Select Committee on Work and Pensions Written Evidence

Memorandum submitted by Forth Sector


  Forth Sector is an Edinburgh-based social enterprise that has been providing employment and training opportunities to people with mental health problems for the past 15 years. It runs a number of small "social firms" that provide employment for up to 11 people with severe and enduring mental health problems and training placements to around 60-70 people a year. Forth Sector also runs a highly successful project (Restart) that works in partnership with Lothian Health Board, Jobcentre Plus, Careers Scotland and numerous other local agencies. The project provides combined health and employability support to people with mental health problems who have been unemployed for less than two years. In 2004 it supported 45% of its client group to return to, and retain, employment.

  People with mental health problems represent the largest number of people claiming incapacity benefits, yet conversely they are also the group for whom the highest percentage express a desire to return to work.

  The following paper responds to a selection of the questions outlined in relation to the Select Committee's Inquiry. The key recommendations are as follows:

    —  Any reform of strategies to support people into work need to be locally developed and locally appropriate to reflect different issues around:

    —  Demographic of workless population.

    —  Local labour market issues.

    —  Maximise the skills and experience of local delivery agents

    —  Jobcentre Plus (JC+) is not the best lead vehicle for delivering Pathways to Work because:

    —  Clients have an in-built mistrust of it as an organisation, based on previous experience and concern around protecting their benefits (a recent survey of workless people in Edinburgh showed that 90% of those interviewed would go to an intermediary for support rather than JC+).

    —  Independent organisations can act as an intermediary bringing together the expertise of a number of local and national organisations including JC+ staff.

    —  Social enterprise is the ideal model to deliver this.

    —  Employers cite lack of recent work experience as a key reason they don't take on people who have been unemployed for a significant amount of time. Furthermore our client group have often cited the need to build up stamina and confidence before feeling ready and able to move into mainstream employment. Currently the benefits system does not allow people to make the transition from training placement to open employment gradually. Any strategy needs to allow people to make a staged return to work through a range of transitional options such as:

    —  Work placement in a supportive working environment such as a social firm (for as many hours a week as is appropriate).

    —  Work placement in a real work environment (for as many hours a week as is appropriate).

    —  Voluntary activity (for as many hours a week as is appropriate).

    —  Supported employment part-time and full-time.

What Lessons can be Learned From the Pathways to Work Pilots in Shaping the Direction of the Reform of Incapacity Benefits?

  Although Forth Sector has not had direct experience of working with the Pathways to Work pilots (PtW) our experience through the Restart project, which has a similar ethos is that many people on Incapacity Benefit (IB) have complex and multiple barriers to gaining employment, and any service brokering that transition must be able to provide support that is flexible and can address the range of barriers.

  Working in partnership with other agencies is crucial for this to work. For example at Restart we offer people a menu of services available and they pick those that they feel will most help them return to work. This brings in a combination of activity from ourselves, an Occupational Therapist, JC+, Careers Scotland, etc. Any initiative or roll out of PtW activity could be lead by the social enterprise sector on service level agreements—this would allow PtW to benefit for being led by an independent intermediary bringing together a range of partners and specialisms.[40]

  In-work support can also be crucial in supporting people to retain employment once they have gained it. This is often underplayed by commissioners.

  Different client groups have specific support needs and it will be important for any future roll out of PtW to allow for specialist support to be funded for priority client groups. This is particularly true of people with mental health problems who have very specific fears, concerns and barriers that they will need support to overcome to gain and retain employment.

Is it Possible to Distinguish Between Those who are Able to Return to Work and Those who Cannot?

  The simple answer is "no". Everyone is very individual and barriers to one person might be an opportunity to another. Some might be able but not want to and others might want to, but not be able.

  Our experience at Forth Sector has shown us that people who present initially as unable or unwilling to return to work can gradually change to become more able and more willing if offered the right level of intervention over a significant period of time. Within our social firms we work with people who might need a great deal of support just to come in for one day a week, to work for five hours, but over time, (in some cases months, and in others years), gain the skills, experience and confidence to move to two days, and then into supported employment. A crucial element is that there is no pressure to return to full open employment and so people initially come because of the health benefits and the social inclusion that working offers.

  Some people we work with may never be able to move into open or even supported employment. This does not mean that they do not gain significant health and social benefit from being engaged in meaningful activity in a genuine work environment. Again taking this approach means that everyone has the opportunity to move towards employment, even though some may never get there.

  We find the social firm model is extremely efficient (and cost effective) at providing both graduated return to work support and health benefit for those who may never get there.

How does the PtW Pilot Need to be Adapted for National Roll Out (If at All)?

  It will be crucial that the PtW roll out is sufficiently flexible to respond to local issues such as labour market demand, IB demographic and existing service providers who have experience and specialist local knowledge.

  Our experience, and that of others, tells us that it makes a big difference if clients feel that a service is independent of JC+, both physically and also psychologically. At Compass they asked JC+ advisers to remove their badges when working in the centres and clients automatically responded differently to the advice and support they were given.

  Where possible use of existing intermediaries (such as Restart in Edinburgh or Compass in Glasgow, etc) could allow the rollout to happen more rapidly, and be seen as positive for clients and allow more equal partnership working.

