Why the self-employed need to wake up to the threat posed by Universal Credit

September 25, 2014 by · 4 Comments
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In theory Universal Credit is a dream policy. The idea has been to streamline the welfare system, rolling six means-tested benefits into one so that work will always pay. UC is also intended to make the transition in and out of benefits more seamless, and as such accommodate workers whose income fluctuates and who find themselves flitting between jobs. In 2012 DWP estimated that an extra 300,000 more workless households would move into employment as a result of UC, and that it would save £38bn over 12 years from its inception.

Yet as we all know, the hype has not lived up to reality. Universal Credit has proven to be something of a nightmare. Indeed, it is hard to overstate the problems that have beset this flagship welfare scheme. IT failures, civil servant departures and a lack of departmental resources are just a few of the reasons for Universal Credit’s woes. Such are the challenges facing the £2.4bn scheme that the Major Projects Authority in Whitehall decided it needed to be ‘reset’ in 2013, while £34m of new IT assets had to be written off as a result of unexpected difficulties. To top this off, a damning National Audit Office report noted that ‘throughout the programme the Department [DWP] has lacked a detailed view of how Universal Credit is meant to work’.

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The Big Idea – Banbury Literary Live

September 15, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Fellowship, Uncategorized 

This is a guest blog from Liz Holme FRSA who, along with her team of literacy enthusiasts, is trying to reignite Britain’s love of reading.

Banbury Literary LiveAccording to the National Literacy Trust, a fifth of young people say that they rarely or never read outside class.  There is overwhelming evidence that literacy has a significant relationship to people’s life chances. A person with poor literacy is more likely to live in a non-working household, live in overcrowded housing and is less likely to vote.  Literacy skills and a love of reading can break this vicious cycle of deprivation and disadvantage.

The aim of our Fellow-led group is to increase reading for pleasure and literacy levels, amongst the young people of Banbury.

It should not be down only to teachers to achieve this.  An enthusiasm for literature can be kindled not just by schools but with the help of whole communities that they serve.

“A good head and good heart are always a formidable combination. But when you add to that a literate tongue or pen, then you have something very special.” Nelson Mandela Read more

If you love Academies, set them free

September 4, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Education Matters, Uncategorized 

It is the first week of the new school year and Academy chains are already back in the news.  Last week Ofsted wrote to AET (Academies Enterprise Trust) expressing concern that too many pupils were not receiving a good enough education, and yesterday the House of Commons Education Committee continued their scrutiny of Academies and Free Schools with an evidence session involving representatives of Academy sponsors and local authorities.

For all the controversy Academies are here to stay, irrespective of the outcome of next year’s General Election.  And good news that is too, given the growing body of evidence that some Academy chains are making a positive difference to outcomes for pupils – see for example the Sutton Trust report Chain Effects on the impact of Academy chains on low income students.  That said, yesterday’s Select Committee reminded us of concerns about the Academy programme as currently conceived that just won’t go away: limited local accountability; too much money being diverted from the classroom through top-slices; and signs that some academy chains are failing to provide sufficient support for school improvement.

A reluctance to address these issues risks damaging the Academies sector as a whole.  Three simple changes could improve the system dramatically. Read more

Over £310,000,000 a Year Misspent on Tuition – and one Fellow’s attempt to change this

August 26, 2014 by · 1 Comment
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This is a guest post from Fellow Stephen Parkes. Stephen was awarded a Catalyst Grant for his project Go Enrol, a website allowing potential students to compare higher education opportunities on the issues that matter to them. Stephen is particularly keen to find Fellows who can introduce student career advisors, teachers and parents of students who looking at going to university.

With average tuition fees in England of £8,448 per annum, students are making one of the largest financial commitments of their life. With an expected drop-out rate of around 37,000 students from this year’s cohort, this means that around £310 million will be misspent on tuition alone. This is before we even consider the time wasted of all involved, along with the other costs. When you consider also that an estimated 26% of undergraduates wished they had done more research before applying, we end up with a lot of students wishing they had made a different decision. With cut backs on career guidance in schools, more support is needed to be given to students. Go Enrol is building an online scalable form of support which can be used by students easily, for free anywhere the student is. Read more

Pioneering social innovation in Malaysia

Genovasi Malaysia logoThis blog was originally posted on the news page of the RSA Student Design Awards website on 4th August 2014.

I am pleased to announce that nine emerging Malaysian innovators have won in the inaugural RSA Genovasi Malaysia Awards, winning a range of prizes worth a total of RM260,000. In addition, the winners all receive admission into Genovasi’s Innovation Ambassador Development Programme, complementary RSA Fellowship for a year, providing the students with access to the RSA’s Catalyst Fund and Skills Bank to further develop their projects.

