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At Barrow Cadbury Trust, we’re working to build an economy that delivers more for people and planet – so we’ve joined forces with dozens of organisations in the Future Economy Alliance to push this up the political agenda.

Today we’ve been in Parliament to launch a new report on the national policy change needed to better support our growing movement and create a stronger, fairer, greener economy. You can read all the details in our ‘Business Plan for Britain’ on the Future Economy Alliance website.

We’re calling on the next UK Government to recognise the importance of working for a purpose beyond profit and make this mission-led approach the national norm. An estimated four million of us work in social enterprise and other mission-led organisations; we’re living proof that business can be a force for good, and we need those in power to unleash our full potential.

It was heartening to see influential people taking an interest at the House of Lords this morning – including cross-party MPs, national journalists and economic think tanks – but publishing this report is just the start. We’re determined to make this a priority for the General Election and beyond.

Arvinda Gohil OBE, chair of the Future Economy Alliance, commented: “Millions of us across the UK work in mission-led organisations that show the way to a stronger, fairer, greener economy. We just need those in power to unleash the full potential of our movement, so that this way of working becomes the national norm. With government and business working in partnership, we can build an economy where all of society profits.”

Lord Victor Adebowale CBE added: “It’s exciting to see champions of change coming together from all business sectors across the UK, united in the work to fix our economy. As a mission-led entrepreneur myself, I hope this message will ring loud and clear in the halls of Westminster: Business as usual isn’t working; we need a new business plan for Britain.”

“I’m less scared to discuss the economy in Birmingham and the local area.” Fiona

“Brilliant facilitation and complex ideas delivered in a simple and accessible way.” Emma

Shift Birmingham- a course for changemakers

On a sunny day in June, an inspiring group of changemakers from across Birmingham gathered at Soho House in Handsworth for the last session of People’s Economy’s Shift Birmingham. Over the last year this diverse group from across the city has met monthly to explore how power and resources in the city can be rebalanced to help their communities thrive. Apply now for the next Shift Birmingham, starting in January.

We’ve played ‘GDP bingo’, and learned from each other about different ways to keep money local. We’ve puzzled over how to address Birmingham’s housing crisis, and marvelled over what other cities and countries are doing to provide better quality jobs to their citizens.

Learning, getting confident, and making connections

Learning about the economy can sound daunting, boring, or even pointless, but even participants who had their doubts at first, really enjoyed getting a general grounding on these crucial issues that affect them and their communities. They found the special focus on what’s going on in Birmingham very helpful, and they’ve told us that the approachable style of facilitation made it easy to engage.

They also found it invaluable to meet and share experiences with others from across the city with different backgrounds and experiences. Getting together in person in the few face-to-face sessions was definitely worth battling with Birmingham’s traffic! Chatting over a coffee and a cake meant there were plenty of opportunities to share ideas and experiences.

“It has been uplifting to meet others working toward a fairer society.” Clare

Crucially, participants’ understanding and confidence leapt up after the course. See below for a snapshot of this.

“I feel I now hold a better understanding of how economics affects us as individuals and as communities.” Florence

Taking action

The group have started to use what they’ve gained in the course to make change in their communities.

“It’s tough to explain to decision makers how they should be doing something different, if you don’t have the grounding that the course provides – to be able to explain to them that sometimes they should be trying something different.” James

Bonus sessions supported them to translate their learnings into action, for example on how to craft stories about their work and engage with journalists. They had the opportunity to work with the West Midlands division of Global, a major radio broadcaster. One participant was interviewed about the impacts of the 2023 Spring Budget and five of the cohort are due to appear in a week-long special about Shift Birmingham and the connections they’ve built within the programme.

In April the cohort got a chance to meet with the leader of Birmingham City Council and put their ideas for a better Birmingham to him, and they were invited to a special performance of the play “All Our Money” by Stan’s Cafe, about how the council spends its budget.

