Social enterprise helping vulnerable Aussies find meaningful work
6 August 2019 at 5:34 pm
Social enterprise is delivering better job opportunities for disadvantaged Australians than mainstream employment while also fixing gaps in government jobseeker programs, new research shows.
A report from the Centre for Social Impact (CSI) Swinburne and the Westpac Foundation found that employment-focused social enterprises helped improve the lives of marginalised people by offering flexible and secure work arrangements.
Researchers said employment-focused social enterprises – which work to create jobs for disadvantaged groups such as Indigenous Australians or refugees – were directly reducing the costs of welfare, health, and housing services.
These businesses were also found to offer employment pathways that reduced reliance on government and philanthropic funding.
CSI national research director Jo Barraket said the report highlighted the potential of social enterprises to create major social change.
“The research indicates the important role that employment-focused social enterprises are playing in creating a more inclusive economy, and their unique contributions to Australia’s employment services system, particularly in support of people who experience multiple barriers to participation,” Barraket said.
The report notes the Australian policy approach to employment since the mid-1990s has been characterised by a “work first” logic, which prioritises getting as many people as possible into work quickly.
Researchers said by placing the onus to participate on people themselves, marginalised groups were left behind.
“For people experiencing systemic disadvantage, sometimes with complex needs, a more tailored, people-centred approach is required, rather than the standardised work first approach, to overcome the conditions that limit their capacity to work,” the report said.
The report discusses problems with the federal government’s outsourced employment program, Jobactive, which has employed only 26 per cent of jobseekers with complex needs.
Social enterprises were found to help address this employment gap by not only providing steady work, but also improving the well-being of people and communities.
An example noted was Vanguard Laundry Services in Toowoomba, which provides jobs for people with a lived experience of mental illness who have experienced long-term unemployment.
An independent evaluation of the business two years after opening found nearly 80 per cent of workers reported their health was either stable or improved compared to a year ago.
Workers’ median fortnightly income also increased by $304.
Vanguard’s success resulted in $153,000 being saved in Centrelink payments, while more than $231,000 was saved in direct hospital costs.
The report said employment-focused social enterprises in Australia could be more effective if further research was undertaken, to inform more targeted policy support and social investment.
Westpac Foundation CEO Susan Bannigan said the research not only reaffirmed her belief that employment was a pathway out of disadvantage, but helped identify what was needed to help the sector keep growing.
“The ripple effect of a job is powerful. When people work, we leverage all of the talent available to our country. The individual has a sense of belonging and purpose, families and communities are stronger, and so is society,” Bannigan said.