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Lobbying

About Our Lobbying Work

Why Social Firms UK gets involved in lobbying work
As the saying goes “The only certainty is change”. Economic, political and social change all have an impact on Social Firms - who they’re in business for and how well they do. Social Firms UK wants to see change for the good, with strong and successful Social Firms providing more opportunities for people who face the greatest barriers to work. Our vision is “to be the voice of Social Firms, encouraging, supporting and facilitating growth in the sector.” So our lobbying work is focused on making sure that “the voice of Social Firms”, is heard; that our messages are understood and that their impact really does help the Social Firm sector to grow so it can offer more jobs.

How this is done
Our focus so far has been to:
• Raise awareness of the Social Firm model.
• Demonstrate its effectiveness
• Influence government policy in order to create more opportunities for Social Firms to:
• start up
• be successful

• We’ve done this by prioritising our key audiences and tailoring our approaches to them.
• Priority has been government departments because they have been reviewing policies that have a major impact on Social Firms. In particular:
• Department for Work and Pensions ( policy responsibility for Welfare Reform; Specialist Employment Support for Disabled People; and contracting for employment support programmes)
• Department for Communities and Local Government (shift in focus from national to local funding streams; new targets on employment for people with mental health problems or learning disabilities)
• Ministry of Justice (National Offenders Management Service (ex offenders fall within the Social Firm definition of “severe disadvantage”. We need to increase our expertise in this area and to look for practical partnerships, particularly with the National Offender Management Service (ie Prisons and Probation)).
• Department of Health ( policy responsibility for learning disability and mental health strategies and individualised budgets. These are all relevant to many Social Firms and their employees)
• Office of the Third Sector ( champions for the social enterprise sector within government and they have chosen us as a strategic partner to promote Social Firms’ interests).

What Social Firms UK is specifically lobbying for
• Recognition that the Social Firms model is a cost effective way to enable people at most disadvantage in the labour market to work.
• A fund to provide specialist support for Social Firms start ups
• Removal of business rates for Social Firms
• [Tax and NI breaks for firms where disabled people comprise over 25% of the staff.]
• Simplified benefit system

Other policy work that Social Firms UK does
• Explore ways to increase the evidence base of Social Firms’ effectiveness e.g.Social Return on Investment/ social accounting etc.
• Explore ways in which Social Firms can get more public sector contracts (tendering processes, Working Neighbourhood Fund, sub contracting for employment support).
• Develop template policies as a resource for our members eg policies for working with vulnerable adults.

What Social Firms UK's policy work has achieved
• Contract up to 2011 from OTS that has increased Social Firms UK’s capacity to develop initiatives for members benefits eg the Visit Programme .
• Greater understanding of the Social Firm model amongst national and local policy and decision makers – this is a slow and ongoing process but it is an essential prerequisite to more tangible outcomes.
• Greater awareness of the Social Firms sector so that its needs are more likely to be taken into account eg in subcontracting for employment support contracts, or access to other public funds/contracts.
• Greater recognition of Social Firms UK which opens doors to identifying opportunities to promote the interests of Social Firms and the Social Firm sector.

How all this can make a difference to you
We can make the most difference if we work together. Please take part in our surveys, consultations and conferences - let us know what you think and what you need. We can then focus our campaigns on what matters most to you.

If you have any questions or comments, please contact Di on 01737 763 750 or email

Recent Lobbying Work & Publications

Social Firms UK’s response to the call for evidence for the Employment Strategy for people with learning difficulties (Mar 2009)

In summary, Social Firms UK called for the Employment Strategy to include action

•    that makes work accessible. Simplify forms and offer support with job applications. Offer training that suits people’s needs.

•    Review and simplify benefits system so that transition to work doesn’t result in financial disadvantage, and then,

•    ensure that accurate and accessible information on benefits and tax credits is available to demonstrate that work actually does pay more than benefits.

•    Achieve greater use of work preparation and work experience, with a clear route towards paid employment.

•    Provide finance to extend the Social Firms sector’s capacity and potential to do this by offering  work experience opportunities and real paid jobs.

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Social Firms UK’s input to the Third Sector Recession Action Plan ( Jan 2009)
Social Firms UK told the Office of the Third Sector about a range of actions that would help Social Firms. These covered access to finance; prompt payment and access to public sector contracts; rate relief; intermediate labour market support; and contributions to support costs for Social Firms.

