In June 2015 the Oxford City Council’s Welfare Reform Team completed a year-long project, financed by the European Social Fund.
It aimed to improve support for unemployed claimants coping with cuts to housing benefit resulting from the benefit cap, local housing allowance restrictions, and the bedroom tax. The project focused on those who are unemployed or underemployed to help them find work or increase their working hours.
Now the project evaluation has been completed. Analysis by the University of Oxford showed that those who had been unemployed for between six months and a year were six times more likely to find work as a result of targeted support but that the higher a claimant’s housing benefit shortfall, the less likely they were to find a job.
Two hundred and thirty residents took part. Sixty two either found work or increased the hours they worked during the project. Twenty seven per cent found sustainable work – seven per cent more than the project target. Eighty five per cent were still in work at the end of the project. Added to that, 81 participants who were benefit capped had the cap removed, 49 per cent of these because working tax credit was awarded.
The project also aimed to develop working relationships between the City Council and partner organisations, including existing ones such as those with Aspire, who run job clubs, and advice centres in the city, who provide debt advice. Ninety three per cent of partners reported a good or excellent working relationship with the Council.
The Council’s relationship with Jobcentre Plus (JCP) improved during the project. A member of JCP staff was seconded to the Council leading to a better understanding of roles, better information sharing and improved support to customers. The City Council will continue to work with JCP to organise job fairs and in wider partnership with the DWP as Universal Credit is rolled out.
The project identified the need for better mental health support and negotiated a six month contract for a Restore employment coach to work with the council. It also commissioned the Workers Educational Association to provide training for customers.
Councillor Susan Brown, Oxford City Council Board Member for Customer and Corporate Services, said: “It is clear that targeted support and good partnership working between agencies can help Oxford’s residents into employment. It is important that the need for targeted support is understood. We will be using the evidence collected by this year-long study to tailor our future support provision for those facing the difficulties that lack of work brings and are sharing the report with government so that they can learn from it too. We are grateful to the European Social Fund for their support for this work.”
For more details on the Welfare Reform European Social Fund Project Evaluation visit our webpage.