With ongoing pandemic lockdowns causing economic misery and uncertainty, many people are facing the prospect of unemployment or a big loss in hours or income, either right now or in the future.
With new Scottish and UK Government employment programmes being launched, alongside furlough and other financial support, there’s certainly been some positive action and a recognition of the jobs crisis.
But what is the emerging reality in this new context and how can we create jobs and support people into employment? What opportunities are there?
Before the pandemic lockdown there were already a number of important employment and employability programmes on offer. Fair Start Scotland is the scheme to help mainly excluded groups gain employment with practical support.
There’s also Community Jobs Scotland, specifically designed to facilitate job opportunities for young people within social enterprise and voluntary sector organisations. These programmes are now increasingly vital.
The key issue for social enterprises is about ensuring they get as many opportunities as possible to take part in and benefit from employment schemes - and therefore help more people get into sustainable jobs. The role of social enterprises has already been well established but much more can be achieved.
Jayne Chapell of Scotland’s Employability Social Enterprise Network says: “Work Integration Social Enterprises, including Supported Businesses, have a fundamental role to play in addressing the impending unemployment crisis caused by Covid-19, by improving employability and also, crucially, in creating jobs. WISEs provide genuine person-centred and flexible support for those who are at real risk of being further left behind in the labour market.”
The UK Government recently launched the Kickstart programme to tackle youth unemployment in the wake of the current economic challenge. The Scottish Government has also now launched The Young Person’s Guarantee scheme. Both schemes have pledged to complement and integrate with each other, as they seek to provide real opportunities and tackle unemployment.
Improving employability and skills and creating jobs are of course essential at the current time. But the more fundamental question is about the nature of work itself. As economic crises occur, remote and flexible working is normalised and automation increases, the labour market may become increasingly unpredictable.
People are also questioning what work means and whether we can provide goods and services in a better, more sustainable and ethical way, with different models of delivery. This is where social enterprises can have an increasingly important role.
Alongside these immediate challenges of job creation and employability, we must consider longer-term solutions to build a better economy. Due to lockdown we’ve all now experienced an economy that actually collapses when we only consume what we need. There’s increasing awareness that this system, alongside old measurements like GDP, are not fit for purpose in terms of the impact on our real lives and the planet.
The question we should ask is how do we build an economy that provides the basics of life for everyone? A wellbeing economy that tackles the climate emergency and where everyone has a human right to food, housing and energy (just like we already have with healthcare). What about Universal Basic Services or a Universal Basic Income for everyone? How can social enterprise lead in these areas?
These previously radical ideas are now becoming mainstream within the stark realities of a pandemic, furlough schemes and a looming employment challenge. Ensuring that social enterprises are at the heart of robust employment solutions is a good start. The question then turns to what role we can play in the emerging, bigger movement for economic justice.
Duncan Thorp, Social Enterprise Scotland