People’s Economy is now supporting the group to continue to meet to translate the course learnings into action. With the extent of Birmingham City Council’s financial crisis now very clear, this work is more needed than ever.

People’s Economy is grateful for funding from Barrow Cadbury Trust and Birmingham City Council’s Neighbourhood Development Support Unit that enabled us to offer this course for free.

The future of Shift Birmingham

Following the success of the course, People’s Economy is running Shift Birmingham again from January 2024. Find out more about it here. The deadline to apply is November 2nd.

Clare Birkett is the Editor for the People’s Economy.  This blog is cross-posted with Clare’s permission.

This blog by Charlotte Morgan was originally posted on the New Local Government (NLG) website.

Is a growing economy something to celebrate when the benefits it brings are out of reach to many? While the economy grew as a whole in the 2017/18 financial year, the poorest 20 per cent of the population actually experienced a real terms decline in their incomes of 1.6 per cent. Some two-thirds of the jobs created by Britain’s much-heralded, post-recession jobs boom have come in the form of ‘atypical employment’, such as gig economy work and zero-hours contracts. The Government has started to turn its attention to reducing regional imbalances in economic growth, but years of inaction have given them a mountain to climb – the only regions where productivity is above the UK average are London and the South East.

In recent years, policy-makers have started looking beyond usual growth measures (such as GDP and employment figures) towards new approaches that enable more people to contribute to and benefit from economic growth. ‘Inclusive growth’ is the umbrella concept bringing together many of these approaches. NLGN’s latest report, Cultivating Local Inclusive Growth In Practice, supported by Barrow Cadbury Trust, features examples of some of the projects currently being led by councils throughout England. This animation will give you an overview of the project.

The report is structured around NLGN’s new Framework for Cultivating Inclusive Growth. We designed the Framework to be a practical tool to help councils develop their thinking, no matter whether they are just starting to develop a strategy or are in the process of implementing one.

The Framework identifies the groups councils should work with to promote local inclusive growth:

  • Employers. These are private, public and third sector organisations of all sizes who employ people in the local area.
  • Citizens. These are the people who live and/or work in a local authority area.
  • Partners. These are the organisations that work with councils to deliver public services and other projects, such as the NHS, schools and colleges, and companies that have been awarded a contract by the council.
  • Places. These are parks, buildings, town centres and other forms of physical space and assets in an area.

These are set against the levers councils can use, with the powers and resources currently at their disposal, to promote local inclusive growth:

  • Regulate. This category covers the hardest policy levers at a council’s disposal, including their ability to set rules and regulations to promote inclusive growth. For example, one council uses its procurement process to ensure that only businesses paying the real living wage can successfully apply for council contracts.
  • Incentivise. Councils can offer incentives, financial or otherwise, for employers, citizens and partners to behave in a way that is conducive to promoting inclusive growth. For example, one council offers undergraduates and recent graduates of local universities a wide range of paid placement and training opportunities to encourage them to stay in the area.
  • Shape. Councils can reshape their area to promote inclusive growth, either literally, through things like redevelopment, or in more subtle ways, through efforts to encourage employers, citizens and partners to promote inclusive growth. For example, some councils have created charters setting out socially responsible business practices and invited local employers to sign up to them.
  • Facilitate. Councils can promote inclusive growth in a more ‘back-seat’ facilitative role, by creating the partnerships, institutions and frameworks to enable others to take the lead. For example, one council worked with partners to set up a fund for projects that help local communities access employment, education and training opportunities.

Each section of the report contains many more practical examples and case studies.

We are very grateful to the council officers and think tank/academic researchers whose experiences and insights generously shared with us through interviews and workshops were invaluable to our research. If you have any questions about our research or would like to talk to us about our inclusive growth research, please get in touch with us at [email protected].

 

Inclusive growth has gained a firm foothold within the policy lexicon over recent years. Yet, despite much valuable discussion on what it is and why it is important, there remains a lack of clarity as to how it can be distinguished from more ‘typical’ economic growth strategies. Further, there remain gaps in understanding surrounding the practical steps that can be taken to foster inclusive growth. What levers do councils and combined authorities have at their disposal? How can authorities work with employers and public institutions? Which regulatory mechanisms and incentives need to be in place?

