Councils are doing more to help unemployed people than the Government as data shows people are falling through the cracks.
The Local Government Association has made the claim as the North East shoulders the country’s highest unemployment rate (9.1%) and as its research shows there has been an alarming 28% increase in the number of unemployed not claiming benefits in the last 18 months.
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It means that while Government data does not reveal the full extent of the problem, the LGA says local authorities are being left to pick up the pieces.
The LGA has praised North East councils for working with employers, charities and voluntary groups, schools, colleges and housing associations, and says schemes are offering one-to-one mentoring, training, work placements and apprenticeships at a crucial time.
LGA chairman David Sparks said the capacity for councils to play this role, however, is under threat as all parties eye further cuts.
“Unemployment is falling, but the headlines hide the plight of our most vulnerable residents who are falling through the cracks. Too many are let down by national job schemes which are unable to identify or help them because they have not signed on at their local Jobcentre Plus.
“Councils across the country are desperate to ensure no-one is left behind and have sought to support those being forgotten by these national services by using their local knowledge, expertise and connections with local organisations and services to target their hardest to reach residents.”
Council leaders say national schemes aim to simply shift people from the benefits queue and that approach is damaging for some of the most vulnerable, such as young or disabled people.
Leader of Newcastle City Council, Councillor Nick Forbes, said the news was more evidence that the Government must devolve more powers to the North East.
“The Government are more interested in getting people off benefits than getting them into work. The reality is the jobs that are being created are in most cases, part-time, low wage and zero contract hours.
“Local authorities are having much more success in helping people into jobs and training than Government because they have a better understanding of what is happening in their area.”
Councillor Iain Malcolm, leader of South Tyneside Council said:
“The national approach is to move people off the benefits register as quickly as possible, but sometimes this can be to the detriment of more vulnerable residents and can exacerbate their situation if they take the first job that comes along and they are not ready to work.
“Our approach has been to offer residents constructive and comprehensive advice and support to help them back into work at the right time for them and the employer. In partnership with employers, we have designed initiatives to support jobs and apprenticeship creation this has created over 400 new jobs apprenticeships over the past three years.
“Although there have been national schemes offering wage subsidies, feedback from our employers showed that the schemes were too difficult to access due to a vast amount of eligibility criteria.
“We have taken the time to understand the barriers that our residents face when looking to go back into employment and then commissioned community learning programmes that will address those issues, such as literacy and numeracy programmes and support to help residents gain IT and money management skills.”
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 14 Jan 2015
Universities and colleges in the North East could be stripped of millions of pounds in funding used to give students from poorer backgrounds a fairer chance of getting a degree.
The cash is at risk because the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, which is responsible for higher education, needs to make savings of £1.4bn.
Teesside University currently receives £5.9m each year, the University of Northumbria at Newcastle receives £3.5m, University of Sunderland receives £3.3m, University of Newcastle upon Tyne receives £1.1m, University of Durham receives £660,000, Newcastle College receives £959,00 and New College Durham receives £637,000.
The money, known as Student Opportunity funding, is allocated to universities and higher education colleges which succeed in attracting students from neighbourhoods where few people have traditionally taken part in higher education.
It also goes to institutions which succeed in retaining students who would statistically be more likely to drop out, and to those that recruit students with disabilities.
Leaked documents have revealed that the Department for Business is looking for ways to save £570m this year and a further £860m after the election.
Danny Alexander, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, is reported to be pushing for Student Opportunity funding to be abolished, while Business Secretary Vince Cable and Higher Education Minister David Willets are lobbying to keep it.
Asked to comment on the reports, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills said in a statement: “The Department is going through the process of allocating budgets for 2014-15 and 2015-16 and will set out plans in the usual way.”
Prof Peter Fidler, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Sunderland, was one of nine university leaders across the country to write a public letter warning: “The removal of this fund will damage economic growth and have a wider impact on sectors beyond higher education.”
The letter said that axing the fund “suggests that the Government is willing to abandon the cause of social mobility in higher education.”
The future of the fund was raised in the House of Commons by Labour’s Shadow Higher Education Minister Liam Byrne as MPs discussed funding for engineering students. He said: “On top of the huge cuts for educating 18-year-olds in college, we now hear rumours that the student opportunity fund that helps poorer future engineers will be completely axed.
“Will the Secretary of State take this opportunity to promise the House that he will not sacrifice social mobility to pay for the chaos in his Department’s budget?”
In reply, Business Secretary Vince Cable highlighted £400m in funding for science, technology, engineering and maths courses – but did not comment on the future of the Student Opportunity Fund.
The National Union of Students has launched a campaign to preserve the funding.
Toni Pearce, NUS president, said: “Cutting the Student Opportunity Fund is an absolute disgrace and, in the wake of cuts to the National Scholarship Programme, looks like the Government is backtracking on its commitment to support social mobility in favour of balancing the books on the backs of the poor.”
Mr Byrne said: “The Department for Business budget is a complete mess because high paying students at private colleges got access to the state student loan system. Now it looks like help for poorer students will be axed to pay for it.”
Source – Newcastle Journal, 25 Jan 2014