archetypal ‘benefit scrounger’ who drains the system and resources to claim undeserved financial support.

Over the past 15 years IFF Research has conducted a considerable amount of research with benefit claimants to inform public policy decisions, delving through the initial layer of fear and mistrust sometimes felt by claimant to uncover complex factors which have led them to where they are today.

How prominent is this ‘benefit scrounger’ figure?

Our experience in the field suggests that these black and white portrayals are not only largely inaccurate but also mask the complexity of issues faced by those making benefit claims. The truth is much less cut and dried than public perception often supposes.

We commonly encounter individuals whose circumstances are more complex in nature. They perhaps had a serious illness, started claiming disability benefits, and now – even though their condition has improved a bit – don’t seem to be contemplating getting back into work. Some might see this as playing the system, but once you scratch the surface you tend to discover that in many cases they either have limited experience and skills, their confidence has taken a huge knock from being out of work, they have mental health problems associated with longer term unemployment or all of the above. There is often appetite for, but difficulties accessing, good quality careers advice, adult learning opportunities or support in managing a health condition.

What does this mean for welfare policy?

We think it means a renewed focus on cracking the problem of how to support these ‘grey area’ individuals back to employment. It is now widely accepted that tailored support should help move individuals back towards the labour market, with financial support from benefits gradually tapering off as income increases.

The challenge remains how to implement this in practice. There is still widespread concern among claimants and those setting the policy agenda about ‘cliff edges’ in the system – i.e. points at which benefits are suddenly withdrawn, without an accompanying increase in income from work. There is also much still to be learnt about ‘what works’ in the realities of support delivery, particularly among claimants with the most complex barriers to engaging in work.

Our Role

IFF Research’s role is to illuminate what was previously clouded by layers of assumption, anecdotes and stereotype, to present the true stories and complex backgrounds of claimants, their barriers and enablers to moving into work. Our aim is to provide new insights and sharper focus to bear on this challenge, so that the welfare cuts are accompanied by truly effective support to help these individuals regain the skills and confidence to once again engage with the labour market.

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