In a system that can often be ‘unfair’ it’s important that organisations working with people experiencing homelessness embrace fairness in the way they work. Our new research explores how involvement in charitable trading can be fair for all.
During my career, I have witnessed the incredible contribution that my colleagues, many of whom had current or very recent experience of homelessness, made towards tackling inequality. I also saw the transformative power volunteering could have on people’s lives. However, it was an ongoing challenge to ensure that what people ‘give’ balances with what they ‘get’ in return. When people have got used to the raw deal of homelessness, they may feel indebted or lack the confidence to speak up. And when that balance isn’t right it can create feelings of unfairness and resentments. Our work can have unintended consequences that it would pay to be mindful of.
For social enterprise and trading where there is an inherent tension between business objectives and social goals, the issue becomes further apparent. At the forefront is how people are compensated for their contribution, clarity of roles and managing expectations. A common question (and sometimes criticism) is why aren’t people being paid? The answer is never simple, particularly when navigating the benefit system. However, ensuring that the offer of support, training, expenses and a positive experience is counterbalance to the contribution is essential.
Initial research by our team at Inclusive Insight has revealed that this topic is not a fringe issue and that many organisations with trading activities are battling with this dilemma. However, there is a lack of evidence and shared good practice. In recent years we have seen an increase in organisations exploring trading models as a means to diversify income or offer opportunities to service users with the best intentions. We are striving to support those intentions with implementable models of best practise, but we need your help to get there.
We are looking for social enterprises and charitable organisations with trading activities or business models that offer training, employment or volunteering opportunities to participate in this research. First by completing a survey that will help us map the types of enterprise, understand involvement opportunities and to identify good practice. By taking part it will help to address one of the major issues in charitable trading and enterprise and create an aspirational framework for social enterprises working towards ending homelessness.
In this research we plan to explore the grey areas, where issues with fairness and power imbalances can present themselves. A key example is when volunteers have similar duties to paid members of staff. Some of the existing literature tells us that the closer a volunteer role is to a paid role, the more likely it is to move people towards being ‘employment ready’. However, at what point does this become unfair, or even exploitative?
Our work so far has also revealed the sheer diversity of enterprises and trading activities that involve people experiencing homelessness. The survey we are launching will map and investigate different models of working, opportunities for involvement, support offered and how different approaches can impact on social outcomes. This is the first time a mapping exercise of this type has been undertaken in England. Survey responses are anonymous and takes around 20-30 minutes to complete and there’s a £100 prize draw for participant organisations. We hope it will provide the evidence needed to improve practice for all.
Response from Murphy Hopkins-Hubbard:
During my time at Homeless Link we have worked across two cohorts of the Enterprise Development Programme. Now, in the next phase of our work we are looking for ways to share our knowledge, challenge assumptions and support our membership to access the best advice and frameworks to develop their work. This research project hopes to explore how we can best engage service users, to provide a framework for organisations questioning the right thing to do and to support people to map the impact and theory of change of this engagement.
We hope that the sector will support us to do this well and based of our findings we plan to create a small grant pot to support organisations using trading models to implement the best practice frameworks identified.