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Social Firms UK’s position statement on the Working Neighbourhood Fund and input to the Houghton report on “Tackling Worklessness”  (Jan 2009)
The Working Neighbourhood Fund is being directed at the most deprived local areas. Councillor Houghton was commissioned to report on the best ways it can be used to tackle worklessness.

Social Firms UK highlights that the employment rate for people at most disadvantage because they have, for example,  a learning disability or a mental health problem for example,  can be higher than the general employment rate for people in disadvantaged neighbourhoods. We underline the importance of local decision making bodies reaching out to local providers to realise the potential for more jobs and more trading opportunities. We agree with Cllr Houghton’s interim report that far sharper focus needs to be applied to employment, skills and enterprise in Local Area Agreements.

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Social Firms UK’s position the making receipt of Invalidity Benefit or Employment Support allowance “conditional” on active job seeking. (Dec 2008)

In July 2008 the Government commissioned Prof Paul Gregg to review what role sanctions can and should play in motivating people to take advantage of back-to-work support.

In its position paper on sanctions, Social Firms UK argues that there are a range of factors that can impact on whether a person at disadvantage in the labour market can get work. All relevant factors should be taken into account before applying sanctions.

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Social Firms UK’s response to DWP consultation “ No one written off – Reforming welfare to reward responsibility”   (October 2008)

This consultation set out the Government’s plans increase the numbers of people getting work. By 2013, people will either be on Job Seekers Allowance (JSA), or the Employment Support Allowance (ESA). Emphasis will be on what people can do and, where relevant, this will be tested by a new medical assessment. People with severe disabilities will get more cash under ESA.  Others who qualify for the benefit will be placed in a “work” category and will receive personalised back-to-work support to help them prepare for work and overcome any barriers they face. It will be made clear to this group that ESA is a temporary situation to help them get fit to return to work.

The proposals also include streamlining the benefit system, moving lone parents with children under seven on to JSA and offering more support to prepare them for work.

The conditions attached to receiving JSA will also be strengthened with a “work for benefits” scheme for the long-term unemployed. People unemployed for over two years and those abusing the system could be forced to take part in full-time activity such as community work at any point in their claim.  People will have to train to get their job skills and drug users would be required to seek treatment or could lose their benefits.

In our response, Social Firms UK criticises the absence in the proposal of any form of support for job creation, which many people at disadvantage in the labour market need, particularly at a time of economic downturn. We express concern about “Work for your Benefit” proposals along with others, where we see a considerable risk that the outcome will not be what was intended. We welcome the commitment to increase Access to Work funding and more individualised support for people seeking work but flag up that this must be provided by fully trained and experienced advisors.
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Working Neighbourhood Fund - Social Firms UK's Position Statement (January 2009)

Social Firms UK has fed into the interim "Tackling Worklessness" report that Claire Dove (Chair of the Social Enterprise Coalition) with Councillor Stephen Houghton (Leader of the Labour Group at Barnsley Metropolitan Borough Council) has submitted to Hazel Blears. The final report is due to be published by the end of March 2009. Social Firms UK's position statement here shows what Social Firms UK sees as some key issues raised by Working Neighbourhood Fund as well as our comments on the "Tackling Worklessness" interim report.

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Social Firms UK's response to DWP's "No one written off" Welfare To Work reform consultation (20 October 2008)

In its consultation on Welfare to Work Reform the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) proposes that, apart from severely disabled people, or those with full-time caring responsibilities, the government expects everyone receiving benefits to take active steps towards employment and to take up suitable employment. They are introducing skills assessments and will make it compulsory for people receiving Job Seekers Allowance to take up training if the assessment shows that they need it. (They are consulting on whether training should be compulsory for people receiving Invalidity Benefit). They propose that people on JSA for more than 2 years will be required to take up unpaid work in the community. With the introduction of the Employment Support Allowance, people who are assessed as being in the Work Related Activity Group will be required to participate in Work Focussed Interviews and will receive personalised support to gain work. People in the Support Group will be able to access this support if they wish. Access to Work funding will be doubled and the government has since announced that some of this funding will be used to help support people to stay in work, as well as being used to help people back into work.

