Tackling Unemployment Caused by COVID and the Impact on Health
Redundancy and job loss can have a significant effect on health and wellbeing at any time, but coupled with the high number of job losses and businesses ceasing to trade as a direct result of COVID, has pushed a mental health crisis to an alarming level.
The first Wellbeing Lancashire Think Tank event was organised with the aim to look at how the county of Lancashire is responding to the crisis and how can we best support the unemployed in their health and the route back into employment.
Michele Lawty Jones – Director Lancashire Skills and Employment Hub
Sara Gaskill – Strategic Partnerships Manager, Lancashire Skills and Employment Hub
Lisa Edge – Managing Director GB Shared
Lisa Sourbutts – Managing Director Cube HR Ltd
Gillian Parkinson – Editorial Director JPI Media, North West
Claire Woods – Assistant Head of Adult Recruitment & Progression
Duncan Sandford – Managing Director, Digital Lancashire
Dawn Woods – Assistant Head of Adult Recruitment & Progression, Preston’s College
Mike McGuire – Strategic Advisor Birchwood Crisis Centre, Vice Chair West Lancashire College
Andrea Wallace – Senior Economic Development Officer, Wyre Council
Cheryle Britton – Founder YOLO Wellbeing, Director Wellbeing Lancashire
Lee Chambers – Founder Essentialise, Director Wellbeing Lancashire
Jason Kingston – Director Cube Thinking, Director Wellbeing Lancashire
Introductions and reason to attend
No one is immune to the impact of the pandemic, and everyone in attendance at today’s Wellbeing Lancashire Think Tank event is invested in some way.
The event was organised by Wellbeing Lancashire Director, Cheryle Britton, who is also the Founder of YOLO Wellbeing – a workplace health and engagement business that works with employers to manage physical and mental stress within the workplace.
Cheryle’s business has been heavily impacted by the pandemic and she has benefited from the support of a number of avenues, Boost being one of them. She felt it was important to be able to use the Wellbeing Lancashire platform to address the mental health crisis that the pandemic and economic impact is causing on the people of Lancashire.
Having experienced redundancy first hand, she understands how this can affect your mental wellbeing and is passionate that as a county we don’t let poor mental health be a barrier to our ability to bounce back.
Claire Woods, in her role at Preston’s College, is responsible for adult recruitment and training. They have a wide range of courses available for furloughed and anyone who’s been made redundant and wants to up skill or retrain. They’ve seen a huge increase in construction and hairdressing through the lock down. They review provision on a monthly basis to ensure that meeting demand. They’re seeing a rise in employers wanting to up skill their work force.
Duncan Sandford, in his role as Managing Director, looks after the membership of 800 digital businesses in Lancashire. More and more of their businesses are concerned about wellbeing and understanding what support is available; people are coming forward wanting advice, guidance and help.
As the Editorial Director of JPI Media Northwest, Gillian Parkinson looks after 70 journalists across Lancashire; with titles in Garstang, Leyland, Chorley, Lytham, Accrington, Burnley, as well as the main titles in Preston and Blackpool. Since the lock down started she has heard lots of stories about people struggling with their wellbeing, furlough and lost jobs. She’s interested to hear the conversation and understand how she can be a conduit to get the message out to people.
Lisa Edge from GB Shared has created a business that is built on sharing and supporting one another locally. She now has several county platforms, Yorkshare, Cumbriashare, Manchesahare, Livershare (coming soon) and Lancashare. These platforms bring businesses together on one central platform; to enable them to work together to build prosperity and local economies and look after one another.
Lisa has seen firsthand the devastating impact COVID has had on some of the businesses she works with; and how it has impacted mental health. She also has a number of wellbeing businesses who provide services including Wellbeing Lancashire, Breathe Therapies, Mindsight Connect, Hospices and charities.
In April, Lisa will be launching a new Youth Gen platform that has been heavily supported and funded by Innovate UK, Northern Power House Partners and LEP to provide a central location of information, jobs, training and support for 16-24year olds.
