Worklessness is a problem across the region. It is most readily identifiable in urban areas from Redcar to South East Northumberland, but it can also be concentrated at neighbourhood level in market towns or found as individual cases dotted around the countryside. Minority communities (e.g. ethnic minorities, the disabled) are disproportionately affected. Philanthropically funded activity could help by adding value to public services.
Young people at risk of exclusion from employment as a result of disengagement from education and training can often be successfully reconnected to work opportunities through youth work. Public funding for this is diminishing, so charitable support is essential.
Supporting individuals and families in low-paid work is crucial as nearly a third of those finding employment remain in poverty. This is often provided by community and voluntary groups as a side benefit of social, sport and play activities, but can also include more direct support such as foodbanks.
The challenge of getting people back into work in the region is significant. We had the highest unemployment rate in the UK in July 2017, and the level of young people not in employment, education or training was the second highest in the country by a narrow margin. Self-employment rates are also among the lowest in the UK. Meanwhile, the average weekly wage in the North East is well below the national average, so for poorer people work is not necessarily a route out of poverty.
These problems need a concerted effort by the private, public and voluntary sectors. Sometimes overlooked in economic planning, the last of these has much to contribute. Together, charities and voluntary groups are significant regional employers, often offering a first step on the job ladder or a route back for those out of work. The sector is also key in fostering self-employment through social enterprise, often in disadvantaged areas. It has, with support from the European Social Fund, proven effective in reaching out to those who need to be supported to engage with education, training and employment. Finally it provides a safety net for those on benefits, or in their first low-paid job, which can be just enough to ensure that they stay fed and do not give up hope.
There will always be scope for government schemes that engage the voluntary sector in addressing unemployment, although Brexit places a question mark over their future. However the advantage of charitably funded groups in this field is that they are independent of statutory services that may be perceived as too bureaucratic or harsh in their rules.