Project tackling in-work poverty helps over 300 South Londoners into work

With an estimated 4 million British workers living in poverty (source: JRF 2018), a south London project has helped over 300 workers experiencing in-work poverty to improve their earnings and prospects, according to an evaluation into the work. 

Routeways was a two-year project which ran from 2018/2019 and was supported by J P Morgan.  Working with the Better Placed Partnership of the London Boroughs of Lambeth, Lewisham & Southwark, it offered local residents holistic support a to find better work and reduce their levels of poverty.  Routeways also engaged employers to help them obtain advice and services to improve their business and employment practices.

The project emerged from St Giles’s existing work helping families and individuals facing poverty and hardship.  Over recent years, they have seen a sharp increase in the number of people using its services who were in employment but still facing debts and financial difficulties.

Of the 317 people who were helped by Routeways:

  • 50% improved their weekly pay, with one individual’s wage increasing from less than £80 per week to £673
  • Nearly 200 improved their skills – gaining accredited qualifications and industry standard training relating to their employment goals
  • 143 became more financially stable

Women made up 63% of participants and 84% were from BAME background, reflecting labour market disadvantage faced by these groups.  Over 80% were in part-time employment when they first engaged and 47% were on zero hours contracts.  Almost 70% were in receipt of benefits and many were also experiencing issues around poor housing, childcare, physical and mental health.

The evaluation found that the wrap-around, personalised approach of Routeways which took account of these barriers was a key factor in its success.

“We always saw the bigger picture and did not solely focus on getting someone a job with a higher pay as it could have exacerbated other issues going on in their lives,” said Rob Owen OBE, Chief Executive of St Giles.  “For example, it might have increased travel expenses for someone in debt or meant a less supportive working environment for a person currently experiencing mental health issues. The approach on Routeways took account of these nuances which meant we were able to engage and help people in often complex situations.”

Routeways also worked with employers to help them improve their employment practices and the evaluation found that the rate of employment engagement was “surprising and strong.” Building relationships with employers by supporting them to fill vacancies and access training for their existing staff led to successful engagement on improving their pay offer and employment practices

It was a partnership project through the Better Placed Partnership of the London Boroughs of Lambeth, Lewisham and Southwark. Southwark Leader Cllr Peter John OBE and Lambeth Leader Cllr Jack Hopkins said:

We are incredibly grateful to the outstanding work by St Giles supporting our residents to progress in work through Routeways. While unemployment has fallen to historic low levels, the rise of low pay and insecure work has had a significant and detrimental effect on many of our residents.

Routeways highlights the need for the Government to provide further power and resources to local areas to combat the effects of low pay, which disproportionately impacts women and BAME residents. We will consider how we can combat this challenge collectively by working across Lambeth, Lewisham and Southwark as the Better Placed Partnership.”

The work commenced by Routeways is continuing at St Giles through other existing projects.  The experience however highlights the need to scale up this type of service.  

It demonstrates how important it is for people trapped in poverty and low paid work to be able to access affordable and relevant training. The current adult education system does not sufficiently meet their needs.