In our response we have stressed that the Government needs to focus on increasing jobs and other employment opportunities because relying on job placement activities for people at most disadvantage in the labour market will not be sufficient in a deteriorating economic climate. Investment in Social Firms is more pertinent than ever. We have welcomed the increase in Access to Work funding, and have called for greater flexibility in the way that it can be used, for example, to be pooled to fund a support worker if an organisation has a collective need. We have urged clarity and caution about how any “work for your benefit” programme is designed, in order to avoid stigmatising those people who are on the programme and voluntary workers more generally. Related to this we have asked the Government to clarify the statutory rights and responsibilities of volunteers and the organisations they work for. We have emphasised that personalised support should be just that – employment advisers need to be fully trained and have access to expert advice so that they offer support that is appropriate and timely according to individual needs.

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Social Firms UK’s response to the Department for Communities and Local Government’s consultation on a Third Sector Partnership Board (August 2008)

The Department for Communities and Local Government (CLG) is setting up a Third Sector Partnership Board to provide them with strategic advice on the design, development, implementation and evaluation of their activities. In our response we stress the importance of the social enterprise sector being represented, in addition to representatives of the voluntary and community sectors. We also point out that the Board’s remit must be clear, and that the work of this board should complement and not overlap with the activities of similar boards in other government departments. We see that this board can provide opportunities to gain greater recognition for the role social enterprises are already playing and to find ways to overcome barriers that constrain social enterprise and Social Firms at a local level.

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Social Firms UK’s Response To DWP’s Consultation “Improving Specialist Disability Employment Services” (March 2008)

DWP is proposing to streamline the Job Introduction Scheme, Work Preparation and WORKSTEP into a single flexible programme. The concepts that are shaping the proposals are

• a greater focus on those who need specialist support;

• less prescription and greater flexibility;

• better links between elements of the provision;

• better consistency and quality of provision;

• provision for all types of disability;

• a greater focus on job entries;

• improved support for people in work;

• improved progression to unsupported employment; and

• improved progression within longer-term supported employment.

They are also seeking views on the role supported businesses should play in providing employment for disabled people, whether changes should be made to Access to Work funding, and the role of the Jobcentre Plus Disability Employment Advisors.

In its response, Social Firms UK generally supports the move towards a single flexible programme. We highlight the unique role Social Firms can and do play and flag up the need to create supportive working environments for people who face particular barriers to employment in the open labour market. We call for continued flexibility in Access to Work funding and we do not see that increased contributions from small organisations can be justified. We want to more, better trained Disability Employment Advisors.

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Social Firms UK’s Response To The Department Of Health’s Consultation “Valuing People Now” And Its Proposals For The Learning Disability Agenda For 2008 – 2011 (March 2008)
Department of Health has put forward it priorities as personalisation; what people do during the day (with a focus on paid work); better health; housing that people want and need; and making sure change happens.

Social Firms UK has highlighted how the Social Firm model fulfils their aspirations for paid work for people with a learning disability. We call on the Government to give greater recognition to Social Firms and support the growth of the sector.
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Social Firms UK’s Response To DWP Commissioning Strategy (February 2008)
Following the publication of its Green Paper on Welfare Reform “In Work, Better Off” DWP has been drawing up a strategy on how it will commission employment support programmes. It favours moving towards a position where it has large contracts with a small number of prime contractors. They in turn will subcontract with smaller or more specialist providers. In its response, Social Firms UK highlights the role that Social Firms play in providing employment and employment support for people furthest from the open labour market and flags up the need to support job creation as well as employment support. We include a proposal aimed at helping the Social Firm sector to grow and highlight ways in which the needs of Social Firms should be taken into account in any future contracting arrangements.

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Social Firms UK’s Response To “Principles For Representation: A Framework For Effective Third Sector Participation In Local Strategic Partnerships” (February 2008)

This discussion paper http://www.communities.gov.uk/publications/communities/principlesofrepresentation
sets out some principles that are aimed at assisting third sector bodies to come together to form networks and act as the collective voice for the sector in a local area. The principles are not intended to be a blueprint, but try to offer a framework which can be adapted according to local circumstances. Social Firms UK’s response explains what Social Firms are and the impact they can have on local social and economic wellbeing. It highlights the need for Local Strategic Partnerships to be aware of the Social Firms in their area.
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Response To New Developments In Government Support For Skills Training And Benefits (3 December 07)
The government’s latest policy announcement, “Opportunity, Employment And Progression: Making Skills Work” heralds a new range of steps aimed at enabling people to get into work and then to develop their skills at work. Changes are to be made to rules on incapacity benefit and eligibility for Pathways to Work, and the “Train to Gain” funding available for employers is to be extended.