Lisa Sourbutts’ company Cube HR, provides HR outsource services, supporting companies who haven’t got internal HR provision, or who have it and need additional help. Through the pandemic Cube felt they needed to do something to help, and so have supported over 100 Lancashire companies for free with HR support. This was recognised with the team winning a coveted BIBA award.
Cube HR have helped businesses to facilitate a lot of redundancies as a direct result of the pandemic. It impacts everyone involved, from the employees, to the employers and Cube HR staff members too. Lisa has experienced Managers who have felt guilty and been incredibly upset to have to let people go. It’s essential to look after the people who are out of work, but also support the Managers who are also being impacted, as they will be responsible for kick starting the recovery.
Michele Lawty-Jones, in her role as Director of Lancashire Skills and Employment Hub supports the work of the LEP and Lancashire Leaders as a strategic unit; working with partners, schools, labour market needs. Working along four key themes: future workforce, visiting aspirations and social mobility of our younger people; balancing the academic and technical routes into work; working with business looking at skilled and productive Leaders focused on digital, management and leadership skills, working closely with Boost growth hub; Third theme is around inclusive workforce making sure communities and people across Lancashire have the same opportunities and benefits; the fourth theme is using data informed approach what does the data tell us.
Mike Maguire, a career NHS professional of 37years; he retired last year from his role as Chief Officer of West Lancashire Clinical Commission Group. He is now Strategic Advisor to Birchwood Crisis Centre, in Skelmersdale; which has a history of supporting young people who are homeless, providing mental health care and counselling and emotional support. They also work with communities, particularly the Town House community; recently they’ve been supporting a lot of work with food poverty. Skelmersdale is a deprived area and is often hidden in the affluence of West Lancs. Mike is also Vice Chair of West Lancashire College, where he has helped to set up the new school of medicine, to help deprived kids become the doctors of the future. The college is also building a better college programme, and is interested in digital training as an aspiration for the college. He is also a Non-Executive Director for Care Home franchise company, Home Instead, based in West Lancashire.
Sara Gaskill’s core area of focus is the inclusive work force. She is passionate about helping people into work. COVID has resulted in more unemployed people which is disproportionately affecting tools for referrals of long term unemployed and projects to get people into work.
There is a new group of people coming out of work because of low level mental health issues which was already happening prior to the pandemic. COVID has exacerbated a problem that was already there. We need to support people’s health to keep them in work.
IT WAS NOT UTOPIA BEFORE THE PANDEMIC – GOING THROUGH COVID HAS CHANGED THE WELLBEING LANDSCAPE AND SHIFTED IT ON A FEW AXIS.
Andrea Wallace – her role at Wyre council has been mainly concentrated on Fleetwood for the last two years, addressing disparities in surrounding towns in the Wyre Borough. How Fleetwood sits in sub regional context. The Eden project will gift opportunities to the area. She is involved in the Fleetwood Leadership Project, headed up by Doctor Mark Spencer (who unfortunately couldn’t attend today due to priorities with COVID vaccination programme).
NHS England has awarded the Fleetwood Leadership Project to understand how COVID has affected the community. The project looks at four streams: 1. Digital communication, understanding how people communicate through COVID to access support. 2. Data lead project by Lancaster University to understand the impact of COVID on the community and businesses. 3. Training opportunities that the unemployed can access, and 4. What opportunities and access do people have moving forward in particular sectors, this is underpinned by health and what barriers may be preventing people from entering employment. We also have young people and adult themes. Dell and Google have bought into working with us on the project to create opportunities for young people.
The impact of COVID on mental health has exacerbated a problem that had been identified prior to the pandemic.
COMMONALITY OF COMMENTS WE’RE ALL IN AGREEANCE THAT COVID HAS ACCELERATED PEOPLE JOINING THE DOTS REALISING HEALTH AND WELLBEING.HAS AN ECCONOMIC IMPACT. WELLBEING IS BECOMING MORE CENTRAL TO ECONOMIC STABILITY AND OUR ABILITY TO BOUNCE BACK FROM THE PANDEMIC. THERE’S. NEVER BEEN A BETTER TIME TO ADDRESS THIS.
