Rapid Recovery Challenge: Helping those whose jobs and finances have been hardest hit by the pandemic

Although we are beginning to see more positive signs for the health of the country with the easing of lockdown, the economic recovery from COVID-19 looks set on a longer and more problematic path. While the Bank of England forecasts UK growth to be higher this year than previously anticipated, others are counselling greater caution and predicting more pain – the National Institute of Economic and Social Research expects 450,000 furloughed jobs will be gone by the end of 2021.

The uncertainty highlights an urgent need for action in helping people to find paths to new employment and identify skills and opportunities to make necessary career changes that they might not have considered pre-pandemic. This situation is worse in some social groups already disproportionately affected by job losses, for example between October and December 2020, the Office of National Statistics reported that 41.6 per cent of Black people aged between 16 and 24 were unemployed while the figure for equivalent White workers was 12.4 per cent. This compares to pre-pandemic levels (January-March 2020) of 25.3 per cent and 10.6 per cent respectively.

It’s not only jobs that are concerning many. More than a quarter of people from Black backgrounds (27 per cent) have reportedly found it difficult to make financial ends meet, compared with fewer than 10 per cent among most White groups. As government support packages come to an end, people need help to make the most of every penny and understand what other sources of financial assistance are available to them. Nesta’s Rapid Recovery Challenge aims to be part of the solution to these issues.

Together we can help deliver these innovative tools to the people whose lives and careers have been blighted by this pandemic

Launched in September 2020, when it became clear that the toll on employment and personal finances from lockdowns and economic recession was going to be huge, the challenge aims to support and scale innovative tools and services that can improve access to jobs and money for people across the UK, focusing on those hardest hit by the economic shock of COVID.

Working in partnership with JP Morgan Chase Foundation, the Department for Work and Pensions, and Money and Pensions Service, our ambition is to help one million people access these tools by 2023 and assist them in improving their career and financial prospects. To do this, the challenge has been supporting 14 semi-finalists chosen from 148 applicants to develop a range of innovative tools. Today we are announcing the six finalists invited to focus on scaling their products to reach the people who need them most. They are:

The Beam Hub provides digital tools to people over 18 who are either homeless or at risk of homelessness and empowering them to take charge of their job search, helping them to feel prepared and confident in their applications.

Evenbreak’s Career Hive offers relevant and accessible careers support for disabled people looking for new or better work. Delivered by careers professionals with lived experience of disability, candidates can access bespoke careers coaching, attend events, find resources and search for jobs on an inclusive job board.

Hastee is a holistic financial health platform that allows workers to access a portion of their pay as soon as they have earned it. It has also created a personalised financial education tool that is free for 16-24 year olds in the UK, to help young people improve their financial wellbeing.

The IncomeMax Digital platform helps low income workers claim unclaimed benefits and grants as well as other financial support such as help with utility bills while the new IncomeMax Messenger tool allows vulnerable customers, who prefer to talk digitally, to access expert advice privately.

Turn2Us is a digital grants delivery platform that enables users to receive quick financial support by improving the grant process and dramatically reducing wait times for financially vulnerable applicants. Applicants can safely and quickly apply through leveraging identity verification, open banking and anti-fraud technology.

Udrafter is an online platform where businesses can access student and graduate talent on-demand and students are paid to complete degree relevant micro-internships that provide them with crucial work experience. Udrafter removes the ‘who you know’ barriers to work experience and provides equal opportunities for all students. Interns can readily access the platform for free and earn an average hourly rate of £11 compared to the national living wage of £8.91.

Scaling the innovations is essential and we must respond at the level required by the crisis. Solutions that are costly, difficult to deliver, are not financially viable or lack support from citizens and practitioners will struggle to grow even if they are effective.These digital products have been identified as having the potential to work at scale. Our focus now is to help them overcome any potential barriers. To do this we will:

  • Provide £150,000 in funding for each innovator to put their scaling strategies into action.
  • Offer non-financial support to the innovators to support them in their scaling efforts.
  • Convene the Rapid Recovery Network which will help us connect individuals and communities most affected by COVID-19 with innovative tools and services that help with personal finance and job recovery.
  • Fund community outreach grantees. Working with three organisations Do It Now Now (Black and Good), The Big Issue (Ride Out Recession Alliance) and Youth Federation will help us reach deeper into communities across the UK and engage with wider audiences.

With today’s announcement of the finalists, Nesta and our partners are taking a significant step forward in reaching the Rapid Recovery Challenge's target of helping one million people to improve their career and financial prospects. To help get these products to as large a market as possible, we are calling on organisations of all sizes to join our Rapid Recovery Network. Work with us and together we can help deliver these innovative tools to the people whose lives and careers have been blighted by this pandemic.


Ravi Gurumurthy

Ravi Gurumurthy

Ravi Gurumurthy

Group Chief Executive Officer

Ravi Gurumurthy is Group Chief Executive Officer, joining Nesta as Chief Executive in December 2019.

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