Thames Reach
Thursday 27 April 2017
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Salaries and benefits

Photo of a former trainee
Mark Whiteford, a former service user trainee, is now a project worker at Thames Reach's Robertson Street hostel

The salary level of trainees needed to allow them to come off state benefits and be financially better off, though moving from benefits to a monthly salary can still be a difficult transition.

Trainees’ salaries

In relation to the wider employment market, well-paid opportunities for the target group, such as these traineeships, are relatively rare, even at times of high employment.

Thames Reach’s aim was that the salary for the traineeship would mean trainees would no longer need to draw on state benefits and would be considerably better off. The initial assessment of the trainee salary confirmed that the income did remunerate trainees well enough to enable them to withdraw from claiming welfare benefits, and to become financially independent.

Thames Reach benchmarked traineeships and similar activity across the sector to ensure that our salary was comparable.

The final salary for traineeships was set at £15,500 per year. This is in line with those of other, non-service user trainees at Thames Reach.

The aim is that this salary is a comfortable stepping-stone. Those who complete the programme will be able to apply for permanent posts at Support Worker level (£20,334 pa) or Project Worker level (£23,295).

Managing the transition from benefits to a monthly salary

Some trainees struggled more than others to manage on their salary. The factors affecting this were:

  • The level of rent they were paying

  • The type of benefit they were on before

  • The amount of savings they had – some trainees had been saving in advance of their traineeship in order to provide a safety net during the transition period

  • The individual trainee’s ability to budget, and their spending habits

  • The amount of debt repayments they had

  • Financial support from other sources such as the trainees’ families or church

Rent varies from £60 to £120 per week

The cost of rent paid by the Thames Reach trainees varies from £60 for council accommodation to double this (£120) for supported housing, or independent accommodation with support attached via a resettlement or tenancy sustainment worker. This support is added to the cost of rent, and trainees cannot opt out of it.

Those people paying higher rents found it harder to manage on their salary.

Coming off benefits

Some of the trainees who had been on benefits that are higher than Unemployment Benefit, such as Disability Living Allowance, weren’t used to budgeting their income. However, other trainees on DLA had saved a nest egg to prepare, and others were just particularly good at budgeting.

Three trainees asked for loans from the organisation when they struggled. It was decided that these should not be made available after the first six weeks.

Lessons learnt

Making the transition from benefits to salary

We found the following practices helped make the transition to a monthly salary less difficult and anxious:

  • Ask interviewees whether they had thought about how they would manage financially on a trainee salary and whether they had examined their expenditure in comparison with the salary

  • Provide benefits advice using the Benefits Calculator to help trainee applicants seek further advice and support or deselect themselves from the process, if necessary

  • At induction, review benefits situation and any additional benefits that the new trainees are entitled to

  • Pay trainees by weekly cheque for the first six weeks of employment

  • Accept that making the transition involves added personal administration which can be stressful to deal with during working hours, and give trainees time at home to deal with this. These ‘home study days’ are given during the first month of the traineeship and trainees are encouraged to sort out their benefits on these days

  • If money problems arise during the traineeship, suggest the trainee see a support worker or help them to access benefits or debt advice

Case study

A GROW trainee describes her experience of moving from benefits to paid employment:

“I had been housed off the streets for approximately two years in various hostels/supported housing and had also been volunteering for one year. I was unsuccessfully applying for various jobs then ... my peer educator told me about the GROW traineeship pilot [on the same] day that I was scheduled to move out of supported housing and into independent living through the Clearing House.”

“Unluckily, my new address was in North West London and my GROW traineeship placement was in the South East. I had no electricity or gas. The boiler was broken. The telephone had to be connected. I was required to meet my Tenancy Sustainment worker who was available during working hours only. My address was unrecognised by the post office, so mail was being returned to sender. My new rent was very high and my flat was band E for council tax.

"My outgoings exceeded my incoming wage before I had even bought food, toiletries and travel. I needed to apply for housing benefit and working credits to make the rent and eat. All this may ordinarily have been manageable had I been able to ask for the time off I needed to sort out these important home matters. But because I thought it would reflect badly on me, I never requested this time off, I never requested this time off. I was unable to see that, paradoxically, in order to be strong you have to be vulnerable first.”