A new conversation on economic growth is certainly welcome. Over a decade on from the Financial Crash of 2008 and subsequent recession here in the UK, massive inequality persists, both between and within regions. That the UK economy has the highest levels of regional disparity among OECD nations demonstrates the structural imbalances that inclusive growth seeks to address, to ensure that the benefits of economic growth are shared across every section of society – both across and within regions and places.

How inclusive growth can be developed in practice is the core question underpinning a new NLGN research project we are undertaking in partnership with Barrow Cadbury Trust. We will draw on current practice from the front line of strategy implementation and service delivery. Through a series of peer learning workshops, we will share current experience, including key challenges that organisations pioneering inclusive growth interventions have experienced, and also generate new ideas. These conversations will help to inform practitioners’ approaches. The research will also explore how communities can be placed at the heart of inclusive growth strategy and delivery, following NLGN’s vision for the future of public services as set out in our Community Paradigm report.

Our goal at the end of this process is to have brought some practical clarity to the debate around inclusive growth and to have established concrete steps through which practitioners can develop their own frameworks for action. A final report will be published in January of 2020.

Charlotte Morgan and Trinley Walker

This blog was originally posted on the New Local Government Network (NLGN) website

If you would like to find out more about the project or get involved, please contact Charlotte Morgan or Trinley Walker: [email protected] – [email protected]

The RSA launches the Citizens’ Economics Council, supported by Barrow Cadbury Trust and Friends Provident Foundation, on Wednesday 29 June.  In this blog, which was first published on the RSA website, Anthony Painter, Director of the Action and Research Centre at the RSA, discusses the implications of the referendum result for democracy and refers to the predictions of the 2013 Policy Network publication ‘Democratic stress, the populist signal and extremist threat’ which was also supported by Barrow Cadbury Trust. Sign up to attend the launch event. 

The EU referendum is now done and the UK has voted to leave the EU. It was anything but a glorious advert for British democracy.

On one hand, we had a campaign that was willing and determined to set people against one another by their ethnicity, their class, and whether they were ‘experts’ or ‘elites’. The other campaign, when it wasn’t in melodrama mode, deployed the modern organisational technology of political narrowcasting. In so doing, it ignored a huge part of the country, on the basis of its probability of supporting its campaign. As a consequence, whole areas – including many traditional Labour areas in the north crucial to the outcome – heard only the discordant voice of Faragism.

Much has been made about the fact that this referendum was a choice about the types of values that our country epitomises. The referendum was indeed that but more besides. It was also a choice about the type of democracy we want to be. There are deeper democratic and social forces at play – how they are resolved will be one of the critical decisions we as a society make in the coming years.

For many decades now trust in representative democracy has been in decline. Interestingly, many of the advocates of leave framed their argument in terms of defending parliamentary democracy. But it was no such thing. Representative liberal democracy relies not only on the consent of people but on a set of institutional arrangements that can meet their needs and protect their rights – from independent legal institutions to international cooperation. ‘Take back control’ ultimately rejects this web of relationships in favour of some general ‘will of the people’. But how is this ‘will’ formed?

The answer is by substituting individual instincts and emotion for expertise, representation and institutional structures that put a break on populist impulses – if only to force us to pause for thought. Not only in politics but in education, health, business, local governance, and policing too, we are ever more willing to put our personal judgement ahead of ‘experts’ or ‘so-called experts’ as they have come to be known. The experts failed to convince their fellow countrymen and if their post-Brexit prophecies do not come to pass then the schism will become deeper.

Scrutiny and a degree of scepticism is not in itself a bad thing of course – the high-trust society had major drawbacks as Hillsborough, the increasing share of national wealth taken by the top, figures of trust preying on children, and the scandal of Mid-Staffordshire NHS Trust all show. Healthy scepticism is just that – healthy. Too often, however, we are replacing scrutiny and scepticism with a trust in our own instinct and cynicism. It is ‘me the people’ rather than ‘we the people’.

