Wakefield Council: evidence-based support to raise aspirations

Wakefield Council has a range of coordinated and evidence-based projects and programmes which aim to improve the wellbeing of residents, help them into the job market and raise aspirations. They are carefully structured and monitored to produce the best results. 

Complementary and coordinated programmes 

Wakefield has a range of projects and programmes which contribute to the following aims: 

  • to help to improve the physical and mental health of residents
  • to enable those outside the job market to enter it
  • to raise aspirations and encourage residents to think about career opportunities and progression, where they want to go in life and how they might advance. 

These are coordinated and evidence-based, and are carefully structured, overseen and monitored to produce the best results. 

The authority has a social wellbeing service called Live Well Wakefield, which is based on the principles of social prescribing and has won a Social Prescribing Network Award. This is complemented by a service to tackle barriers to employment and career advancement, called STEP UP. Wakefield also runs or participates in various similar schemes, including: 

  • The Adult and Community Education Service, through which residents can take a range of qualifications. It provides specialised support for residents with dyslexia and a range of disabilities. 
  • Job coaches who work with employers on internships for SEND residents over 19. 
  • A future aspiration that all NHS and social care workers are identified as one integrated health and social care workforce, with the option of joint roles, and a “skills escalator” for career progression within the system – so that all new recruits have an understanding of their future career options. 

Live Well Wakefield 

This service consists of a team of advisors for residents over 18 who are in need of information, advice and support in order to thrive in everyday life. It is delivered jointly by the local mental health trust and Nova, the infrastructure agency for the voluntary and community sector (VCS) in Wakefield, and was launched in 2017. It focuses on: 

  • supporting residents with long-term conditions and their carers
  • supporting residents who feel lonely and helping them to connect with their communities
  • providing six-month reviews to residents who have suffered a stroke
  • providing assessments and advice to the elderly in relation to falls
  • the wider determinants of health, such as housing, employment, smoking and physical activity, and providing access and signposting to relevant services
  • helping residents to self-manage their health and wellbeing and increasing their independence
  • providing small grants to VCS groups which deliver similar services. 

Residents may be referred to Live Well Wakefield by other services, for example social care services, or “Safe and Well” home visits run by the fire and rescue service (these assess such things as crime risk, fire safety, affordable heating and social isolation). 

There are two employment advisors in the service, funded by the EU. Their advice can include signposting to the council’s employment and skills services, such as STEP UP. 

Most services provided under this programme are evaluated using one of two assessment tools. Client experiences are assessed at several points during their journey, including six  weeks, six months and one year after leaving the service. The programme has recently been evaluated by Public Health Intelligence (PHI).  

From the data gathered by the programme, including through the assessments, PHI found that almost 3,000 clients were referred to Live Well between 1 April 2017 and 31 March 2019, with significantly higher referral rates from the most deprived neighbourhoods. The programme had successfully reached out to new clients across the district, including many from disadvantaged backgrounds. 95 per cent of assessed clients reported an improvement in their wellbeing, with average scores increasing at each assessment point and in each assessment area. Clients from deprived communities are most likely to have multiple and/or more severe conditions and similar complicating factors, but 93 per cent of them reported an improvement at 12 months, indicating Live Well is contributing to reducing health inequalities. 

PHI made a number of recommendations on how data gathering can be improved, centred on: 

  • recording employment status over time, to be used in evaluating the social and economic impact of Live Well
  • developing data sharing procedures with partner organisations, including primary and secondary care, and amending consent forms to allow this 
  • using one assessment tool instead of the current two. 

Employment, skills and deprivation in Wakefield 

Wakefield’s policies on skills are based on a careful examination of published statistics for the district. In 2018-19, Wakefield had a slightly higher percentage of its population that are economically active than national or regional averages. However, of those who were employed, a higher percentage were in elementary occupations. Also, a smaller percentage were in self-employment, the median earnings were lower and levels of qualifications were lower. Overall, apprenticeship starts had been declining for several years (although this varied with level of apprenticeship and reflected national policy changes). 

This correlated with high rates of fuel poverty (9.5 per cent of households) and child poverty (30 per cent of children after housing costs). The latter rate was high across Yorkshire as a whole, despite three quarters of these children having at least one working parent.  

It puts residents at risk in an economic environment in which jobs for life are increasingly rare, and impacts on the productivity levels needed to support a society with more pensioners.  

Concerningly, most of these poor outcomes were concentrated in a number of specific geographic locations. These were identified as “enduring areas of deprivation” – unemployment and inactivity levels were up to 20 per cent greater than in the rest of the district. The council recognised that the nationwide correlation between deprivation and health inequalities was also mirrored in these areas. 

Labour market information and local intelligence were used to identify growth and at-risk employment sectors. The former included culture, media and sport, the ‘caring personal service sector’ and coding and programming roles. However, the construction sector had not recovered from recession and was in need of support, both for improving skills and for driving recruitment. The sectors most at risk from automation were logistics, retail, administration and customer service, and low-level manufacturing.  

Training was needed to improve skill levels, particularly for those in the 40+ age bracket who had been in low skilled roles for a long time. 95 per cent of jobs would need some digital skills in the future. 

