Hidden work of the jobless is vital too
Regeneration & Renewal
A growing volume of literature emphasises the importance of social capital for the well-being of our communities and citizens. My day job as a community worker can be understood as helping to create a social infrastructure to foster trust, reciprocity and civic engagement.
One of the most debilitating dynamics in deprived communities is the uneven turnover of the population through which more socially mobile residents move on, leaving behind a static core population who are often outside paid work. The most common reasons for people being unable to work are the care of young children and poor health – particularly mental health.
This could be chronic depression, anxiety, alcohol or drug dependency, or a range of conditions previously treated in institutions.
The mentally ill, single parents, refugees, the too old, the too young, the misfits – these disadvantaged groups are often considered a drain on society, but in reality they make up the fertile soil that community workers cultivate. These individuals typically have spare time and are looking for something to commit to that will make them feel of value to society. People outside paid work – benefit claimants – are the unacknowledged foot soldiers of community development across the UK, but a report published by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation last week concludes that ‘the Government’s emphasis on ‘full employment’ threatens to strip neighbourhoods of the people who make the difference between success and failure of public services’ (R&R, 30 June, p9).
The report, Hidden Work: Co-production by People Outside Paid Employment, stresses that the users of services are regarded as assets and partners in the delivery of services and that when this happens it can lead to a dramatic improvement in their health, self-esteem and social networks.
The report identifies a vast range of informal, unacknowledged work undertaken by the residents of ‘disadvantaged’ neighbourhoods, and says that if welfare claimants are forced into inflexible, low-paid work, their ‘hidden work’ for the community will be lost – leading to worse health, and higher crime and public spending.
The Government should recognise that not all vital work is paid work and the benefits system needs to be able to provide incentives for those outside paid work to get more involved in their neighbourhoods without endangering their basic income.
Laurence Demarco is director of Senscot. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org