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
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
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
What Lessons can be Learned From the Pathways
to Work Pilots in Shaping the Direction of the Reform of Incapacity
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 agreementsthis
would allow PtW to benefit for being led by an independent intermediary
bringing together a range of partners and specialisms.
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
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
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
Research undertaken by Forth Sector and Social
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
Again based on current provision and proposals
the answer has to be no. Please see our response to the question
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
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
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.
3 October 2005
40 Forth Sector's Restart is a good example of this
working, as is Compass based in Glasgow. Back
Mind the Gap, Forth Sector 2000, Bridging the Gap, Social Firms
Scotland 2005. Back