The end of the UK furlough scheme is set to create a wave of redundancies across the nation and the Midlands will not be immune: it is poised for a “significant bump in unemployment”, according to Adrian Smith, Corporate Director of Place at Nottingham County Council. The issue is a pressing one, he said: “There are people who have been out of work for over six months. That’s bad for their confidence and their mental health.” Unemployment in Birmingham alone doubled to 81,000 people over the past six months, the panellists noted.
The new wave of unemployed people may mean that those already out of work will get left further behind. They called for more pathways to employment in the Midlands, a greater number of government grants for employers, and increased support for organisations that provide training and back-to- work programmes. “Let’s make sure we’re targeting skills development in communities that can benefit most,” added Jeremy Cohen, Head of Responsible Business at the National Grid.
Sustainability must not be put on the backburner, according to the roundtable participants. Cohen said that sustainability should be at the heart of the economic recovery in the Midlands. “We need to look at sustainability as the core driving job creation,” he said. “National Grid has identified 40,000 jobs needed to reach net zero in the UK and will be training young people from lower income communities to take on those jobs.”
“We need systemic reskilling to achieve the UK’s carbon emissions targets,” added Imandeep Kaur, founder of Civic Square, which invests in civic infrastructure to create the neighbourhoods of the future. “We need to rebuild the ecology, otherwise we are just sleepwalking into multiple crises.” Building new sustainable homes and implementing retrofitting programmes are key, she added.
The panellists said that the mental health of young people should be a priority for government and Midlands organisations, because the youth has been badly affected by the pandemic. “Organisations that work with young people need to be mindful how they speak to those people,” said Cordell Jeffers, a young entrepreneur and coach. “They need to show them people who have gone through tough times and found opportunity. Around 44% of young people now have lower aspirations for the future. It’s important to show them that tough times could help young people to become more resilient.” Jeffers also said that companies and social enterprises needed to do more to show young people the opportunities and support are available. Many are unaware of what’s out there, he said.
“People in the poorest quality housing will be worst affected by COVID especially in winter,” noted Smith. He warned that action must be taken swiftly. The panellists all agreed that the housing crisis was a significant barrier to an inclusive economy across the Midlands. A third of children in the West Midlands live in poverty, according to research by Loughborough University4, which also found that child poverty has risen fastest in that region, compared to the rest of the UK, over the past four years. The COVID-19 outbreak has “shone a light on the parts of the economy that haven’t benefited from economic improvement”, said Smith. He added that the inequality gap has been magnified, and warned that a shortage of public funds is making it hard for local authorities to tackle the issue.
Strong transport links and robust local infrastructure are key to an inclusive economy. The West Midlands Combined Authority has created a programme to help invest across the region, following the “doughnut economics” model, created by economist Kate Raworth, a visual framework for sustainable development.
Fostering citizenship at a young age
The Birmingham Civic Society (BCS) has created the Next Generation Awards to encourage school children to take an active part in their local communities. Teams of 11-14 year-olds solve challenges in their local community, supported by their schools. Over the past 14 years, more than 30,000 children have taken part. BCS also has another initiative, Permission to Smile, which encourages community spirit by working with local organisations, such as churches and GP surgeries.
Supporting vulnerable children
Vulnerability 360 is an online resource that is working to reengineer the way society thinks of poor and marginalised people, especially children, by publicising reports and research that break down stereotypes.
The power of partnerships
Leicestershire Cares is a charity that works to create partnerships across the public, private and third sectors to “contribute to the growth of inclusive, safe communities and to support and inspire children and young people in their transition to the workplace”. This year, it has set up a ‘Coronakindness’ campaign, bringing together businesses and social enterprises to help vulnerable people across the county.
Focus on supporting unemployed people across the regions to re-skill in rising sectors, such as the green economy. Put sustainability at the core of driving job creation and recovery.
Tackle digital exclusion by ensuring all people have access to online services. Repurpose equipment or provide devices and data to those who need it most.
Work in partnerships across sectors and organisations to maximise the impact of local, community programmes – through funding and scaling – such as those working to eradicate poverty on-the-ground across the Midlands.