I recently co-wrote a paper with Martin Loosemore from the University of Technology, Sydney, for two reasons. Firstly, to help build evidence around supported employment programmes that prevent youth homelessness. Secondly, to address the need for more theory and rigorous impact measurement in social procurement. Social procurement is when the public sector generates social value when they purchase goods and services. This is usually done by asking firms that tender for public sector contracts to create employment and training opportunities for people facing barriers.

There has been an increasing focus on ending youth homelessness around the world. Coalitions, including End Youth Homelessness Cymru (EYHC) in Wales, UK, have brought together like-minded people from different sectors to end youth homelessness. These coalitions have worked with young people and colleagues to understand the routes into youth homelessness and its triggers. This work has led us to understand what works to end youth homelessness to prevent it from happening and where it has not been prevented to ensure that it is brief and non-recurrent. EYHC have included the the Symud Ymlaen/ Moving Forward (SYMF) programme as an example of targeted employment support in their Roadmap to End Youth Homelessness in Wales.

The Supported Employment Programme

The SYMF programme provided tailored and individualised training, support and work experience packages for young people at risk of homelessness. Participants were aged 16-18 and care-experienced or known to the criminal justice system. The programme was flexible and based on the needs of the young person. The pre and post-employment wraparound and customised training and support provided by the program (such as mentoring, mock interviews, clothing, and transport assistance, CV advice, etc.) were designed to help participants overcome barriers to work, build positive and supportive social networks gain essential workplace skills and confidence and provide on-going work readiness support and mentoring culminating in a twenty-six-week paid work placement. Twenty-six-week work placements were provided in several industries, including construction, retail, administration, mechanics, catering, etc. However, construction was identified as a key sector and is a focus of the paper.

Measuring the Value of Preventing Youth Homelessness

There is a lack of research in social procurement design and evaluation. This means we do not know what is effective for whom. Most social procurement evaluation consists of anecdotal case studies. In recent years, social return on investment (SROI) has emerged as the most popular and accessible tool for measuring social value. SROI aims to capture social, economic and environmental changes that traditional accounting methods do not measure. It is an interpretive approach that tells a story of change from the perspective of those affected. It uses money as a ratio to value these changes, but it is not about money. Money is just a widely understood way of conveying value. SROI only includes outcomes considered 'material' to key stakeholders, and it requires external verification of results through independent assurance and other verification methods such as stakeholder consultation. The SROI methodology has been criticised for reducing social value to monetary value and oversimplifying things. As practitioners have developed the methodology, it has also been criticised for being subjective and lacking rigour.

The Capability Empowerment Approach

We underpinned our evaluation with the capability empowerment approach to address the lack of rigour in social procurement evaluation and SROI. The capability empowerment framework has already been used in research on supporting people experiencing homelessness into employment. The framework's value was its multi-dimensional approach to meeting the complex support needs of people experiencing homelessness and helping them into employment. The underlying basis of the approach is that homelessness is caused by structural disadvantage rather than personal failure, and building capabilities can reduce these structural disadvantages and the risk of homelessness.

One of the capability empowerment framework changes was for a practical reason; this involves critical reflection and planning for the future. Research tells us that young people who have experienced homelessness live in fear of becoming homeless again and, because of this, are unable to make long-term plans. Interviews and participants and the monitoring and evaluation records of the programme demonstrated improved critical planning and reflection. Nick commented that he was "focussing on (his) future." Osian said he would "stick with (the construction company) for a while and see if they can get me an apprenticeship. If not, I will work elsewhere." As the participants identified this change, it was valued as the cost of a career development course. This had been used in another SROI study to value the outcome of reduced time-wasting job hunting, and participants explained that they were motivated to plan for the future and secure appropriate employment.


The study presented a theoretically informed and robust evaluation of a social procurement programme. The wraparound support offered by the SYMF programme helped young people develop the necessary skills and reduce the risk of experiencing homelessness. The capability empowerment approach was a useful framework to evaluate the programme. The capability empowerment approach worked well to underpin this SROI theoretically, but different theories may be needed to underpin different types of social value creation. The research contributes to the advancement of social procurement research by presenting a theoretically informed and robust evaluation of a social procurement programme. It also helps us understand a targeted employment programme in more detail and how it was effective in preventing youth homelessness.

Jemma Bridgeman is a researcher in WISERD at Cardiff University. She has a background in education, housing and homelessness. In her previous role she worked for End Youth Homelessness Cymru (EYHC) where she conducted research capturing youth voice. She has published on how social procurement can support people to overcome barriers and access training, education and employment opportunities. She is currently working on the ESRC Excluded Lives project, which examines school exclusion across the four jurisdictions of the UK.

The Housing Studies Association (HSA) is a limited company registered in England and Wales under company number 13958843 at 42 Wellington Road, Greenfield, OL3 7AQ.
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