There are only four sleeps until Christmas Day! As we make our way to the welcome holiday and end of the year, I would like to wish all ESL colleagues and supporters a lovely break and a chance to rest, relax, recharge. This note comes to you with sincere appreciation for your contributions to the ESL team and to the valued services provided. Bristol City Council could not provide great adult and community learning, apprenticeships, employment support or young careers and pathways without you – so you should feel proud of what you do and the impact you have on people’s lives.
The latest government restrictions have caused a lot of upset as many of us have to rethink and rearrange our holiday plans. It is a concern that some people can’t be with their family and may be on their own. This situation makes me think harder about older and disabled people who live alone all year round, about young people separated from their families, refugees and asylum seekers who have fled their homelands, and people without a secure home – not just at Christmas. Their courage and resilience gives me perspective and more determination to get through these tough times.
One of the worst impacts of the pandemic since March has been the increasing levels of child poverty and the inequality impacting on housing, nutrition, outdoor space, community support and digital learning. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation has published evidence that as many as 2m households in Great Britain could have experienced destitution – extreme levels of poverty – during the pandemic. Footballer Marcus Rashford deserves the highest accolades for successfully campaigning for free school meals for 1.3 million children and for raising awareness of child food poverty. But how do we go about tackling child poverty longer term and on a more systematic and structural basis?
There remains a consensus in associated research that an improvement in the education and skills of parents on low incomes lies at the heart of any long term strategy to reduce child poverty. JRF have always argued for better integration between employment and skills services – so it’s great that Bristol has a strong base to work from with the development of our ESL model. At a recent joint planning session involving ESL managers and Children and Family service managers, we reflected on the critical strands that we need to achieve to make a difference to children and families facing the greatest risks and challenges:
- Improve the skills, qualifications and experience of work opportunities for young people growing up in families that experience intergenerational poverty;
- Improve the acquisition of skills for adults who have few or no formal qualifications and are disadvantaged in the labour market;
- Provide more intensive and customised help for people who have been systematically excluded from the labour market;
- Improve opportunities at work, including the types of entry jobs and apprenticeships available, and progression opportunities through IAG and skills development.
We’ve learned the hard way that simply moving someone into work is often only the first step to improving their prospects over the longer term. No amount of welfare advice or job help will provide opportunities to people ill-equipped to find worthwhile and satisfying work – for example because they have low skills or qualifications, or because they lack access to adequate childcare.
For this reason, I remain passionate that individual ESL team members find more ways to join up to build better supported pathways for individuals – not just focused on employment as an end game, but by supporting people to increase their confidence and skills through customised learning programmes and skilful information, advice and guidance services.
At our recent ESL whole team meeting it was inspiring to hear about the many ways that colleagues in teams have been reaching out to develop joint products and to support service users through great connections across teams, as well as the huge amount of joint work underway with external teams and agencies to build impactful partnerships.
2021 will be providing us with even more opportunity to align what we do – including the development of our amazing ‘One Front Door’ service through which we will be connecting Bristol job seekers with advice, learning, employment support, neighbourhood services, welfare rights and so many other wraparound services. Just watch this space as there’s so much more to be revealed in the New Year!