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A Working Life for All Disabled People: The Supported Employment Framework for Scotland: Summary Report


2. Background

What is Supported Employment?

Supported Employment originated in North America in the 1970s to assist people with significant learning disabilities to access ordinary employment. It has since been extended to other excluded groups. It is based on the model of "place and train" whereby people learn on the job with support from work colleagues. This is backed up by the skills of a job coach 1 who provides well structured flexible support to both the service user and potential employer. This support in the main includes identifying the skills, preferences and experiences of the individual and matching this with potential employers. Along with work trial opportunities this helps to determine the type of employment that is best suited to the individual.

The Employment Support Worker then searches for a suitable job and provides training in the workplace once this is secured. Onsite training continues to the point where the service user and the employer are satisfied that the duties of the post can be discharged without the day to day intervention or assistance of the Employment Support Worker. The length of on the job support is determined to an extent by some of the natural workplace supports that become available from colleagues.

The job is not an end in itself. Individuals should be able to access continuing assistance for career progression and the further acquisition of skills through their employer, relevant learning providers and Skills Development Scotland. 2 Skills and support around financial capability and inclusion are particularly vital in transition periods.

Supported Employment is guided by the three main principles:

  • the job should be in an integrated work place;
  • the jobholder is paid the rate for the job; and
  • all individuals have the right to end their reliance on welfare benefits, i.e. reduce poverty.

Why is it important?

In 2007/08, 38% of children living in a family with a disabled adult were in poverty compared to 16% of children in a family without a disabled adult. 3

The employment rate for people with a disability in 2008 was 48.1%. There is considerable variation in the employment rates for people with different health problems or disabilities. People with diabetes, severe disfigurement, skin problems or difficulties in hearing, have employment rates much closer to the overall rate for Scotland (75.6%). However, people who have depression or severe learning difficulties have very low employment rates (24.7% and 17% respectively). In addition, around 28,000 veterans in Scotland are known to be out of work; over half of them have long-term illness or disability and 20% have multiple conditions.

Paid employment is recognised as a key route out of poverty. A range of policies have been developed in recent years in Scotland to improve employability services and job opportunities, tackle the barriers to employment for those furthest from the labour market and, through this, help to address the existing health and other inequalities in Scotland. Employment is also central to the Scottish Government's broader approach to promoting equality for disabled people. The Framework for Supported Employment is a key part of that approach.

Work can also be beneficial in itself. The recent review of the health of Britain's working age population Working for a Healthier Tomorrow4 (2008) confirmed that being in employment is generally good for physical and mental wellbeing. It is recognised that work can be therapeutic and that, overall, the beneficial effects outweigh the risks of work for the majority of people, including many disabled people and those with long-term health conditions.

How does Supported Employment operate in Scotland?

In Scotland, Supported Employment services have evolved without any overarching Framework or consistent funding arrangement. As a result, some services have tended to be fragmented and uncoordinated, driven by a variety of funding arrangements with no consistent standards being adopted by organisations or staff.

A scoping exercise carried out among Scotland's 32 local authorities confirmed that considerable variation exists in how services are being implemented. Some providers are delivering voluntary work, permitted work or work placements while others provide training for work. Few providers, however, were found to be offering jobs and holding consistently to a defined Supported Employment model.

A substantial number of service providers tended to rely on the options of voluntary work and permitted work, which for some has become standard operational practice. Securing voluntary or unpaid work can act as an incentive in the pursuit of real jobs but it can also be a disincentive.

There is often a misconception among some service providers about the 'benefits barrier' that prevents people from working more than 16 hours per week. Evidence from North Lanarkshire Council shows that, on average, their service users are £124 per week better off in employment and are assisted to achieve this by maximising income through the tax credit system. 5

What needs to change?

Too often, disabled people are held back by low expectations of their ability to gain full-time employment.

This lack of aspiration has supported and maintained historical ways of working which are often discriminatory and cannot continue. Low expectations can often come from a lack of confidence and limited staff training. This problem is compounded by a lack of consistent and secure funding.

The Task Group identified a number of key themes that need to be addressed:

  • the lack of a strategic, co-ordinated approach in delivering Supported Employment services which has led to variation across Scotland;
  • the lack of quality standards, underpinned by accredited staff training; and
  • the lack of long-term sustainable funding.

Action on all of these issues is needed to develop a system that delivers effective consistent support to disabled people across Scotland. Delivering that change will be challenging, not least because of the impact of the current global economic downturn. The temptation, in such circumstances, may be to do nothing and wait for the upturn before disabled people can move up the jobs queue. However, such an approach is not consistent with an inclusive approach and it makes no economic sense to write-off people due to their disability.

The Scottish Government is committed to ensuring that disabled people are equipped to compete in the labour market. It recognises the additional challenges in the current economic situation but is still determined to set in place a Framework that will provide better job outcomes for disabled people.