Government Ministers visit UnLtd social entrepreneurs in action

It was a busy month for UnLtd as Ministers from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) were keen to meet UnLtd-supported social entrepreneurs in action and learn more about what the Government could do to create an enabling environment for social entrepreneurs in the new year. UnLtd has been thrilled to facilitate these visits and give social entrepreneurs the opportunity to get their voice heard.

Minister for Disabled People Justin Tomlinson MP visited Cambridgeshire-based chocolate-making social venture Harry Specters in early January, where he learnt about the ins and outs of handcrafted chocolate as well as how the venture provides employment opportunities for young autistic people. Founders Mona and Shaz Shah told the Minister,

“Help from the Government beyond recognition of the social enterprises as an important part of the overall British economy. This could include business rates cut, tax breaks in the shape of National Insurance for companies employing differently able people.”

Government minister Justin Tomlinson in a warehouse, with one hand on hips and another on an orange shelf. He is speaking to 2 people with their backs to you.

He also visited Mail Out, a mailing and fulfilment social venture providing training & employment support for adults with a learning disability and/or autism. The apprentices told the Minister about how they feel sometimes frustrated in recruitment processes, their search for work and the barriers they face when looking for opportunities.

The Minister also spoke to Virginia Moreno-Molina and Helen Smith, managers of Mail Out, who told the Minister how apprenticeships need to be diversified and made more accessible to people with learning disabilities.

Minister for Disabled People Justin Tomlinson said:
“I am always pleased to support forward-thinking organisations that recognise the valuable and vital contributions disabled people bring into the workplace. Social enterprises are a force for good and in the past few weeks I have been fortunate to meet some of the talented people thriving in opportunities provided by UnLtd.

“Through the hard work of enterprising organisations working with government programmes such as Disability Confident, we are well on our way to achieving our target of seeing one million more disabled people in work between 2017 and 2027.”

Mims Davies MP, Minister for Employment visited Circle Collective in Hackney, who help disadvantaged young people into permanent, life changing work. The streetwear store operates as a social enterprise and serves as a training ground for young people. The profit made is reinvested back into the charity arm of the organisation.

Turly Humphreys, founder and CEO and Matt Lewendon talked to her about how the Dynamic Purchasing System for procurement at DWP is not fit for purpose for smaller charities like the Circle Collective.

They also spoke about the funding that should be coming in to replace the European Social Funding pots that would be applicable for a small/medium sized charity.

The Minister explained that there would be reviews of the system, acknowledging that it needed looking at. Circle Collective offered to join these conversations to give the charity perspective on the procurement process. She had a chance to hear directly from the young people Circle Collective supports, as well as trying on a few pieces from the latest collection.

Ex-offender roundtable

Most recently, Minister for Welfare Delivery Will Quince MP was keen to hear from social entrepreneurs on how they are supporting ex-offenders into employment and share ideas for further partnership working with DWP.

UnLtd award winners Maggie Walsh from A Fairer Chance, Barbara Burton from BehindBras, Josh Babarinde from Cracked It, Janet Boston from Liberty Kitchen, Richard Strauss from Offploy and Jonny Pilkington from Redemption Roastery attended the meeting.

The social entrepreneurs in the room highlighted the various challenges ex-offenders face, including the often neglected group of those with unspent convictions, and the wider challenges of how the DWP commissioning processes could be more accessible for the niche, voluntary sector services that offer the type of specialist support needed.

The Minister said:

“It was great to hear about the fantastic support that UnLtd offers social enterprises and how they are helping ex-offenders, including prison leavers into employment, and identify where the DWP can provide additional support.” Helping people to find work after they leave prison is incredibly important, and can make a big difference in reducing reoffending.”

For a more detailed account of the roundtable, have a look at Richard Strauss, social venture Offploy’s Development Lead’s writeup.

Next steps

It’s great that the Ministers are showing interest in social entrepreneurship, but we want to ensure that these visits going to lead to a tangible difference in the lives of social entrepreneurs and the people they are supporting.

Although change does not happen overnight, we are confident that providing a chance to directly meet social entrepreneurs and the people they support, ministers can understand the challenges they face and the urgency of the situation. Through these meetings, the issues, and solutions, can remain high on the policy agenda.

UnLtd and social entrepreneurs were keen to highlight not just the challenges, but the tried and tested solutions social entrepreneurs are offering. Having constructive conversations help us ensure we are treated as partners and that we can work together effectively with those in power.

For example, last year we have convened a group of social entrepreneurs and DWP civil servants to identify what needs to change to unleash the full potential of social entrepreneurs in tackling the disability employment gap. More than 20 ventures and other expert organisations fed ideas into a report, which was then presented to Minister for Disabled People Justin Tomlinson MP in July 2019. We were delighted to receive the Minister’s support for the recommendations in the report, and have been working together with DWP civil servants on implementing them.

As a result of this work, large work and health programme provider organisations have been introduced to social entrepreneurs and encouraged to work with them in delivering contracts. We’ve also seen some good progress in the data released that social entrepreneurs could use to design future interventions.

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Author Info


Laura Kekuti

I have been working for UnLtd since November 2016. As a Policy Officer I am working with the government and other decision makers to create a more enabling environment for social entrepreneurs to start up and thrive. Previously I gained experience in charity and social entrepreneurship consulting in Hungary. I have a BA in International Relations and a MSc in Management and have completed the Charityworks graduate scheme while working at London's Air Ambulance.

Unleashing the potential of social entrepreneurs

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