The RSA Student Design Awards team partnered with Genovasi, a transformative learning institution focused on cultivating innovation skills in young people to develop and deliver the RSA Genovasi Malaysia Awards, which launching in September 2013. Genovasi offers a human-centred learning experience to learn and use innovation for social inclusion, active citizenship and personal development for future transferable skills to face challenges in life. The RSA Genovasi Malaysia Awards focused on three project briefs for this pilot year: Active Citizens, Encouraging Social Entrepreneurship, and Citizenship and Communication in a Digital Age.

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Systemic leadership: it’s about noticing, navigating, understanding and caring for the fish-tank as well as the fish

‘What is the system doing to me, and what am I doing to the system?’ and ‘what are the social forces to which I am exposed at work that shape my leadership performance?’ were two of the many questions that Surrey Fellows were recently invited to explore, as part of a workshop run by Dr William Tate, Director of the Institute for Systemic Leadership.

Participants were invited to work on the systemic ideas in the context of their own organizations – challenging stuff, particularly when the implications are subject to deep reflection and challenge by supportive peers.

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Design innovation: new ways of thinking can change the world

June 30, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
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From beeswax packaging to paint that pours only one way, tomorrow’s designers show huge promise but they need support

Many people think that design is about prettification. But those people are horribly, dreadfully wrong. Design is much more than that; it’s a superpower, and with it you can change the world.

Through the RSA’s Great Recovery project, I’ve spent the past couple of years looking at the role that design plays in moving us from a linear economy – where we dig up elements in Africa, process them in Asia, ship them to us, then throw them in a hole in the ground a few months later – to a circular economy, where valuable elements are kept in play and reused or preprocessed. Read more

Emerging Ecologies at the RSA

June 24, 2014 by · 3 Comments
Filed under: Social Economy, Uncategorized 

A week into my Research Intern post at the RSA and amongst the swarm of buzz words, project titles TLAs, people’s names and lunch recommendations there is already a glimmer of the range and impact of the RSA projects.

I find myself in the privileged position of ‘straddling’ two separate yet, as it appears, deeply connected projects. The projects come underneath the RSA’s Action and Research Centre; one is a new project, with a London Borough Council, that is part of the Connected Communities (ConCom) team and the other is part of the City Growth Commission (CGC). 

Initially the obvious difference in scales of the subject areas delineates the projects very clearly, yet in reality they are looking very similar processes.

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10 take-aways from our new report on self-employment

May 30, 2014 by · 10 Comments
Filed under: Enterprise, Uncategorized 

Towards the end of last year the RSA and Etsy launched a new project, The Power of Small, which seeks to examine the large growth in the number of microbusinesses, and what this phenomenon might mean for all of us. This week we launched our first report – one of three – which looks in detail at the individuals involved, including what is driving the increase in self-employment, how this community is changing, and what life is really like for those who work for themselves.

Here are 10 key take-aways from the paper:

#1 – Self-employment is rising at a remarkable pace

The UK is experiencing a boom in self-employment. Today there are 600,000 more microbusinesses in the UK than there was when the recession began in 2008, and 40 per cent more than at the turn of the century. Likewise, the number of people who work for themselves is up by 30 per cent since 2000, meaning that 1 in 7 of the workforce is now self-employed. This stands in stark contrast to the growth in typical employment, which is up by only 5 per cent since 2000. If these trends continue, the number of people who work for themselves will soon outnumber the public sector workforce (we estimate this could happen sometime around 2018).

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2014 RSA Student Design Award Winners

Today is a big day.

Nine months ago on September 1st 2013, we launched our eight RSA Student Design Award briefs for the year and thousands of students across the UK, Europe and Asia began applying their design skills to a range of social, economic and environmental issues such as improving hygiene in low-income areas, managing water in urban areas, addressing changing work patterns, and many more. Over 600 students sent their work into the RSA and our judges began the arduous task of reviewing and scrutinising the work, looking for key insights and clever design thinking. Those 600+ entries became a short-list of around 80 and today, after interviews with all short-listed entrants, I am pleased to present the 18 winning projects and the designers behind them.

Today’s impressive list of emerging designers and innovators – some working in collaborative teams and some working individually – represent the best of what happens when good ideas meet good design (and good briefs too, I think!).

This year’s winners include proposals for new packaging made from beeswax, an alarm clock app to improve well-being amongst 18-25 year olds, an affordable sanitary towel for schoolgirls in low-income areas, and a frugally-designed hygiene pack for use in refugee camps. Read more

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