At the heart of every person, there is a natural desire to work. But the way that the current UK welfare reforms impact on the people they affect breeds disillusionment and dampens this desire.
Social enterprises are rooted in communities and adopt a social mindset in harmony with business strategies – and are therefore best placed to address unemployment. But how? They do it by focusing on people’s ability to overcome barriers to employment rather than the barrier itself.
Those responsible for welfare reform appear as distant policy-makers with threadbare ties to the individuals affected. The result is that the welfare debate has become politicised and is unhelpfully dividing public opinion, as many genuine people on benefits are demonised, with a detrimental impact on those in poverty.
This huge disconnection sees many people being pushed into work, while benefits are taken away and pressure is applied without the required support to confront the barriers that stand in their way. This leaves people disillusioned as they remain burdened with their barrier. The probable outcome is that the issue repeats itself, proving costly to the individual concerned – and to society and the economy.
We can offer a constructive way of supporting people to improve their lives and realise their potential, while at the same time employing a sustainable business model. Social enterprises can see people becoming an asset to not just themselves, but to society and to the economy. This can be achieved by connecting people with a sense of purpose. Supporting people to realise and engage with their purpose is key to barriers being overcome and lives being transformed.
Social enterprises are grounded in the experiences of communities and people who face periods of hardship or crisis. They are not distanced from poverty like some in public life and they solve the issues welfare reform poses by reforming lives and not welfare.
As chief executive of a social enterprise, I’m well aware of the people they typically engage with. At New Start Highland, we engage with people in the most challenging of circumstances who are largely failed by the design and delivery of the current Work Programme.
This year alone, New Start Highland has projected that 130 individuals it supports will secure mainstream, sustainable employment. This is achieved through training programmes and person-centred employment skills coaching. This is an example of how social enterprises can achieve better outcomes and how they work in a better, more sustainable and holistic way to address unemployment.
Nobody I’ve met enjoys being unemployed. It is at best unproductive and at worse dangerously demoralising. But constructive support is key to sustainable life change. One of the people I have worked with, Sarah, vocalised this after she completed one of our training programmes before finding full-time employment.
She said: “I was no self-doubter… but I struggled to maintain the confidence enough to realise my potential. I knew at the back of my head that I had all of the capabilities needed to work but just needed that extra bit of support after seven years out of work.”
Part of what social enterprises do is create a workforce for our partners in the private sector to employ – one that is not a product of quick fixes but of lasting solutions. Sustainable outcomes are achieved by focusing on people’s ability to overcome barriers rather than the barrier itself.
Lasting solutions are important in this time of shrinking resources. It’s important that we enable people to become active contributors to their communities – and to be transformed from relying on benefits to putting something into our country’s economy.
One of Scotland’s most expensive problems is unemployment. Through social enterprise we can not only find a long-term solution to unemployment, but make significant, positive changes in people’s lives. This is not done simply for profit, but rather a desire to make our country a better place with an added economic value.
It may not be a quick fix or politically fashionable but the basis of a social enterprise is to engage with one person at a time. The benefits of this are far-reaching – and most importantly it works. With support from the business structure of a social enterprise, people become their own biggest asset and a positive contributor to society, the economy – and more importantly themselves.
• James Dunbar is a board director of Social Enterprise Scotland and chief executive of New Start Highland, www.socialenterprisescotland.org.uk