Wednesday’s labour market figures have fuelled concerns about the fragile nature of the UK’s economy – with unemployment now above the 2.5 million mark.
Employment support providers face some serious challenges ahead and in the immediate future they need to ensure individuals are best placed to access the jobs available.
Centre for Cities’ new report, Access All Areas, explores the role transport plays in improving access to work – not only by connecting people to employment sites but by also widening individuals’ job search areas and facilitating economic growth in cities (the latter a focus in Nick Clegg’s ‘Plan A Plus’ speech this week at the LSE).
The recession has accelerated job loss in some of the more deprived parts of the UK and many of these same areas are now feeling the bite of public sector spending cuts – creating a mismatch between where people live and where the job opportunities are. Compounding this is the longer term shift in the geography of higher and lower skilled employment.
While workers across all skills levels need to travel further to work, this is often more of a challenge for people on lower incomes: over two-thirds of JSA claimants do not own a car, and bus and rail fares in many parts of the country have increased well above average wages.
Clearly transport is just one factor influencing individuals’ access to jobs but in order to maximise its potential impacts decision makers across government need to work together. Transport needs to be seen as a tool in tackling unemployment.
It is also in the interest of Work Programme providers to address transport problems if it means clients are more likely to access and stay in work. Providers should consider assisting with travel costs to interviews or working with transport operators to design reduced tickets in order to make transport more affordable for jobseekers.
Journeys are also made longer and more costly by the fragmented nature of local transport systems. Here the Government needs to support local transport authorities to better integrate local transport provision and ultimately authorities should seek to move towards the TfL-style model of governance – allowing them to integrate across different modes of transport and cross-subsidise services.