Despite more than 23,000 disadvantaged people in Wales helped back to work or on their way to employability through the EU-funded Active Inclusion Fund (AIF) since 2015, it is now winding up at the height of the cost of living crisis, with no replacement post-Brexit funding in place.
The programme is managed by WCVA (Wales Council for Voluntary Action) and the independent report, complemented by a series of legacy videos, highlights the excellent organisations and projects funded by AIF over the past eight years. Projects which operated at the cusp of employability, welfare, and wellbeing objectives. Remarkably, the programme secured an impressive social return on investment of £3.37 for every £1 spent*.
162 wide-ranging voluntary organisations like Wales Council for Deaf People and Adferiad Recovery have been in receipt of AIF grants creating new employment opportunities, recognising softer skills (such as psychological wellbeing and resilience), and opening up brand-new pathways into work or volunteering.
However, WCVA fears that the continued delay in implementing the UK Shared Prosperity Fund and the ongoing uncertainty around the programme, which is being delivered through Local Authorities, will result in a loss of expertise, staff and delivery capacity in the voluntary sector. This as the cost of living crisis is pushing more and more disadvantaged communities to live on a knife-edge.
WCVA Chief Executive Ruth Marks says:
‘We’re delighted our final AIF evaluation report demonstrates the programme’s extraordinarily positive impact on communities the length and breadth of Wales. Our funding beneficiaries, like Wales Council for Deaf People and Adferiad Recovery, have excelled in their role to support participants struggling to enter the labour market.
‘I am so proud of their work over the past eight years, as they exemplify the best of what the voluntary sector offers Wales. But there’s no getting away from the fact that this funding is ending and there is continuing uncertainty around the post-Brexit funding arrangements that will now be administered by Local Authorities. It is vitally important then, that the learning we’ve gained over the past eight years is not lost, and that beneficiary organisations who have been in receipt of funding are not forgotten.
‘Unless Local Authorities continue to fund the vital work undertaken by the voluntary sector, then we risk losing key expertise from the sector. More than that, we also risk the livelihoods of those people in crisis mode who’ve depended on the support of our AIF projects. The forthcoming funding gap comes at the worst possible time – the cost of living crisis – with those in the least well-off areas feeling its full force.’
Launched in 2015, the AIF was financed by the European Social Fund (ESF) and sought to address the longstanding challenges in meeting the needs of ‘the seldom heard’ in Wales – Individuals and groups across Wales who consistently struggle to engage and stay engaged in the labour market.
The report makes clear how finding and sustaining suitable employment can lift people out of poverty and has a positive impact not only on the individual concerned but on family, the community in which they live and the Welsh economy more widely. Most participants spoke positively about their experiences and were able to transcend multiple challenges and barriers and find entry-level jobs in catering, retail, construction, care homes, call centres, online retailing, childcare and youth work.
One participant called Anne** said:
‘It’s been fantastic for me, and I genuinely mean that. It’s been a wonderful experience and, even now, I can’t wait to get up in the morning and see people. It’s such a shame it’s not going to continue and sad, quite emotional for me. If you go on to an AIF project like I did and grab it by the scruff of the neck and get everything you can out of it, it absolutely works, it really does.’
*The SRI calculation used in the AIF assessment is cautious, and applies financial values to selected soft skill outcomes and validated AIF exit outcomes for all participants completing support on or before 31 March 2022 (23,000+ people). These included qualifications achieved, work placements and entry into employment. The ratio of overhead costs to impacts (£151.8 of benefits / costs of £45m) gave a ratio of 3.37, i.e. for every £1 spent AIF yielded £3.37 of quantified benefit. The true value could be higher because data is not available to quantify aspects such as sustained volunteering post AIF participation, benefits to families, to communities or the longer-term benefits for participants.
**Anne’s name has been changed to protect her privacy