Lee Chambers workplace wellbeing company Essentialise assists SME’s to utilise wellbeing measurement and strategy to create engaging tailored delivery. He is proud to be part of a project that is aiming to make a significant impact, and Wellbeing Lancashire is a vehicle to identify challenges, source solutions and connect projects that can amplify each other. Lee has co-designed and created a psychologically driven careers programme that is currently being piloted in education and industry. He is currently delivering a fully-funded male mental wellbeing programme through Boost Lancashire, and is a Careers Advisor to Hillside School in Longridge. His passions are interconnecting the different elements of wellbeing, looking at the prevention of future challenges through proactive prevention and creating cultures where individuals can thrive.
Jason Kingston’s business performance consultancy Cube Thinking has a focus on people as well as processes. On the board for British Standard for Valuing People (Diversity and Inclusion). Digital is the third dimension of Cube Thinking and it is noted that digital neuro diversity is underrepresented as an area if support. Hence a holistic approach is needed. Last Easter founded Wellbeing Lancashire with others as noted a desperate need for help, yet lots of providers, this created an opportunity to bring people together and join the dots. A tsunami of businesses were asking for help, necessary opportunity. As owners and leaders were in place not seen before, where they had removal of control and much less agency than ever in their lives.
Looking at 2025 for Wellbeing Lancashire, how can we shape to add value? We have a helicopter view to join the dots across Lancashire without boundaries, we have grit and passion as business owners. Driving forward with opportunities to providers of solutions and match requirements. Think Tank arm of Wellbeing Lancashire – exploring conversations impending concern that is in process. Furlough has given businesses life support. Furlough to farewell is how it may seem to some employees. How employees are affected. The key ambition is to make Lancashire the Kindest County – kindness through strength. Opportunities in delivery of Kindness we can protect.
Three Questions up for discussion:
- As the furlough scheme ends in April will we see a huge rise in unemployment in the area?
- Is the County ready?
- What toolkit do we need and where are the gaps?
Jason – From speaking to the people around the table, it is clear there is ambition to work together to help improve health and opportunities through more joined up communication of our shared networks. We’re all passionate about helping the people across the whole of Lancashire to help the economy bounce back quicker and more resilient.
We are now 10months into the pandemic, so it’s important we can understand what does that challenge look like, are we facing a tsunami of redundancies when furlough ends in April? Do we agree unemployment is an iceberg in the county, and we’re just waiting to feel the real impact?
Michele – In July last year, the peak of furlough scheme, 208,000 people in Lancashire were furloughed. That’s approximately 1/3 of our workforce. Those figures reduced to 47,000 in October (7%) and the positive data is that the numbers coming off furlough didn’t correlate with the numbers claiming Universal Credit. So we would assume that many returned to employment.
Pre pandemic 34,000 people across Lancashire were claiming Universal Credit; which is better than the UK average. These numbers doubled early on in pandemic and then we saw them plateau.
Some sectors have been hit hard, tourism, leisure, manufacturing and aerospace, but there are sectors that have experienced positive growth: health and social care, logistics and digital sectors. It is not all doom and gloom. Our role at the Lancashire Skills and Employment Hub is to get support out to people and businesses that need it. We have a created a Skills for Work micro where we’re working with over 50 partners local and national. It is really easy to navigate with 4 buttons: Furloughed Workers, At Risk of Redundancy, Recently Redundant and 16-24 age group. Each button helps people navigate the skills and training programmes relevant to them. Partners are responsible for updating their offers. The site has had 10,000 hits since July, but engagement could be much higher.
DATA IS KEY IN HELPING INFORM STRATEGY AND SUPPORT. BUT EQUALLY IMPORTANT IS COMMUNICATION AND ENGAGEMENT.
The awareness and engagement piece is massive. How many businesses and people know what support is available?
Jason – The economy is shrinking but there are new opportunities emerging. There is huge variability of engagement between employers and employees. Some employers are encouraging their furloughed staff to up skill whilst other employees have been left out to pasture.
