Brookes, N., Kendall, J. and Mitton, L. (2014)  in: Evers, A., Ewert, B. and Brandsen, T. (eds) Social Innovation for social cohesion: transnational patterns and approaches from 20 European cities

This eReader is an output from the Welfare innovations at the local level in favour of cohesion (WILCO) project and describes innovative projects in housing, employment, family care and immigrant integration.


Local background of the social innovations

Birmingham is located within the West Midlands region of England and is the regional centre for business, retail and leisure. It is the largest city in the UK outside London and has a population of just over one million inhabitants. Much of Birmingham suffers from high levels of deprivation. The city has had a wide range of regeneration and renewal programmes and initiatives over the years targeting both the city centre and neighbourhood areas. Local government for the city is the metropolitan authority of Birmingham City Council (BCC), the largest local authority in the UK.

One of the key drivers for the innovations described here was the need for access to social and affordable housing. Birmingham’s population is increasing and projected to grow by 100,000 residents by 2026, in total 90,000 additional households will be formed. Demand for social housing significantly outstrips supply and there is a large waiting list for social housing of over 30,000 applicants. The average city income is insufficient to buy an average priced home. This is a huge housing challenge, made more pressing with the economic downturn, which resulted in a slowing of the housing market, a drop in house building and restricted access to mortgage lending.

The other main driver for innovation was access to jobs; Birmingham has rates twice the national average and in some areas over 50 per cent of the working age population are not in employment. Birmingham has the highest rate of youth unemployment in the UK. Entrenched problems of unemployment, a shortage of appropriate jobs, fragmentation of support and young entrepreneurs not getting enough support were some of the issues identified. Birmingham was perceived as good at job creation but not necessarily for people in those areas where unemployment sat at a higher level. The opportunity for innovation came largely through funding from a central government grant, the Working Neighbourhoods Fund (WNF). The aim of this was to tackle unemployment and low levels of skills and enterprise in the most deprived areas. A total of £114 million was allocated to the city between 2008 and 2011.

There was evidence of social innovation across all sectors in Birmingham, usually with some involvement from the City Council as a source of funding. Innovation was evident in both labour market integration and housing but not visible in the area of child care. This is due to the fact that child care policy is determined by central government and local responsibilities include ensuring that there is a mixed economy of child care provision across the city, and administering resources for children’s centres (providing holistic, one-stop-shop services for families with children 5 years old and under, tailored to the needs of local communities) and for free child care hours for 2-4 year olds. This does not allow for decentralised solutions to child care issues.

The five innovation examples were chosen according to the following criteria: they were “new” to the setting in which they were being implemented; they covered one or more of the WILCO policy fields; and involved a variety of local stakeholders.

Welfare innovations in the three policy fields

The five social innovations presented were chosen on the basis of initial meetings with stakeholders and a desktop review of information available (websites, reports, policy documents). The examples selected had been highlighted as “innovative” or “promising” but these are merely examples, there were many more social innovations in existence in Birmingham at the time of selection. The innovations are introduced by a brief description followed by the themes of conceptions and ways of addressing users; internal organisation and modes of working; and interaction with the local welfare system. There are four innovations related to labour market policy and one the housing policy field.