Full details have yet to be announced, but highlights include:
- For employers, funding for “Train to Gain” will be expanded from
£440m to £1.1m by 2010, it will be made more flexible and extended to the voluntary sector, and will also be available for training by employers making pre-release job offers to offenders.
- A legal right for adults to training for basic and intermediate skills and
qualifications will be set out in the Education and Skills Bill, which is scheduled for debate in this parliamentary session.
- A commitment to ensure that people on incapacity benefits are
better off in work even after reasonable transport costs.
- Mandatory “skills health check” for people entering and remaining
on Employment and Support Allowance (the allowance being introduced from October 2008 for people who would have previously been eligible for incapacity benefit)
- A commitment to test out improved support for people with mental health problems seeking work
- Opening eligibility for Pathways to Work to people under 25
- Removing the “16 hour rule” in Housing Benefit for short term recipients of incapacity benefit
- Targeting public investment in the Foundation Learning Tier, Skills for Life (Literacy, numeracy and ESL) and Level 2 training provision on people on benefits or seeking work.
- New “Skills Accounts” will be available to people in or out of work, offering a “virtual voucher of state funding” to purchase relevant learning at an accredited, quality assured provider of their choice.
- A range of support for lone parents
Read the whole document (30 pages) at: http://www.dwp.gov.uk/welfarereform/making-skills-work.pdf
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Response To Government Consultation Paper, 'In Work Better Off' (October 2007)
The government recently brought out a consultation paper called 'In Work Better Off'. The paper sets out that the Government’s aim is to reduce the number of people on Incapacity Benefit by 1million, enable 300,000 more lone parents to get work and increase the employment rate of older people by 1 million. The consultation focuses on employment support.

From Social Firms UK’s point of view, these proposals are limited in that they focus primarily on supporting people to find jobs in the open labour market, through advice, skills training and the use of incentives. However, Social Firms UK sent a response to the DWP in October 2007 that highlights what Social Firms are all about and offers ideas on changes that could be made and how Social Firms UK could play a positive role in this.
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Position Statement On Welfare Reform, The David Freud Paper & The Social Firm Sector (May 2007)
Social Firms UK and Social Firms Scotland have presented to the government, a position statement on welfare reform, the David Freud paper and the Social Firm sector. The statement requests that social enterprise be one of the solutions the government adopts to help those furthest from the labour market into work.
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Response By Social Firms UK To The DWP's Welfare Reform Seminar (March 2007)
This document shows the response by Sally Reynolds of Social Firms UK to the high profile seminar on Welfare Reform held in London on 26 March 2007.
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In Business For Good: The Social Firm Solution To Employability (December 2006)
This report, produced in December 2006, calls for support to grow the Social Firm sector to create more jobs for people who do not get an opportunity to work in mainstream employment. It is hoped that this document will be widely used to influence policy and persuade others to use Social Firms as a solution to the employability needs of disadvantaged people.
Summary Report
Full Report

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Social Firms UK Response To The Comprehensive Spending Review Consultation On The Future Role Of The Third Sector In Social And Economic Regeneration (11 October 2006)
In this paper, Sally Reynolds, Chief Executive of Social Firms UK outlines the issues faced by the Social Firm sector and recommends solutions.
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Social Firms UK's & Social Firms Scotland's Responses To The Welfare Reform Green Paper (April 2006)
In April 2006, Social Firms UK and Social Firms Scotland sent responses to the Welfare Reform Green Paper to the Department of Work & Pensions. The paper, entitled 'A new deal for welfare: empowering people to work' was launched for consultation on 24th January 2006. It contained major new proposals to help individuals achieve their potential through work and presents significant opportunity for Social Firms and social enterprise.
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Instances Of Social Firms Being Mentioned In Government Publications
A profile of Social Firms was included in a recent Treasury report called, "The Future Role Of The Third Sector In Social & Economic Regeneration: Final Report".

Lobbying

 
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