The data we have is brilliant, but do we agree there is an iceberg of redundancy waiting to happen? Do we have any anecdotal information?
Lisa Sourbutts – The legislation surrounding the furlough scheme has affected had a significant effect on our clients. We saw a massive shift when the furlough scheme was contributory; employers couldn’t afford to supplement wages. Then when furlough could be used for notice pay, it speeded up redundancy.
There is also the question around flexi-furlough, and how this is being recorded. How will it affect the data? Looking at this optimistically, I’d like to think the 3rd lockdown has resulted in lots of staff being put back on furlough and it will stay quite static until employers have to contribute to wages again.
Lisa Edge – I’m a little more pessimistic, we’ve had communication with our members at Lancashare. SME’s are really struggling; the Chambers are reporting businesses have 3mths monetary survival funds and beyond that will struggle. Financial sector, I have been speaking to Accountants who are repeatedly being asked by their clients how they fold their businesses. This is resulting in far too many people being at a tipping point with their mental health.
Claire Woods – this resonates with the trends we’re seeing. There is a broad spectrum of people who are engaging in different ways. We’ve seen a big upturn in the engagement of courses. Construction and hairdressing courses at Preston’s College have seen an increase in numbers. We’re seeing more engagement from businesses wanting to up skill their employees, digital and management skills for furloughed staff. Some people are questioning and looking at being able to overcome obstacles, engaging and up skilling in case they do find themselves out of work. Where other people seem lost
Mike Maguire – Health issues are having a big affect on people; with high levels of anxiety about what the future will be. At West Lancashire College we have lots of training courses available, but applications are still really low. What information is available about what young people are seeking, this would be really helpful.
IS THE REGION READY TO COPE WITH REDUNDANCIES?
Lee – Are we ready? Uncertainty doesn’t breed readiness for the future, it makes it challenging. At the moment it feels like we’re taking steps and having to look at where we’re treading. For businesses and individuals it’s about finding ways to build courage to do things – like retrain and ask for support, Especially for younger people who have very little experience in the workforce; how do we enable them to see the pandemic as a challenge rather than a threat?
Lisa Edge – The Youth Gen platform that we’re launching in April, will provide a central point of information from 16-24 age group, from training, career opportunities, education, mentoring and support– we’ll be able to capture data to understand how young people are engaging with platform, which will give us a picture of how they’re engaging and what they’re most interested in..
Duncan – I agree with Lee and Lisa. Confidence is a massive issue. You ask the question but what does ready look like? What does ready mean? Some sectors have done extremely well; some of that success is a reflection of the way we’re living digital and logistics sectors.
The key is to be able to make decisions in an informed way. Accurate and up-to-date information is fundamental.
RAISE AWARENESS PEIECE IS MASSIVE. HOW MANY PEOPLE KNOW WHAT IS AVAILABLE. BUSINESSES AND PEOPLE. BOOSTING MORALE. FUROUGH WORKERS, HOW ARE WE CONNECTING WITH THEM, THROUGH BUSINESSES. WE CAN HAVE POSITIVE IMPACT IF WE ENGAGE THEM WITH LEARNING, IF THEY HAVE GOALS AND CAN BUILD SKILLS SETS.
Jason – fortune favours the ones that are more connected. The pastoral element of being plugged into support is lessening the impact of mental health. The region has the networks but you see the same faces when you have events. We need to be able to reach and engage the people not in the networking groups.
Cheryle – How are we talking to people? Tone of voice, positive mindset and energy all impact how we communicate and how people engage with it. Passion and positivity helps to motivate people. The Wellbeing Lancashire KINDEST Campaign is how we’re reaching out to everyone across the county: businesses, organisations, communities and people. Kindness is contagious and we aim to spread it as far and wide as the Coronavirus.
Gillian – Some people won’t know what to do or where to turn. We have the expertise in the region to make sure the knowledge and support gets to the right people. JPI Media regularly reaches 1million people in Lancashire. There is a campaign here where we can reach people who have never accessed help but will need it.
