Boosting enterprise in more deprived areas.

What do you think:

  • Is social media a good way of gaining information about deprived people?
  • If you want to improve a service, do you start with the customers or the process?
  • Is the rug being pulled from the majority of New Enterprise Allowance “successes” who still aren’t gainfully employed but have replaced benefits with Working Tax Credits?

 

Really disappointing review about improving self-employment support in deprived areas: virtually no consideration of the characteristics of the people who live there.  There will be high numbers of people with long-term health conditions/disabilities, some specific ethnic minority groups, many with no formal qualifications, many with low literacy, most on minimal income etc.  And for these people, self-employment may be the only way out of benefits dependency when facing lots of prejudice and problems trying to get a job.  The review is far more about process than people so doesn’t really explore how that help should be more flexible and tailored to their needs.  Which may be why NEA data shows such a low level of disabled people using this service when, as a proportion of those claiming benefits, their numbers should be far higher – as working disabled people are more likely to be self-employed than our non-disabled peers, it just proves we are still forced to manage by ourselves. And who really thinks that “research” conducted by social media is reliable?

Most telling is the comment on the New Enterprise Allowance which has created over 75,000 businesses (which is great unless you are one of about half who started down this route and didn’t succeed).    Some 58% have a turnover of under £1,000 per month –meaning their incomes will be even lower once cost of sales is deducted.  So they may face difficulties when also receiving Working Tax Credits or Universal Credit – they should be creating enough profit to pay themselves the National Minimum Wage to be eligible (presumably the national living wage from 1 April?).  As the powers that be enforce this, there are likely to be new businesses that just fade away.  NEA may have been good at getting people off benefits when they could supplement low business income with Working Tax Credits/Universal Credit but that’s not going to continue.

NEA is also seeing a decline in participation and business starts – doubtless closely linked to the overall improving employment situation (although NEA business starts have still declined faster as have the numbers able to gain business loans).  So this is perfect timing for provision to be much better focussed on all those unemployed and economically inactive people with long-term health conditions/disabilities who are by far the largest number of benefit claimants.    NEA has had its honeymoon period with weak/no data about the quality of service, equality of successes, commercial viability and sustainability of the businesses started.  NEA has rolled on the increase in self-employment that follows any recession, taken a lot of easy wins and now needs to pay back by supporting those hardest to help (results for some ethnic minority groups are also woefully low).

So this is a report that offers rather selective information plus somewhat polite comment on the shortcomings of NEA in supporting the most deprived people – but without really considering those people themselves.  Quite amazing when the report itself lauds good support: “A shift from focusing first on detailed business planning to customer testing” but itself ignores the customers!

And, of course, I’m snippy about it: the report doesn’t acknowledge the information we submitted and didn’t follow through on the meeting arranged with us.  Bah humbug!

 

Penny Melville-Brown

Disability Dynamics ltd www.disabilitydynamics.co.uk

Helping disabled people to work since 2000

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