According to the Office for National Statistics the UK has one of the fastest-growing economies in the G7, unemployment is falling and recruitment is on the rise. Yet for many who have been unemployed for some time or who are struggling on low wages, the path to continuous gainful employment isn’t necessarily a smooth one. Just this week, Wiltshire’s back-to-work initiative, Project Impress asked us to provide a perspective on the challenges faced by prospective and current employees battling poverty.
Our chief executive officer, Val Huxley, cited five significant barriers and suggests ways in which employers may be able to assist.
1. Transport: if a prospective or existing employee requires public transport or a car to travel to interviews or for work, they will to incur significant costs for fares or insurance, petrol, road tax and parking fees for cars. Companies may consider:
• payment/reimbursement of travel costs incurred for interviews;
• promoting car-share schemes amongst employees;
• offering shower facilities for employees who wish to run or cycle into work – this is a great way to promote a healthy, active lifestyle resulting in a fitter workforce;
• procuring bicycles through the government’s Cycle to Work scheme, saving money on the bicycle itself as well as benefiting from income tax and national insurance savings
2. Communications: interviewees may struggle to maintain mobile or landline telephone costs, thereby missing calls for interviews/jobs. Consider offering a free number and a deadline for applicants to call from a friend’s telephone or call box to determine whether they have been offered an interview.
3. Flexible working: employees may struggle to meet the demands of family life when working, particularly dropping off/collecting children from school/nursery. Flexible working hours enable employees to better manage their work-life commitments and may encourage greater employee reliability and loyalty.
4. Childcare vouchers: UK childcare is amongst the most expensive in Europe and takes a significant proportion of a family’s income. Consider offering childcare vouchers as part of your remuneration packages.
5. Back to work starter loan: the first month at work is the toughest financially. Transport to/from work, lunchtime subsistence, additional childcare or a new pair of “fit for purpose” shoes all incur additional cost! A “back to work starter loan” to be recouped direct from salary over the first few months can help new employees settle quicker without the angst of covering the basics before their first payday.
Here at People against Poverty, we have launched its own UK project, Bridging the Gap, to help families struggling with the basics.