STEP UP – the Knottingley and Ferrybridge pilot

Given the geographical concentration of these issues, Wakefield initially focused on an area of enduring deprivation, Knottingley and Ferrybridge.

The Miners Welfare Social Club, or Kellingley Club, was a hub for life in this community. In July 2019, a team of three newly-recruited council staff started to run a new scheme, STEP UP, from the club. The core service was matching the CVs of residents with vacancies in local companies and exploring with local companies whether suitable roles could be created. However, the team also worked with existing providers and organisations to identify and tackle wider barriers to employment across policy areas and find opportunities for residents.

Linking with key partners in health-related organisations was particularly important. The programme has adopted a “no wrong door” approach in its partnerships: these partners have both taken referrals from the STEP UP team and also have made referrals, when their client’s next step to recovery was deemed to be work. The team found that over 50 per cent% of the residents they worked with exhibited characteristics synonymous with reflecting mental health conditions (anxiety depression, stress). 30 per cent of them actively declared a form of health condition/disability on registration forms.

Two other major barriers to work were childcare and transport - not the cost, as originally expected, but the availability. Consequently, a childminder programme was developed in partnership with two existing council teams.

The following examples of how the team helped two residents gives a good sense of their service.

One resident, approached at a Foodbank, expressed a desire to take his own life as a result of the financial issues he was experiencing. After taking action to prevent the immediate risk of suicide, the team worked with a local Job Centre work coach and the council’s “money smart adviser” to “unpack” his financial issues. They resolved several of them and provided a workable plan for the rest. As a result, this resident’s outlook on life improved and he is now working to get himself into employment, to improve his financial and mental health.

The other had previously been homeless and was referred by a recruitment company.  He had a permanent address provided by the local housing association. He had found his own job but was struggling to stay keep it. This was due to a lack of funding for transport costs, as well as acceptable work clothes and the facilities to wash them. The team worked with the housing provider to ensure he had the appropriate white goods, heating and a bed, and with charities to get a bike, clothing, toiletries and cooking utensils. A one-month bus pass was also provided over the winter, when it was thought that roads might become icy.

From July to October 2020, this pilot was evaluated by the Learning and Work Institute. Its final report highlighted strengths of the pilot:

  • a significant number of participants had benefited from it and evidence that it was delivered as designed
  • “noteworthy progress in reaching out to difficult to reach groups, building a network of local partner organisations and delivering a flexible and tailored support package to individual participants”
  • “significant inroads in establishing itself as a critical support avenue for local residents in Knottingley and Ferrybridge.”

It also suggested a few areas to develop and issues to consider ahead of rolling out the programme across the district:

  • continue building strong relationships with local partner and stakeholder organisations, increasing referrals from them, and ensuring these referrals were suitable and eager to access support
  • working with these partners to offer tailored support packages
  • ensuring computer systems, including client management systems, were of sufficiently high standard
  • identifying suitable community premises across the district to deliver the service from.

STEP UP – district-wide roll out

Wakefield rolled out the service to the whole district in 2020, having secured funding from the European Social Fund via DWP (in a partnership bid with Calderdale Council) and an additional fund from Wakefield Council's core budget. The council launched a website for the expanded service in October.

There are now three teams:

  • The Employment Hub, which works with young people up to the age of 24, supporting them into apprenticeships, training and employment, and helps employers taking them on and improving their skills.
  • The Back to Work Team, which works with unemployed adults who are looking to get into employment or education/training.
  • The In-work Progression Team, which works with employed residents seeking to improve their skills, take qualifications and/or take the next step on their career ladder (with a new or existing employer, or in a new industry). It also works with those recently made redundant.

Funding from council core budgets is used to enhance employers’ training capacity, for example for promoting the skill sets required by logistics and manufacturing businesses. The council also provides “barrier-breaking funding” to help STEP UP clients overcome barriers to accessing work, such as for free travel passes, work clothes and equipment, access to leisure facilities for health and wellbeing, and childcare vouchers.

From July 2019 to March 2021, STEP UP has supported over 1700 residents, with over 300 residents supported into sustained employment. In February 2021, 32 per cent of all residents approaching STEP UP because of COVID-19 related impending redundancy secured alternative employment through the programme without having become unemployed first.  

The council is currently tendering for a review and evaluation of the district-wide programme.

Strategies for the future

Funding has now been secured for the following, for STEP UP:

  • A full-time post to develop a Health and Social Care ‘arm’ of the programme, which will support retention, recruitment and progression in the Health and Social Care Sector. (This may be followed by further sector-based specialist posts).
  • A programme of 12-week adult internships, for residents who have been out of employment for a while. During this structured work experience, participants will be paid at the National Minimum Wage for up to 30 hours per week. They and the employer will be supported by advisers to optimise the experience and address any training needs.

The council is also developing its vision for the years ahead, drawing on the success of these programmes. Wakefield is to be developed into a “Learning City and District”, as defined by UNESCO, drawing on the example set by Bristol. It has also put together a “Creative Wakefield” framework, which plans to support people of all ages in developing their creative skills and following cultural career pathways.