A new approach to social justice?

Shortly before this week’s election announcement, the government launched a paper setting out how they plan to tackle some big social issues. What does this new plan have to say about people with multiple needs, and how might the upcoming election affect it? In this blog, Ayaz Manji, Policy Officer at Mind, takes a closer look.

Work is a big focus

Department for Work and Pensions, used under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

As you might expect from the title, the focus of ‘Improving Lives: Helping Workless Families’ is unemployment and its impact on children. The paper spends a lot of time talking about how being out of work can lead to problems with housing, debt, poor mental health, drug and alcohol problems, crime and relationship breakdown. All of these issues reduce the life chances of children living in these circumstances, and the government say they want Jobcentres to play a bigger role in helping tackle some of these issues.

Our work has shown that at the moment Jobcentre support, and that provided through initiatives like the Work Programme, simply isn’t working for people with multiple needs. It’s hard to focus on getting back to work unless you’re also getting the support or treatment you need for your housing situation, your rehabilitation and your recovery. Strict requirements to spend a certain number of hours on your job-search, and the looming threat of benefit sanctions don’t make it any easier.

There’s a real opportunity for the next government to make a positive difference here but they will need to start by making support voluntary for people with multiple needs, and training Jobcentre staff to understand that each person’s journey to work back to work is different. We have set out detailed recommendations on these issues.

More to come on drugs and alcohol?

Last year an independent review by Dame Carol Black made many recommendations to the government about how it could do more to support people experiencing drug or alcohol problems to return to work. In this plan the current government signaled its intention to take three of these up:

  • They’ll be making sure that people with a drug or alcohol problem can cover costs associated with staying in-work through the ‘Access to Work’ programme.
  • They plan to build a network of peer mentors to act as advocates and trusted role models to help drug and alcohol dependent people back into work.
  • They’ll also launch a trial of Individual Placement and Support (IPS) for people with drug or alcohol problems. This is a voluntary and specialist approach to support which could have the potential to make a real difference.

The independent review made 10 more recommendations, so we’ll be watching closely to see if the next government takes action on these.

What you measure makes a difference

Alongside the government’s plan, it published what it intends to measure in order to understand how much progress it’s making towards social justice. The list now includes things like the number of families experiencing problem debt, homelessness, poor parental mental health, and how well parents with drug and alcohol problems do when they are in treatment, all of which is welcome.

However the indicators for this paper don’t look at the number of people with criminal convictions who find employment or how many avoid re-offending – a missed opportunity which we’d want to see tackled in future plans. In particular, it’ll be important to make sure the measurements they use align with those being introduced by the Ministry of Justice for people in prison and on probation.

Beyond the family

The other big part of the government’s plan is focusing their attention on families. They say that if they give parents and families better support, then they can make a difference to children’s lives. We agree with this and it will help some people with multiple needs. We know that nearly a third of people with multiple needs are living with dependent children.

For example, it could focus on the needs of families who are affected by the imprisonment of a relative and how relationships are maintained, stabilised, or improved. The Prison Reform white paper announced that Lord Farmer will soon publish his review on these issues for the adult male prison estate.

However, it’s also clear that the next government needs to improve support for the thousands of people experiencing multiple needs who don’t live with family. A comprehensive plan to create social justice must take the needs of these individuals into account.

After the election, we’d like to see Ministers set out a bolder strategy, with cross-departmental support that recognises not only the way that challenges faced by adults affect their children and families, but also how better coordinated support can help individuals to turn their lives around.

The family is a good starting point, but it would be wrong to confine our approach to improving social justice within these tight boundaries. People without close family ties who also have multiple needs are likely to be some of the most vulnerable, excluded and marginalised people in our society.

What next?

We are glad the government has engaged with these issues, although the surprise announcement of a general election means the future of these plans is now somewhat uncertain. Regardless of the outcome of the election, we will work with the next government to make sure the new support in JobCentres is effective for people with multiple needs, and that the changes that come with Universal Credit don’t continue to have the negative impact we’ve seen so far.

We also need to remember that although work is vital to helping people move out of poverty and deprivation, it’s not the whole story. For many, the journey towards employment will be long and difficult, and we also know that the areas that experience the highest levels of multiple needs are also the most economically deprived.

That’s why we need to make sure people have the support they need regardless of whether they are in employment. We’ll continue to work with our partners to make the case for a cross-government approach that’s effective for individuals as well as families, so that everyone can reach their full potential and contribute to their communities.

Photo credit: Department for Work and Pensions, used under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

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