Michele – Do you think we’re doing enough about promoting positive messages? You access the national and social media and it feels very doom and gloom. Local media has an opportunity to reverse that trend to build confidence, particularly for younger people, in school. Collectively can we break the myths about the job market.
Gillian – We’ve already had conversations in the higher JPI Media Group, to look at how we can pivot the story telling, tell facts and figures; and what else can we communicate. We’re looking for positive stories to tell; case studies where people and businesses have turned things around; had the courage to change their business: retraining. We can tell these stories to build confidence, aspiration and courage amongst our readership.
Lisa Sourbutts – When you asked the question ‘are we ready?’ I shook my head, but as I’ve listened to everyone I’ve realised that it’s not that we’re not ready. A few months ago I was working with a large client who needed to make some redundancies and he was asking for support. Yesterday I received a flier from the Skills and Employment Hub with signposting information; I wish I’d known about it sooner. It’s not a case of if we’re read, but are we visible enough?
WHAT DOES THE COMMUNICATION PLAN LOOK LIKE?
Cheryle – How do we engage with the people who are already struggling with their mental health? How do we help them build resilience and get them back to a positive place?
Lee – Communication is important. When people comprehend and understand they can take action from it. Someone seeing someone like them take the steps is inspiring. Local media can inject aspirations into people so they can see the possibilities and options. By lLooking at what is holding them back. We can engage the local employers as well as individuals. The message here is what we can do for you. EMPLOYERS HAVE A ROLE IN HELPING EMPLOYEES ON FURLOUGH.
Andrea – There are two groups of people we’re looking at here: Long term and newly unemployed. We can’t underestimate the differences between the two groups.
ADULTS FEELING NEGATIVE HAS A MASSIVE IMPACT ON YOUNGER GENERATIONS. When you’re made redundant you go through a process of mourning. The conversations taking place in peoples’ homes has a massive impact on a young person’s aspirations Young people are seeing their parents, who were successful, now unemployed through no fault of their own. If parents don’t have the right mindset, young people will find it even more difficult.
Doctors are reporting that COVID is not the main problem, but dealing with patients who are suffering with poor mental health.
What is our toolkit, our requirements?
Jason – We’ve talked about whether there is an iceberg of redundancies coming and is the region ready to be able to respond? Possibly; possibly not! Probably we are, but we don’t know that we are, and we’re moving along.
Are there any gaps? If we look at the LEP vision for the county and wider plans for the county do they factor in the changes where we are experiencing.
Mike – We have this tsunami of people who are depressed and anxious, but what if we look at the positives. We can look at the potential around the vision of the LEP – and the new industries that Lancashire wants to be famous for. What can we do to link around the right training courses and education for the future? This will give a positive message and aspirations for the future. If we understand what it looks like,,,digital….robotics?
We can be gearing up with training, kick start programmes, apprenticeships based on what Lancashire wants and needs it to be. We can join the two more closely.
Claire – We plan our curriculum each year and review the courses on a monthly basis to understand the short term requirements from individuals and employers, and if we’re meeting them. We cover 16-18, 19+ and apprenticeships.
I agree with Mike, the gap for us is the longer term picture that might take 3-5yrs, where we may need to up skill advanced sectors. We need to be planning for immediate and longer term.
When you talk about mental health we find it’s different for all the adults we speak to but talking about mental health of individuals, there are practical implications of what they’re dealing with.
We have employers coming to college to deliver work academies, and the engagement from younger people is nonexistent sometimes. You have to ask is it the course; or is it mental health, or low paid positions and they can’t be bothered. At the moment we’re finding that the removal of barriers on Universal Credit is having a detrimental effect on uptake, with some people just accepting payments instead or training courses because it’s easier. How do we motivate these younger people.
Michele – We have a data pack that we share to our partners (which I can forward to you following the meeting) which highlights the high employment sectors. Digital, health, Clean technology and advanced manufacturing. Huge investment is going into some of those sectors; an example is the Health Innovation Centre (HIC) at Lancaster University. We can look at the short, medium and long term perspective around where opportunities are arising to create growth for future. Building the workforce for the future and moving people around the economy, we also need to retain staff..
