Theme 1: Succeed Economically

The plan: Better educated, better trained, better off

Economic activity and worklessness

The effects of the recession are being felt across all areas and in all communities of the country, but in deprived areas; the numbers of people and families that are workless are increasing at a faster rate. In Castle Vale in November 2009, 28.2% of the working age population are classed as workless compared to 20.2% Citywide. Over 50% of the households have a resident in receipt of one of the three disability benefits and over 50% adults have no qualifications. Many of the families living on Castle Vale have two or three generations all dependent on benefits.

The Single Work Programme is the centrepiece of the Government’s plans to reform welfare-to-work provision in the UK and the spending review, published in October 2010 confirmed the Government’s introduction of the Work Programme in the summer of 2011. This has replaced previous programmes for unemployed people and according to the Government will “do away with much of the array of existing programmes ..which.. are too inflexible and expensive and which often fail to reach our hardest to help customers”.

In the West Midlands, there will be 3 Prime contractors for the Work Programme, competing with each other for market share and paid by results; it remains to be seen how effective the new Work Programme will be at delivering to vast numbers of people. The Government suggests that “For the Work Programme to be successful we expect that prime providers will need to work with a broad range of sub-contractors and local partners, including those from the voluntary sector, in order to deliver the personalised and localised services required in today’s labour market”.

From Castle Vale’s perspective, it is important that we are able to influence the delivery of the mainstream provision and we will be contacting local Work Programme providers in order to establish effective delivery to Castle Vale residents.

Young People and education

Castle Vale has a higher proportion of children and young families than other Birmingham neighbourhoods – around 25% of the population is under 16. 90% of young people on Castle Vale come from white working class backgrounds with around 10% of students from non-white backgrounds. Around 70% attend Castle Vale College of Performing Arts which was built when the estate was first developed 40 years ago and is now in need of urgent refurbishment. The large local intake can lead to the narrowing of horizons and the development of a culture of low aspirations, in addition to wider cultural deprivation.

Overcoming the deprivation of culture that the young people face is a real challenge. Although a number of Castle Vale students may demonstrate ‘bravado and laddishness’ when challenged to talk confidently or take risks outside of their comfort zone too many are reluctant and lack self-esteem.

Data provides that over 40% (47% at Sept 2011) of Castle Vale students are entitled to Free School Meals, more than twice the national average. However, this figure does not adequately describe the deprivation within the community. The level of language poverty and low aspirations are evident every day in schools.

Exam results in key subjects continue to be poor and are holding students back. In 2010 only 31% of students achieved 5 A*-C grades in GCSE including English and Maths. That dropped to 29% in 2011, compared with 47.6% (Birmingham) and 47.6% (National).

Far too many of Castle Vale’s young people are leaving school at 16 and becoming NEET (not in education, employment or training). For many, the transition and travel from ‘the Vale’ to opportunities further afield just does not happen.

Poor language and literacy levels are endemic in some households, for parents and children. This makes the role of local schools all the more important. There is variable performance within the junior schools on the estate. High standards of teaching in aspiring educational establishments are the only way out of this vicious circle of underachievement and cultural deprivation for many youngsters in Castle Vale.

The high number of adults within Castle Vale without qualifications reflects the need to increase participation in learning. 59% of respondents to the Birmingham Opinion Survey in 2009 stated that they didn’t hold any qualifications compared to 50% of respondents citywide and only 5% stated that they hold a degree as their highest level of qualification compared to 13% citywide.

The level of deprivation and disadvantage experienced by many Castle Vale residents can result in individuals putting learning lower down their list of priorities. Not valuing the importance of learning and the correlation it has with other needs can provide a ‘culture of aspirational poverty’ influencing the younger generation within families and communities in Castle Vale. Evidence from Birmingham Metropolitan College suggests that there is a very low take up of learning opportunities from Castle Vale residents – it is clear that we need to work together to develop training provision that will be attractive and relevant to encourage demand from local residents.

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