So the legitimacy of hierarchy is threatened but then replaced with a notion of democracy centred around populist individualism – whether it’s ‘take back control’ or ‘make America great again’. The foolish aspect of the decision to hold this referendum was the notion that it would resolve anything. Instead, it has released the forces of populist individualism. Far from being a political alternative, populism is actually an alternative form of democracy. The aim is not simply to replace parties and powers within representative democracy, it seeks to replace representative democracy itself. These forces may be difficult to contain now. Labour is seen to have deserted whole swathes of its traditional support; Conservatives are seen as vacillating and untrustworthy. The mainstream is brittle.

This was all predictable. In a paper on populism, extremism and democracy back in 2013, I wrote of the referendum pledge:

“As a strategy to minimise the space for the UK’s populist radical right party (UKIP), David Cameron’s EU referendum pledge is likely to be a misguided one. It may split away a portion of his party, threaten his own leadership, give profile to a populist party that he cannot or will not match, boost the brand image of UKIP in the eurosceptic media, and fail to address the real underlying anxieties of voters who are attracted to UKIP. It is a considerable opportunity for UKIP as they are given the spotlight in a way they have not been able to secure in their entire history.”

This feels like a scenario that is closer to the current reality than a ‘lancing of the boil’ that the Prime Minister was hoping for. The same paper recommended a process of ‘contact democracy’ where the political mainstream engaged in a process of democratic engagement in a discursive rather than campaigning fashion. A discursive democracy is a very different approach to individualist populism and tired, narrowcasting, hierarchical representative democracy. Discursive democracy breaks down the barriers between experts and the people, the governing and the governed, policy and politics. In other words, it flattens democratic engagement and eschews false divides, opening out and making democracy more solidaristic as a consequence.

Next week, the RSA will launch the Citizens’ Economic Council which is in an experiment in discursive, solidaristic, contact democracy. Essentially, a demographically diverse group of 50 – 60 citizens selected using stratified random sampling methodology will, over the course of a year, deliberate on the big economic questions of the time and make their own recommendations for future economic priorities – including the fundamental objectives on which economic policy is based. Economists have had a tough ride of late – justifiably some might argue – but this opens up the black box of economic thinking to the laity. We are intrigued to see the outcome.

This is but one experiment and others have been successfully run previously as tracked by Claudia Chwalisz in The Populist Signal. An unstated conviction at the heart of this experiment has to be that if representative democracy is to face continuing pressures then there has to be an alternative that is not akin to the referendum campaign we have just endured.

Democracy is hard; it requires work. Representative democracy was a hard won battle. The historian E.P.Thompson has described the two centuries-long making of the English working class. World War II contributed an accelerated politicisation. An exclusively class-centric politics doesn’t feel right for these more plural times. Class is important but just one component of political consciousness. However, we can’t just allow democracy to be a battle between an untrusted ‘elite’ and an impulsive political discourse. Democracy works best when it challenges all of us to think, discuss, and reflect. That’s where models such as the Citizens’ Economic Council come in.

There’s lots of unfinished business post-referendum: the presence in our midst of far-right violent extremism, how we can find the right relationship with the post-Eurozone/post-crash EU from which we intend to depart, and the future of political parties that are split in quite fundamental ways. But we desperately need to take time to understand the democratic mess that we have created. In reality, democratic forms co-exist. We might want to reflect on how we can bring people into the process of making better informed decisions about the national future. That means a bigger role for people in our democracy.

Sign up here for the launch of the RSA Citizens Economic Council

Tony Greenham, the author of this blog, is Director of Economic, Enterprise and Manufacturing at the RSA.  This blog was originally posted on the RSA website.  