  As mentioned above specialist skills/programmes should be developed for different people's needs. One potential option in this would be to add in "work experience within a social firm" as part of the "menu" that is offered to clients. Social firms could then be sub-contractors to service providers.

Are People with Disabilities and Health Conditions, in Both Pilot and Non-Pilot Areas, Given Appropriate Support From JC+? Is There a Tendency to Help Those Perceived as Closer to the Labour Market?

  In our experience there is definitely a tendency to help those nearer the job market. Neither JC+ or New Deal job brokers have the experience and skills necessary to support people facing complex barriers (such as mental health problems) to return to work. People tend to be very rapidly passed onto social enterprises or voluntary organisations rather than supported into employment. We feel people with mental health problems are particularly badly served.

  Again this is a position where social firms can play a key role in providing people with a transitional approach to returning to work. They allow people who may never have been in employment, or who have been out of work for long periods of time to build up skills, confidence and most importantly work experience that are so essential to any successful aim to gain and retain employment. They do all of this in a real work environment with a focus on increasing employability.

How will the Reforms Help Those who are Not Able, or Not Yet Ready to Work?

  We do not currently see anything in the existing reforms that will address this particular client group. As mentioned above we feel that social firms (and social enterprises more widely) can have a key role to play here by providing "Alternative" and "Intermediate Labour Market" opportunities for those unable, or not ready to work.

  They allow people to build core employability skills (time-keeping, confidence, communication skills, personal presentation etc) over a period of months and years. Over time people move on to other forms of employment as they feel ready. The aim of this is to prevent the vicious cycle of unemployment, failure, illness, poverty, etc that many are trapped in.

  Given appropriate contract funding, social enterprise is currently the only vehicle that we are aware of that can provide these outcomes.

  Research undertaken by Forth Sector and Social Firms Scotland[41] show that unemployed people with mental health problems prefer a slow and gradual transition to moving into employment. This allows them to build up confidence and stamina without the pressure of potentially losing benefits/income if they suffer a relapse. Adjustments to the welfare benefits regime to allow this gradual transition are required.

  It would be helpful if benefit reform considered how it can allow people to build up their work-time and experience so that the transition from being on supported permitted placement to supported or open employment is not such a leap.

Can the Reformed Systems Support Those with Variable and Manageable Medical Conditions, or Those who are Only Able to Work Part-Time? Are Those with Mental health Difficulties Adequately Supported?

  Again based on current provision and proposals the answer has to be no. Please see our response to the question above.

  The PtW model could help support people with mental health problems, but it would need to be able to offer a specific and tailored service to this particular client group. There need to be "many pathways" to work. Again as above there needs to be active engagement by JC+ with specialist providers of employment support for people with mental health problems rather than assumption that JC+ are best placed to deliver this. Use of specialist providers would be in line with UK Government procurement policy on Best Value and avoid duplication of services locally.

How can Healthcare Professionals be Further Engaged in the Reform of the IB System?

  Health professionals need to be made aware of the positive impact employment can have on a person's health, and encouraged to build that into the options available to people at the earliest possible stage.

  But healthcare professionals do not hold all the answers. And often it is in the social enterprise sector that we find the best examples of quality of provision, positive outcomes, value for money and innovative thinking.

  Social enterprises have a clearer ability to focus on the range of issues that might be affecting an individual, and be better able to work flexibly with partners to develop appropriate responses. As above following Best Value should see an increase in the use of specialist providers from the social enterprise sector in the delivery of contracts to enable people on incapacity benefits to move back to employment.

  Again research from within the social enterprise sector has highlighted potential changes to the welfare benefits system that could be made. Reports such as Social Firms Scotland's "Mind the Gap" and "Bridging the Gap" provide a useful business case for reform.

What Skills do we Think JC+ Staff Need to Deliver PtW Roll Out?

  From our experience JC+ staff have an important roll to play in facilitating the roll out of PtW. However, this role has to be in partnership with local specialists. There should be no assumption that JC+ should be the lead partner and there is evidence that it may be more beneficial for the "contract" for delivery to be given to local specialists in the social enterprise sector. JC+ staff would contribute their expertise, as would other key partners.

  Having said this it would be also be invaluable for JC+ staff to be given training in understanding the particularly complex barriers that are faced by people with mental health problems and in delivering a client-focussed service.

Have the Private and Voluntary Sectors been Successfully Involved in the PtW Pilots? How can They be Further Involved in the Reform of IB?

  As mentioned earlier we feel that the social enterprise sector has a crucial role to play. Not only in potentially co-ordinating local delivery of PtW type services but in providing for the range of employment outcomes that might be appropriate for people on IB: from work placement to full employment.

  Furthermore the social enterprise model provides a structure which can help to address the multiple barriers people face, over time and in a flexible supportive environment.

  As above research has emerged from the social enterprise sector that assists in developing the business case for further reform of IB.

Are Local Labour Markets Able to Provide the Jobs Needed?

  In Edinburgh the answer is clearly Yes, with unemployment at 2% in many parts of the labour market, and with some sectors experience a labour shortage. What we need is to build the employability, experience and skills of those currently out of work to enable them to access these jobs.

Colette Maxwell

3 October 2005

40   Forth Sector's Restart is a good example of this working, as is Compass based in Glasgow. Back

41   Mind the Gap, Forth Sector 2000, Bridging the Gap, Social Firms Scotland 2005. Back

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