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.

Meeting complex needs: Tailored support, not one size fits all

I consider many things to be complex: quantum physics; the offside rule and the works of Gabriel García Márquez, to name but a few.  However for thousands of people who are long term unemployed, across the UK, the barriers they face are more than just complicated, they can be frustrating, painful, terrifying at times, and nearly always life altering for those whom they effect.

The support people receive should not only address their barriers, but also capitalise on their abilities. People who are long term unemployed face issues as wide ranging as health needs, skills needs, language barriers, bereavement, homelessness, addiction and caring responsibilities to name just a few but like any group in society they can offer a range of skills and experiences that would be useful in the labour market..

Since 2012, 62 380 people on ESA , whose Work Capability Assessment has found them to be  at least 12 months away from employment, have been referred to the Work Programme. The majority of these individuals have multiple and complex needs, such as those mentioned above. Whilst the programme is performing as expected for this group, there is still more that government could do to ensure they receive all the help available to them through ensuring greater join up between health, skills and employment services.

There are 954 000 people aged 16-24 who are not engaged in education, employment or training (NEET), included in this are 36 per cent of care leavers. Which according to a recent report by the Centre for Social Justice is almost double the national average for this age group. Meanwhile, half of working age carers lives in a household where no-one works. These figures contribute to the many people who have been long term unemployed who have had difficult childhood experiences and may have never received the specialist support they require.

These are only some of the experiences and circumstances that jobseekers, often deemed ‘the hardest to help’, may face. However, the good news is that many of these barriers can be overcome or managed. So the question then becomes how can we correctly identify and share information relating to a person’s barriers to work, as well as their assets – which is as, if not more, important.

To best support people who are far from the labour market we need sophisticated solutions based on a sense of mutual trust between the person and their job coach, as well as the other services they interact with. What comes next for supporting people with complex needs should encompass innovation, best practice, joint working, information sharing, holistic approaches, and above all it should recognise that the progress someone makes towards getting a job can be as important, and as difficult, as actually moving into work.

Employment is only one measure of progress, one milestone towards wellbeing, which is an important goal to ensuring people are not written off, or their aspirations dismissed. It is complicated, but so are many things and if quantum physics is mastered by graduates every day; football is the most popular sport in the world and 100 Years of Solitude has sold more than 30 million copies then we need to accept there are solutions, but we also need to acknowledge those solutions aren’t simple.