Brexit has marked a new low in the abuse of economics in political debate. From politicians playing fast and loose with statistics to policymakers peddling opinions as ‘facts’ we are not just confused; we are disillusioned. More than ever, we need to explore new ways to engage the public in meaningful debate about the economy.

In politics, the economy matters. Ever since Bill Clinton’s campaign chief coined the phrase ‘The economy, stupid’, politicians have been ever more keen to assert their economic competence.

No surprise that the Brexit camps have chosen to fight much of their battles on the grounds of the economy. But in doing so they have managed to generate much heat whilst putting us further in the dark.

Only one in five of us feel well informed about the referendum, and perhaps even more damaging we simply do not trust our senior political figures to tell the truth about the EU. Even the Bank of England’s reputation has been diminished, with only 35% trusting Governor Mark Carney against 38% saying they did not.

In a scathing 83 page report on the Brexit debate, the Treasury Selected Committee concluded that the “arms race of ever more lurid claims and counter-claims” on the economy was impoverishing political debate.

Nowhere is this more evident than in the use of the ridiculous phrase ‘economically illiterate’ levelled against political opponents. Mastering a huge and diverse academic discipline, with at least nine different schools of thought, can hardly be equated with the ability to read. More importantly, who says you have to be a trained economist to have a valid view on the economy?

Economists generally behave better than politicians, but still project confusing and conflicting certainty. While Paul Johnson of the Institute for Fiscal studies argues that economists are almost unanimous in their view that Brexit would shrink the economy, former senior IMF economist Ashoka Mody attacks this apparent consensus as crossing the line into groupthink. In reality, economic predictions depend heavily on the assumptions made by their authors but these are rarely discussed or made transparent to the reader.

So when you hear a statement such as:

“Leaving the EU will make every household £4300 worse off”

You should interpret it as follows:

“To be honest we cannot tell what will happen in the future, but we have tried really hard to have a good guess. To make this guess we have made some assumptions that you may or may not agree with, and you should know that if we made different assumptions we might get a completely different result. We have also relied on some theories about the way the economy works that are contestable, and if you applied different theories you might also get different results. Good luck with all of that.”

You can see the appeal of the former.

At least Paul Johnson, a speaker at our forthcoming launch event for the Citizens Economic Council, injects a rare moment of humility into the debate when he recognises that ultimately this is a political decision. A smaller economy might be a trade-off some people are willing to make for more sovereignty and, as an economist, he says “I can’t tell you how to trade these things off, how to make this choice.”

In other words, if Brexit is the question, economics cannot give you the answer.

So what?

You might reasonably wish a plague on everyone’s economic statistics and just ignore arguments about the economy.

We claim the opposite. We should aim to demystify economics, make economic debate more meaningful and accessible, and find ways to engage more people in active deliberations on economic decisions.

And this is an urgent task. The need for greater democratic engagement on economic issues has become more pressing over time for at least three reasons:

1. Erosion of public trust

Recent economic crises – banking, sovereign debt, Eurozone, scandals about tax havens, corporate asset stripping and persistent poverty even in rich nations, have damaged public trust in economic and political institutions. Doing better economic policy to citizens might help, but how about doing economic policy better with citizens.

2. The rise of pluralism in economics

Apparent economic stability during the period of the Great Moderation was taken as proof of the validity of a package of policies to liberalise markets, trade and finance, reduce taxation and increase labour market flexibility while controlling inflation. These ‘unquestionable’ policies were themselves supported by an equally strong orthodoxy within academic economics.

However, the crisis challenged the idea of a singular, certain and infallible body of economic theory and many have now called for a more pluralistic approach to economic research and policymaking. Recognising this lack of certainty in economic theory magnifies the importance of being open and transparent about the methods and assumptions that have been used to make economic policy choices.

3. Coping with rapid economic transformation in the 21st Century

Even where economic theory and evidence is well established, the future is highly uncertain.

Disruptive new technologies such as genomics, data analytics, robotics and artificial intelligence may change the world of work and the nature of production and consumption in dramatic ways. Degradation of eco-systems and climate change may create increasingly severe and unpredictable impacts. A growing population may see rising migration resulting from conflict, climate change and the search for a better life.