Jason – Up to date LMI vacancy data, here and now provides insights. All term views show high tech qualifications, academic route and strategic investments are big enablers. In addition, looking at roles of future producers, engineers of the future, 2025-2035 economic landscape – Industry 4.0. How the economy could be, notwithstanding the 2 year pandemic blip. Incredible opportunities in flight, not to let a crisis to pull of focus for long term goals.
Duncan – The pandemic has seen an acceleration of digital adoption. At Digital Lancashire we need clarity around strategic directions for the future, made at a high level; so that businesses can make decisions. What will Lancashire look like in 6-18months time? Soft and hard skills, what are they? Other people at the table may have a better idea, but we need to set the basis for the future.
Sara – After working in Fleetwood a few years ago and delivering training, you find there sre a small number of postcodes where unemployment is a life choice. We have top quality training colleges and universities. That can flex and pivot, but what is the communication of the offer to these people. Do we have a cohesive offer and are we able to do it in a way that businesses and people will understand, so we can hit the people we need to engage?
Lee – COVID has amplified a poor situation in key postcodes, we have the opportunity to increase the engagement.
It is brutal to be continually rebuffed. How can you take what you have now and look at your future prospects? Together by joining the dots we can find ways to engage these people. We can open the cracks and look to shift the needle. We need to look into the homes and find opportunities for interventions.
Jason – What practical wellbeing support is available for people and what does it look like?
Lisa Edge – There are pockets of free support around the county, with some of the communities enterprises on Lancashare, and Roast n Toast. We regularly share on our platform, can we do this in a health and wellbeing – where people can find it. We can all do our own little bits. Businesses, share and their messages get marketed.
Sara – The Skills and Employment Hub has the Skills to Work micro site, where people at risj of redundancy, young people, unemployed people can access training support and we have a number of partners on there, there is the escalate platform linked to the job centre where you can answer simple questions about what support you need to get a job, it will signpost you to the best project available in their area. Our partners Selnet have mental health options and we have groups set up for young people and over 50’s. There is a great project with Lancashire Wildlife trust and wellbeing social prescribing available. We need to keep reminding people about what is available.
There is the voluntary sector and NHS. GP’s in the Lancashire care foundation trust can use social prescribing to the voluntary sector for counselling and alternative hobbies to help manage mental health by creating purpose in their lives.
Jason – To summarise, what has been a passionate discussion with lots of productive things to take away, we need to look at our networks and wider communication piece. By looking at the opportunities that are already there, r coming along the region can be ready, and make sure we’re communicating and sharing that to everyone. With joined up communication we can co-ordinate awareness. At the same time – there can be support for change; skills, pastoral elements.
Data – The key to perception and reality. We can build on those target areas for improvement and use the benefit of communication and positive tone and language. We can create the voice of communication.
Toolkit – Where do we want to be in 2025-2035.By identifying the strong opportunities, we can use digital acceleration for organisations to condense a 3yr digital plan into 6mths.
Colleges will be able to ensure qualification guidance is meeting the immediate needs of a pivoting time and the bigger direction of travel for the future.
Practical health support – there’s a lot of great stuff happening already, in the voluntary sector. By joining the dots Wellbeing Lancashire can make sure no one in the region is left behind. Planned development of the website and portal, will become a conduit to other platforms and work with GP’s, community sector and social prescribing.
Round tables are great but if you don’t take actions from them, they become a talking shop. We’ll be looking to arrange follow up meetings to understand how we can take action form our discussions today.
DATA – We need to share data more widely to enable invested organisations and businesses to effectively plan for the future, and understand who needs to engage with the data?
COMMUNICATION – How do we engage, create the tight tone of voice and push positive messages. (How do we measure success & KPI’s)
CONFIDENCE & COURAGE – We must build confidence and courage to enable the people of Lancashire to become more resilient.