The last year has heralded massive changes to the way we live and work. Millions of those in work have seen huge changes in the way they do their jobs, learning how to reduce Covid risks in the workplace, or carry out their job from home via video calls and remote working. Millions of others, however, have been out of work throughout this time – creating a growing gap with the new skills required in the workplace. Some jobs are starting to come back, but how many? In what areas? And will people whose jobs don’t return be able to find work in new areas?
Peabody Index background and findings
As a London-based housing association with over 150,000 social housing residents, Peabody has long been interested in helping our residents into stable employment with a living wage. Our Peabody Index reports track employment among our residents, comparing them with broader measures in London and throughout the UK, publishing updates throughout the pandemic.
Job vacancies in London are recovering, but they are sill 14% below pre-pandemic levels, compared with vacancies back to normal levels (or higher) in the rest of the country. Unemployment is still growing faster in London, with a 4.9% increase between December 2020 and March 2021 compared with 3.8% in the rest of the country.
Falling incomes have caused a rising rate of people are in high levels of debt. Worryingly, many are taking out bad loans just so they can buy essentials like groceries and toiletries. Young people and ethnic minorities appear worse affected.
The future is uncertain for those in work as homeworking seems to be with us for a long time. Londoners favour working from home more than their counterparts elsewhere in the country. Research suggests that about one third of them expect to work from home more in the future, mirroring the one-third of our working residents who are currently working from home. If workers in the City of London stay at home, there is serious concern for the future of the support economy that services those jobs.
What should policy do?
So what can be done? Employers need supporting to create jobs, and to support young people into the workplace – something that can be more challenging when staff are working remotely or when the economic future is uncertain. Peabody are pleased to be getting involved with the Government’s Kickstart Scheme for jobs and apprenticeships for young adults, which shares many ideas with the Opportunity Guarantee that Peabody has supported.
Given the broader shifts towards homeworking, many of us have taken on new digital skills, some of which we might take for granted. In February 2020, how easily could you share your screen on Zoom or co-edit documents on Sharepoint? For people who have lost their job during the pandemic or been unable to transition to homeworking, coordinated digital skills programmes will be needed to prepare for a future of working remotely. Other people have worked outside the home and developed a range of new skills – from taxi drivers learning new road layouts due to increased pedestrianisation to care staff learning to use PPE, our residents have told us of a huge range of new skills developed. Those not in work may need training to catch up and renter the workplace.
And despite encouraging signs of recovery, we need to make sure the welfare safety net functions well at the time it is needed most. That is why we continue to call for Universal Credit wait times to be reduced and the £20 per week uplift to be made permanent.
Helping social housing residents into work
At Peabody, we try to use the best evidence to help our social housing residents. During the pandemic, this means the evidence must analysed quickly and spread through to our teams. The Peabody Employment and Training Teams have helped 451 people into employment, supported 92 residents to achieve accredited qualifications and a further 103 residents into non-accredited training.
Delivering this support remotely has been challenging. We have developed a mix of online resources, independent training support, and general information sessions with guest speaker presentations. We try to make these sessions well-rounded, with guest speakers from local MPs, GLA Assembly Members and the South-East Chamber of Commerce. We are seeing a rise in those who are self-employed or planning to open a business. Our monthly business forums aim to help people get these ideas off the ground.
Not all work is done online, even during the pandemic. We have supported procurement opportunities and facilitated pop-up markets to provide the businesses with an opportunity to trade during and in-between lockdowns. This year we saw Thamesmead businesses, supported via our enterprise programme, on both the Greenwich and Bexley side win at their local business awards.
More needs to be done as we pull out of this pandemic. So much of the past year has been responsive – trying to make sense of the pandemic and its impacts. Only with rigorous research and evidence-based policies and programmes can we start to shape the future of work in London and the UK.