Connecting Members in the Midlands – blog from Jenny Jackson, Futures
Jenny Jackson, Employability Officer at Futures Housing Group co-chairs the Midlands Housing and Employment (MHEF) with Julie Haywood of whg. This is for regional employment support staff from social housing organisations to connect and share best practice. Its meeting on 29 April was the first since the coronavirus crisis and was held online. Here Jenny shares some of the key points from their discussion.
It was the best attended meeting we’ve ever had with 21 participants from 19 different organisations. Previously the MHEF met quarterly, in either the East or West Midlands but we plan to hold monthly online meetings now, as people are keen to collaborate.
Communities that Work and HACT support the forum, so we were joined by Lynsey Sweeney, MD of Communities that Work to discuss the new APPG and Taskforce, and Rob Sugden of the Centre for Excellence in Community Investment to talk about their new impact measures.
How services are adapting
The biggest priority for all our organisations is the safety and welfare of residents, particularly the most vulnerable. Since the start of lockdown, calls have been made to thousands of tenants to find out what help was needed, and huge efforts made to get food and welfare packs to them as soon as possible.
Most employment support teams are checking in with their regular caseload by telephone. Before, the focus of contact with a customer was on job search, now these calls are a way to find out how they are coping generally. Nottingham City Homes shared their checklist for these calls which covers all aspects of a customer’s health, wellbeing, family life and finances.
With social distancing ending all face-to-face meetings, all forum members have expanded their digital offer for customers. Not all clients can afford a laptop or internet access or have the skills to use these, so there is a question about how to support this group of residents.
At Futures Housing, we have been working in an agile way for over two years which has helped our switch to home working. Our website now includes many more self-help resources, ‘how to’ guides to applying for essential work roles and assistance with Skype interviews. Other forum members have set up virtual job clubs, given training e.g. on interviews through Zoom and Microsoft teams, and developed targeted employability newsletters to offer support and guidance. Clarion have been delivering SIA and CSCS Card training virtually and have also helped 70 of their customers into essential worker roles, which is fantastic!
Issues and challenges
We have all seen a big rise in demand for support with Universal Credit claims. At Futures, we’re working with our Money Advice team to establish whether this is as a direct result of CV-19. We want to understand how it has affected them and find out what they need.
Vacancies have mainly dried up and those that are left might not always be appropriate. There is a big gap between supply and demand – with fewer and less varied jobs, and more people applying for the same vacancies. There were some positive examples of getting people into work from Clarion and Nottingham City Homes which was great to hear.
Building a working relationship with customers is easier face to face, so there was a question about how to develop levels of engagement. Falling numbers and reduced referrals could affect services funding/ delivery.
We all expect to continue providing remote support in some form for the next 12-18 months and will do our best to keep as many participants engaged as possible.
Over the next weeks and months, the forum expect the need for support to rise. When companies have to stop furloughing employees, are they going to survive? We may have to deal with residents affected by a new wave of redundancies, which could lead to being inundated with referrals, and pressure on staff and resources. Or there might be falling numbers as people aren’t aware of the support available, are disengaged or fearful about working. Residents who themselves or whose family members have underlying health needs are understandably scared to apply for jobs where they might by working with others e.g. in a supermarket or care setting.
It is likely to change the type of people we help and how we support them. A high proportion of our current customers face significant barriers to employment, but many new clients may have only just lost a job after years of working. At Futures, we are looking at adapting our service to meet the needs of this group who have traditionally not heard of or used the service.
There were common themes on how employability services need to be pro-active about supporting customers after lockdown ends. New procedures are needed to ensure registrations continue and that the right outcome evidence and associated paperwork is complete. We also need to stay in contact with partners and services to ensure past working commitments and ongoing partnerships continue.
Thanks to everyone who attended the meeting and shared their information. We welcome new members to the Forum, so if you are a housing provider based in the Midlands, contact me by email: email@example.com
The next meeting will be on Thursday 28th May 2020 11am-12 noon. Register here: https://bit.ly/3fQZj8t