Employment rates are an important gauge of both the health of our economy and the health of our community in Wycombe.
Over the summer, the BFP published an article which reported upsetting figures revealing how many people in Wycombe are seeking work, and/or require financial support from the Government, through no fault of their own.
Work provides people with security and the opportunity to flourish, both in a professional capacity and within our community. Over the past few years, I am proud to have supported the efforts being made across Wycombe to help people who have fallen out of work.
As I write, I think of the Get Ahead Project located in the Castlefield Community Centre, which I went to visit earlier this year. The project is funded by the Department for Work and Pensions, and helps people with complex backgrounds, and who have been unemployed for some time, to find meaningful work. There is a particular focus on supporting young people who are at risk of offending, and thus falling into the criminal justice system.
Projects like these are of great value to those seeking work, and I am pleased to support the Government in increasing the number of resources available to help get people back to work.
For instance, the 2023 Spring Budget outlined several Department of Work and Pensions measures to boost workforce participation with an investment of £3.5 billion over five years in the area. This includes investment to support disabled people and those with long-term health conditions, parents, the over-50s, unemployed people, as well as those on Universal Credit and working fewer than full-time hours.
This week, the Government formally launched the WorkWell service which will support almost 60,000 long-term sick or disabled people to start, stay and succeed in work once rolled out in approximately 15 areas across England. The Government is also expanding Individual Placement and Support with the aim to help an additional 100,000 people with severe mental illness find and keep jobs over the next five years.
The Government will also strengthen the application and enforcement of sanctions on people who take advantage of Universal Credit unfairly, and work Coaches will be trained to apply these sanctions fairly and effectively. Furthermore, the Government will help to automate administrative elements of the sanctions process to reduce error rates and free up Work Coach time. With these measures in place, those who have a legitimate claim to Universal Credit will not have to pay the price of people cheating the system.
Moreover, a new ‘Returnerships’ apprenticeship targeted at people over the age of 50 will refine existing skills projects to make them more accessible to older workers. This will provide them with the skills and support required to find their way back into the workforce.
More locally, Buckinghamshire Council have taken on a second Job Centre site to deal with unemployment claims, the old Argos on High Wycombe High Street. This came about when the Department for Work and Pensions noticed that more needed to be done and approached the council to work on an enhanced effort.
These efforts locally and across the UK are working. Since taking office, the Government has halved unemployment and reduced the number of workless households by 1 million.
While there is more to be done, the UK labour market has now record employment, and is close to record low unemployment. I know the Government is committed to making further progress, and I trust these new schemes will be of aid to all in Wycombe who are currently looking for work.