The communities worst hit by Covid job losses should be empowered to lead their own recovery | Unemployment

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More than 670,000 jobs in the UK have been lost since the start of the year. A second lockdown in England will undoubtedly send many more organisations to the wall and others will no doubt follow when the extended furlough scheme comes to an end.

Some aspects of this jobs crisis are well understood. It is hitting young and poorly paid people hardest, and is concentrated in industries most affected by Covid restrictions such as hotels, restaurants and bars. But not enough attention is paid to where in the country jobs are most likely to be lost.

Research by the Communities in Charge campaign gives an indication. Our report Communities Work shows that neighbourhoods with existing job shortages are more than twice as likely as the average neighbourhood to be at high risk of job losses associated with the pandemic.

These “double distress” areas are concentrated in seaside towns from Blackpool and Hull to Great Yarmouth and also in parts of big cities such as Liverpool and Manchester. These are places, already cut off from the wider employment market, now find that many of their existing jobs are at risk of disappearing.

Yet our research also found that “double distress” areas are also twice as likely as the average neighbourhood to play host to community-led groups running enterprise parks, cafes, leisure and educational services and so much more. They were often set up by local people to bring investment into the area and help people to lead fulfilled lives. And they are custom-made to help tackle the jobs crisis where it is most acute.

In Grimsby, for instance, Centre4 set up a programme called the Ethical Recruitment Agency, which offers jobs, training and volunteering opportunities not by getting people to fill out forms, but by really understanding them.

In the words of Rachel Button, who works for the agency: “The skill is about talking to people, establishing an understanding of their needs – having a heart-to-heart about their aspirations, their personal skills and job skills, and about their life and any barriers they face.”

That commitment to relationships allows organisations like Centre4 and the Annexe in Hartlepool, a community business run by the Wharton Trust, to build deep knowledge of their communities. And it is that knowledge, more than anything else, that needs to be harnessed.

These resourceful organisations, working hard to create jobs and volunteering opportunities, to build up people’s skills and to connect them to the wider jobs market, should play a key role in tackling the coming jobs crisis. But they are often under-resourced and face a lack of investment – never more so than now, as they face a second lockdown.

The government has a chance to harness their power of community when the long-promised Shared Prosperity Fund replaces EU funding for local economic regeneration.

The danger, however, is that yet again policymakers fail to learn the lessons of the past and centralise, not localise. There is a serious risk that the multibillion-pound shared prosperity fund will be run in the same way that regeneration programmes are usually run – controlled by Whitehall or distant bodies such as Local Enterprise Partnerships that can never really understand the needs of double distress neighbourhoods. If that happens, there are likely to be lots of shiny new infrastructure projects, which make good photo opportunities for politicians but don’t help local people to get jobs.

Instead, community organisations should be put directly in charge of the Shared Prosperity Fund. Only they know those neighbourhoods that are most in need of good jobs and how best to spend this money. They need to have a strategic role in building more prosperous local economies, and be given the tools to succeed.

We all face huge uncertainty and challenges in the coming months and years. The wave of joblessness that is heading our way can feel overwhelming. But our analysis shows those communities that will be hardest hit have the skills and expertise to meet these challenges at the local level. The government must trust them, put them in charge and unlock the passion, skills and knowledge that exist in every neighbourhood.

Tony Armstrong is the chief executive of Locality, a national network of community organisations

Hafta Ichi
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: The communities worst hit by Covid job losses should be empowered to lead their own recovery | Unemployment

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