Last week we launched the Learning and Work Institute.  After announcing our merger at the IntoWork Convention, this month we’re formally bringing together the expertise of Inclusion and NIACE to create a new organisation that builds on our strengths – around researching and sharing what works, influencing policy, developing new thinking and helping to implement new approaches.

And with the dust now settling on the Autumn Statement and spending review, it feels like this couldn’t come at a better time.  For ERSA members, its all change. We don’t know how much money will be going to new employment support provision but it’ll be a much more complex and fragmented system of provision in the future. However there is no space for low performance, the government’s ambitions are greater than ever: to see through its welfare reforms, implement Universal Credit, achieve full employment and halve the gap in employment for disabled people. 

Can the government transform the labour market and welfare system while the DWP reduces its spend on programmes and changes how those are delivered?  In our view, probably not – even allowing for the new money for Jobcentre Plus.  But the ambitions on employment and disabled people are the right ones, and we think that together we can go a long way towards achieving real change.  In our view, there are three priorities:

First, making localisation work.  This hasn’t always been a smooth process but there are clear successes that we can build on.  Ingeus and the Big Life Company delivering in Manchester; PeoplePlus delivering MyGo; APM in London; and so on.  In my view the big prize of devolution still eludes us – a proper local integration and alignment of objectives, governance, funding and delivery.  But we are now learning enough to have a good go at setting out how we can and should achieve that integration.  We at Learning & Work are evaluating all of the programmes mentioned above and many of you are delivering them.  Together we can develop the framework for localisation that will mean that we can invest more and achieve more for those furthest from work.  Indeed one of our first publications, Local People, Local Growth, sets out the need for a new focus on outcomes in order to make devolution work effectively.

Secondly, doing what works.  Through the Fit for Purpose project, we worked with many ERSA members to research what works and then set out how government and the industry could transform support for disabled people and those with health conditions.  The new Health and Work Programme gives us the opportunity to fix many of the problems that have beset the Work Programme in supporting these groups – around the funding model, how participants access support, needs assessment, integration with health and other services, and often the quality and appropriateness of the support being delivered.

And finally, filling the gaps in what we know.  The last few years have also demonstrated that we often don’t know what works, or don’t know well enough.  We called for an innovation fund to help to fill these gaps, and to put rocket boosters behind what have so far been incremental and often small scale trials.  It’s great news that the new Work and Health joint unit will have a fund of over £100 million to do just this.  We want to work with you on designing and implementing these new ideas – around supporting those at risk of leaving work, intervening earlier for those off work, delivering more specialist and integrated services, and improving access to wider support (in particular apprenticeships, traineeships and advanced learner loans).  

It’s clear now that the next few years are going to be tough – for providers, for public servants and for those out of work and claiming benefits.  But we want to be ambitious for the future, and together we can achieve so much more than we can apart.  Just as we did as Inclusion and NIACE, we want to work with ERSA and all of you to achieve real change.

By Tony Wilson, Director of Policy and Research, Learning and Work Institute