Breaking through the barriers
Our new paper highlights how we can build better systems to overcome barriers to work and opportunity, guarantee security, and uphold dignity.
Ahead of the Autumn Statement 2023, Action for Children and partners have published a policy discussion paper that looks at the key issues faced by people with complex barriers to employment: low-income households, unpaid carers, disabled people and those with long-term health conditions, single parents, care leavers, and other vulnerable young people.
Many of those supported by our organisations tell us they want to work or increase their hours, but they need help to overcome the many barriers they face.
In our paper, we’ve put forward numerous suggestions to help overcome work barriers. Many could be implemented quickly and have an immediate impact. Other changes we believe could be truly transformative with the right commitment.
We have also written to the Chancellor and Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, setting out the many opportunities that exist to help people increase their work participation, as well as some of the risks of getting it wrong.
We hope this paper offers a useful contribution to the debate on work barriers and economic inactivity. We would welcome any opportunity to continue the conversation.
2 November 2023
To the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and Secretary of State for Work and Pensions;
As a group of charities who support or advocate for families with complex barriers to employment, we welcome the government’s stated intention to break down barriers to work. Today we have jointly published a policy paper setting out dozens of ideas we believe could help move people towards work. As you prepare for the Autumn Statement, we hope you will consider these carefully.
At the Spring Budget, you took several welcome steps. In particular, the expansion of the 30-hours free childcare entitlement, the introduction of upfront childcare payments in Universal Credit, and the new Universal Support programme to provide intensive, personalised employment support to people with complex work barriers.
There is much more that can be done. Many of those supported by our organisations tell us they want to work or increase their hours, but they need help to overcome the barriers they face. Official labour market data suggests there are 1.7 million economically inactive people who want a job now, including 1 million who are inactive due to long-term sickness or family care needs.
But policymakers must learn the lessons from past failures and never lose sight of the fact there are good reasons why work is not a practical or realistic option for everybody. Recent history shows that policies that rely on pushing the sick and disabled towards unsuitable work are certain to fail. Too much emphasis on the 3.2 million people receiving incapacity benefits will have far less impact than focusing on those already in work and those able to work. Simply ramping up conditionality and sanctions will create more barriers to the labour market, not less, while causing severe hardship for those affected.
In our paper we suggest a wide range of measures to help overcome work barriers. Some of these we believe could be truly transformative: childcare reform, reimagining our approach to conditionality and employment support, better support for unpaid carers to return to work, and addressing the responsibilities of employers. Other changes could be implemented quickly and have an immediate impact.
Above all, we must fix the fraying threads of our safety net. Too often, it fails to uphold the security and dignity of those unable to sustain themselves without state assistance. Nearly three-quarters of people experiencing destitution – the most severe form of hardship – are receiving social security benefits, and 62% have a chronic health problem or disability.
As we seek to tear down barriers to work and opportunity, we cannot see a return to tired, divisive narratives about ‘strivers’ versus ‘shirkers’. Attempting to drive up employment through welfare cuts, forced compliance, or a disproportionate focus on those furthest from the labour market is a dead-end for the taxpayer.
We hope this letter and our accompanying paper provides some useful suggestions and constructive challenge as you continue to address these important issues.
Action for Children
Child Poverty Action Group
The Children’s Society
Joseph Rowntree Foundation
New Economics Foundation
Save the Children