This piece of writing is part of a series of blogs designed to stimulate discussion around the five key elements of the ERSA Manifesto: commissioning, complex needs, skills, employer needs, youth employment. Any opinions represented within this blog are the authors and do not represent the views of ERSA.
The Prime Minister recently announced a review examining whether people should lose access to sickness benefits if they refuse to engage in treatment for their health problems.
This time the focus was on physical health, specifically obesity, as well as drug and alcohol problems. In the summer, stories emerged around a potential policy which would see benefit claims linked to mandatory treatment for mental health issues.
Debate around the conditions attached to benefit claims attracts much political and media attention. I hope that the forthcoming Work and Pensions Select Committee inquiry report into benefit sanctions will address some of these concerns head on.
With so much attention on sanctions, it’s important that we don’t neglect thinking about how people with complex needs can actually be supported to move into work.
St Mungo’s Broadway supports people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness. Most of the people who live in our projects have a desire to work but for many, complex combinations of personal issues act as barriers to employment. As well as lacking a settled home, two thirds of our clients have a mental health issue, and half have a substance use problem.
The current system struggles to deliver the long term support that many of our clients require to overcome these barriers and move towards work. Some of the biggest problems are:
- As detailed in our submission to the latest Independent review, our clients tell us that the Work Capability Assessment (WCA) causes such anxiety that it can exacerbate mental health issues.
- Our clients may have to spend months or years on unemployment benefits before they have a proper assessment of the barriers that they face to getting a job.
- Payment by results employment support contracts can make it difficult for providers to support people who take longer to achieve employment outcomes. Providers have to fund delivery of support for extended periods out of their own pockets before receiving any income.
ERSA’s manifesto includes a call to “ensure sufficient support is available for jobseekers with the most complex needs”. The manifesto proposes that this could be achieved through a holistic needs assessment on day one of a benefit claim, different financial models for those with the most complex needs and radical reform of the WCA.
These recommendations should be reflected in the next round of Government employment support contracts.
Identifying on day one issues which make it more difficult for someone to progress towards work means it is more likely that these issues can be addressed from the outset.
Distance travelled payments would allow support to be delivered more sustainably over longer time periods. Longer term support could benefit people, including many of St Mungo’s Broadway’s clients, who may have to overcome several personal issues in order to find and maintain a job. Social finance and upfront payments should also be explored as possible funding mechanisms for enabling providers to help people to overcome these issues.
We know that moving into a job often leads to better health outcomes. The next round of employment support contracts should ensure more support is available for those who could benefit most from being in work.
Providing more effective, appropriate employment support could make it increasingly likely that people take action to turn their lives around, without needing to be threatened with the loss of benefits.