This month’s ERSA conference showed what the sector is all about. We’re innovators, programme designers, and forward-thinkers. But above all that, we’re a group of people who make real differences to people’s lives – and I couldn’t be prouder to be part of it.
For those of you lucky to be at the conference, you’ll have witnessed a great tale of a blind jobseeker who felt he kept coming up against obstacle after obstacle – until, that is, he found support from our sector.
Mateen from Leicester felt employers were not giving him the opportunities that able-bodied people might have been given. Through Work Choice, and the dedicated support of a personal consultant, he was.
But Mateen’s case isn’t a new or rare one. It’s one of thousands of incredible achievements that go on in towns, cities and villages up and down Britain. Even at Working Links, Mateen is one of 350,000 who we’ve helped into work, his consultant Bee is just one of 1,000 of our experts on hand to deliver advice, guidance and support to people each day. And his new employer Santander is just one of 10,000 employers we work with each year.
Mateen’s case isn’t rocket science – hire and keep good consultants, build relationships with jobseekers and find good employers – but it’s not that easy to deliver, particularly when funding is due to fall.
The government has the fantastic ambition of halving the disability employment gap, but that means more than one million people with disabilities will need to find work. With funding due to decrease dramatically next year, experts have warned it will take more than 200 years to fulfil the government’s ambition.
If we are serious about addressing the number of people on disability benefits, then we need a range of organisations to build the right package of support – it’s no good building up one piece of the jigsaw at the expense of others – it needs specialists with employer contacts. We also need to build in flexibility to meet the needs of people who face a wide range of challenges.
I’ve heard the argument so often now from a variety of people that people like Mateen would have found a job anyway. He might have done, but I don’t know if it would have been the right job, or if it would have been a sustainable one. Personally, I find that argument difficult to swallow when I see the great work that goes on in our sector.
Each organisation in our sector will have multiple stories like Mateen’s, where the organisation or consultant has gone above and beyond to help someone towards social inclusion, having been driven on by passion and determination to see someone other than themselves succeed. Perhaps we need to blow our trumpets louder, harder and in the direction of Westminster?
Brian Bell is Managing Director of Working Links