To maintain social stability and allow communities to flourish in the face of such uncertainty and rapid change will require broad based support for economic decision making that has no guarantee of successful results. It will also arguably require more creative and innovative ideas about how to successfully organise and manage market economies.

The key to achieving this is to explore how deliberation and participatory methods can help bring clarity to our collective economic goals, generate better policies to achieve them, and bring more cohesion to our societal choices about the economy.

Too often we feel disempowered to express strong views about how to run the economy because we are not economists.  But if we define economics in its broadest sense it is about how society allocates its collective resources to fulfil our needs and aspirations.

Surely everyone can have a legitimate view about that. What we lack are good processes for negotiating the sometimes difficult trade-offs involved – or in politician-speak the ‘hard choices’.

Well it does not seem that the referendum is providing a good process for this, so we will be exploring through the Citizens Economic Council, and a series of coming blog posts, how we can create better processes for economic debate and decision-making.

It is time for everyone to be an economist.

Book your free ticket for the launch event of the Citizens Economic Council on Wednesday 29 June from 6pm.

New analysis from the Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford has concluded that it is not possible to estimate the economic impact of post-Brexit migration with any sort of confidence.   ‘Project unclear: uncertainty, Brexit and migration’ finds that predictions about the effects on the economy of migration after Brexit should be treated with caution. The report says that questions around what treaty agreements or migration policies would follow as a result of Brexit will not be resolved before the Referendum, preventing any clarity about how EU migration flows would be affected by a vote to leave.

 

The report also suggests that an EU exit for the UK could mean tighter controls on the migration of EU citizens. It found that some non-EU countries however, like Norway and Switzerland have implemented free movement in return for access to the EU’s single market.

 

Read the full report here

Anna Coote, Head of Social Policy at NEF blogs about NEF’s new report ‘People, planet, power’ and how we might build a new social settlement.  This blog was originally published on NEF’s website.

 

How do we live together and relate to one another?  How can we make sure that everyone has an equal chance to lead a fulfilling and secure life?  What’s the best way to help each other when things go wrong that we cannot cope with alone? These are just some of the challenges facing our society today. They raise wider questions about our relationship with each other and with the government, the role of the welfare state, and the quality of everyday life. In a major new report out today, ‘People, planet, power’ we set out proposals for a new social settlement. It defends and builds on the best of Britain’s welfare state but calls for urgent changes, because there are new risks that threaten our well-being and our future: widening social and economic inequalities; accumulations of power by wealthy elites; and the imminent danger of catastrophic damage to the natural environment. Our new social settlement has three goals:

 

  • Social justice – wellbeing and equality are essential for people to lead a good, fulfilling life, and to participate in society.
  • Environmental sustainability – we must live within environmental limits to ensure that the natural resources needed for life are protected and preserved for present and future generations.
  • A more equal distribution of power – people should be able to participate in and influence decisions at local and national levels, reducing current inequalities in power.

 

To achieve these goals, the report sets out new priorities for policy and practice. It highlights issues that tend to be overlooked by policy-makers and points to a new direction of travel. It represents NEF’s contribution to wider debates about what kind of society we want for the future. For a start, we cannot rely on continuing economic growth to produce more and more tax revenues to pay for more and better public services.  Instead, we must shift investment and action upstream to measures that prevent harm, rather than simply cope with the consequences.  We must value and nurture the ‘core economy’ – all those everyday human resources and unpaid activities that underpin the formal economy.  And we must reclaim and strengthen the idea of solidarity: understanding each other’s needs and interests, and sharing responsibility – not just in close-knit groups, but between groups of different kinds and across generations.

