Work in Life
by Jane Mansour, Independent Policy Consultant @janemansour
If employment programmes were judged by their effectiveness in moving people out of poverty, would it make a difference to the way they are designed and managed?
Two-thirds of children living in poverty have parents who work. Millions have been spent on employment support programmes. Evaluations and analysis of their effectiveness assess their efficacy in terms of the job outcomes they have been commissioned to deliver. Yet rising employment is not matched by income security. There has been a transformation in patterns of low income in the UK, the ‘new poor’ tend to live in households where there is someone in work.  We understand how to get people into work – but not how to ensure that work moves people out of poverty.
Realising the political rhetoric that work is the best route out of poverty requires simultaneously a broader focus (on the context in which work sits – ‘work in life’) and a narrow focus (skilled, specialist support that does not stop at job entry, or first job), a radical change to the way we assess the effectiveness of interventions (prioritizing economic outcomes over job outcomes) and a place at the (policy and delivery) tables for those whose lives are impacted by such interventions. It challenges the structure of benefit, services and the way we evaluate them.
Oxfam works to ensure that women experiencing poverty have greater access to income and increased power over their lives and livelihoods around the world and in the UK. Earlier this year the UK Programmes team launched the Future Skills project, which offers support and skills development to meet the particular needs of vulnerable women who face many barriers to being employed. Working in partnership with Oxfam’s extensive shop network, we provide a six-month supported volunteer placement in an Oxfam shop as a pathway to employment.
Oxfam also asked me to evaluate the employability support currently available to women, changes in the structure of the labour market, and the shape of current and future funding. The result was Work in Life. It is a short paper that proposes using a sustainable anti-poverty approach to ensure women are no longer vulnerable to cyclical poverty. It focuses on five areas:
- Contextualising work (and employment support) in an individual’s life, and designing and measuring interventions on their effectiveness in supporting a transition out of poverty
- Specialist support to build and develop networks and routes out of poverty
- Seeing refugees and migrants as assets to our communities and nations, providing opportunities is an investment in our mutual futures
- The need for a new work contract that ensures workers (and employers, customers and taxpayers) realize the wider benefits of employment
- Investing in the real sharing economy – sharing delivery experience, expertise and data to ensure the evidence base is accessible to all
- We hope this paper will add to discussions about women and work in the midst of a changing labour market.
You can read the paper here.
 Belfield, C., Cribb, J., Hood, A., Joyce, R (2016) Living Standards, Poverty and Inequality in the UK (2016) IFS
Oxfam are very interested in any feedback or comments that come from IEP members. If you have any specific enquiries about the Future Skills project, or Oxfam’s work in this area more generally, please contact Sophie: SFosker@oxfam.org.uk