 

Building on this approach, the report outlines proposals for practical change:

 

Rebalance work and time:

 

  • a new industrial and labour market strategy to achieve high quality and sustainable jobs for all, with a stronger role for employees in decision-making
  • ­a gradual move towards shorter and more flexible hours of paid work for all aiming for 30 hours as the new standard working week
  • ­an offensive against low pay to achieve decent hourly rates for all
  • high quality, affordable childcare for all who need it

 

Release human resources:

 

  • support and encourage the unvalued and unpaid assets and activities that are found in everyday life beyond the formal economy
  • adopt as standard the principles of co-production so that service users and providers work together to meet needs
  • ­change the way public services are commissioned to focus on outcomes and co-production

 

Strengthen social security:

  • turn the tide against markets and profit seeking, developing instead more diverse, open and collaborative public services
  • ­build a more rounded, inclusive and democratic benefits system

 

Plan for a sustainable future:

 

  • ­promote eco-social policies – such as active travel and retro-fitting homes – that help to achieve both social justice and environmental sustainability
  • ­offset the socially regressive effects of carbon pricing and other pro-environmental policies
  • ­ensure that public institutions lead by example
  • ­establish new ways of future-proofing policies

 

Seven decades on from William Beveridge’s ground-breaking report, it is high time for a wider debate about a new social settlement that meets the challenges of the 21st century.

Sumi Rabindrakumar, Gingerbread’s research officer, says that the upturn in employment may be good news for some, but few single parents are reaping the benefits

 

Work, for single parents, isn’t easy at the best of times. As both the main carer and main earner supporting their family, it can be tough to find a job that allows single parents to juggle childcare as well as pay the bills. But new research from Gingerbread shows that single parents are now also battling low pay, insufficient hours and job insecurity in today’s job market. The end result is that work is failing to provide the majority of working single parent families with the income they need.

 

No pay, no gain

 

Our latest report, The long road to recovery, reveals the gulf between a recovering economy and the real-life experiences of working single parents. Around two in five working single parents surveyed are low-paid.  A quarter had experienced a wage cut in the last six months alone.  And 30 per cent had experienced unpaid overtime in the last two years, for the first time.

 

“I am earning less per hour than I was four years ago”

 

Pay aside, many single parents simply can’t find the working hours they want and need – the proportion of single parents working part-time when they want full-time hours has doubled since 2007. Over half of non-working single parents surveyed said inflexible hours stopped them from applying for jobs all or most of the time.

 

And now single parents must deal with the job insecurity that has emerged since the recession. Around a quarter of non-working single parents said they’d left their last job due to hours or wage cuts, a temporary job ending or redundancy. And once out of work, the support provided is often focused on job search targets, rather than meaningful support to help single parents back into sustainable employment.

 

“I found myself just applying for jobs…that I’d already been rejected for, just to meet the quota they had set me”

 

Single parents are doing all they can to keep their heads above water, with many working multiple jobs and long hours to cover their bills. But, in the face of a long-term fall in wages, rising living costs and recent welfare cuts, it can feel like a losing battle. And no wonder, when single parents now need to earn more than twice as much as they did in 2008 to meet a basic standard of living.

 

A call for action

 

It’s clear that work is no golden ticket out of poverty. We cannot dismiss the problem of low-paid and insecure jobs as a rite of passage, just the first step on a long-term career path. As the Resolution Foundation found, people are too often trapped in jobs that offer little pay and no progression.   Single parents have been disproportionately hit by welfare cuts and there may be more on the horizon. As the safety net is pulled away, we need action now to ensure single parents can support their families.   Gingerbread wants to see the government improve support for single parents getting back to work, moving away from the ‘work-first’ approach that pushes single parents to take any job. We need stronger in-work financial support to soften financial barriers to work. And the government must work with employers to promote flexible working and tackle low pay and job insecurity.   The government wants to ensure the economy grows and to reduce welfare spending – when getting just 5 per cent more single parents into the workforce could save over £400m, why not make them part of the solution rather than risk isolating them further?

 

“I work 24-hour shifts and longer very often…I’m missing all the little important parts of my little girl growing up and it breaks my heart!  All this and I still fail to make ends meet…my cupboards are bare”

 

Sumi Rabindrakumar is Gingerbread’s Research Officer. Paying the Price is a research project being carried out by Gingerbread, with funding from Barrow Cadbury Trust and Trust for London.  The Long Road to Recovery is the second report from the project; you can read the report at www.gingerbread.org.uk/payingtheprice.

Focus on Labour Exploitation (FLEX) will be co-sponsoring a briefing session in the House of Lords this Wednesday, 16 July, from 5-7 pm.  The session is being chaired by Baroness Young of Hornsey, with speakers including Diana Johnson MP, Kathryn Cronin (Garden Court Chambers), Klara Skrivankova (Anti-Slavery International) and Caroline Robinson (FLEX). 

 

In this blog Caroline Robinson, co-director and founder of Focus on Labour Exploitation (FLEX) makes the case for a more effective response to human trafficking for labour exploitation.

 

As the public’s response to recent strike action on the part of public sector workers shows, it is not always easy to convince people of the need to protect the rights of all workers, British or migrant.  It is particularly hard in the face of high unemployment and a struggling economy, when the argument is put that migrant workers are filling roles British workers could take.

 

Yet, when it comes to debates about modern slavery, there is widespread sympathy and support for the victims, the majority of whom are migrant workers exploited for their labour. This paradox arises, simply put, because victims are viewed as deserving protections whereas potential victims are not. Our job is to make the argument that protections are most useful before someone becomes a victim and therefore should be applied to all workers regardless of migrant status.

 

In debate on this question, people often suggest that greater labour protections would act as a pull factor towards the UK. Yet, the recent Migration Advisory Committee report on low skilled migration suggests that in fact the opposite is true – that the absence of labour protections creates the demand for migrant workers, ergo labour protections reduce that demand.

 

But it is not just public opinion that is contradictory: migrant workers also face a confusing policy landscape. On the one hand there are increasing checks on immigration status at work and home provided for in the new Immigration Act and reduced labour protections as a result of the Government’s ‘red tape challenge’; then on the other hand there is Theresa May’s high-profile campaign against  ‘modern day slavery’.

 

Only last month the UK government, in adopting a new Protocol to the international Forced Labour Convention, recognised that greater labour protections serve to prevent acts of modern slavery from taking place. This supports the case made by Focus on Labour Exploitation (FLEX) in our working paper on Preventing Trafficking for Labour Exploitation, that the UK needs a much stronger labour inspection system to prevent people from being exploited for their labour. We know that where gaps in the enforcement of labour protections exist, unscrupulous employers will take advantage of such gaps and exploitation will snowball from minor infringements of employment law to severe exploitation that constitutes modern slavery.

 

The Modern Slavery Bill offers an opportunity to improve labour protections for vulnerable workers as a means of preventing acts of severe exploitation. The debate around the Bill should focus on why, in modern Britain, workers are still being exploited for their labour in the restaurants we visit, hotels we stay in and on the construction sites all around us.

 

Yet, so far the Home Secretary has resisted calls for an expanded Gangmasters Licensing Authority (GLA) in this Bill that could serve as an effective labour inspectorate, particularly in high-risk sectors where exploitation is rife. Instead the GLA has been moved into the Home Office, placing in great jeopardy its role to protect all workers regardless of status.

 

As politicians of all parties declare their support for ending slavery in the UK, there is a unique opportunity to put in place measures that would ensure no worker ends up in exploitation. But this opportunity will be missed if our leaders continue to talk tough on modern slavery without recognising that labour protections for all workers is the first line of defence in this fight.

 

Caroline Robinson is co-Director and founder of Focus on Labour Exploitation (FLEX). FLEX promotes effective responses to human trafficking for labour exploitation that prioritise the needs and voice of the victims and their human rights. Caroline is also a founder and Editorial Board Member of the Anti-Trafficking Review, an international open access journal that offers an outlet for dialogue between academics, practitioners, trafficked persons and advocates on anti-trafficking issues.