This Friday marks the third national Employability Day run by ERSA (Employment Related Services Association). The purpose of the day is to raise awareness of the issues confronting jobseekers and help them to break down barriers that can lead to meaningful employment.

Papworth Trust will be celebrating the day with events in our offices in Basildon, Cambridge and Peterborough to connect our customers with local employers, and skills and training providers who can help and support them on their journey towards employment. We also have a Member of the European Parliament (MEP), Alex Mayer, visiting who we look forward to showing the important role that employment support services play.

As a charity, we have over 100 years’ experience of supporting disabled people to find, sustain and progress in work. We know that support with CV writing, skills training and securing work placements are key. But it’s developing people’s softer skills like building up their confidence and listening to their needs that changes disabled people’s lives.

Building Better Opportunities programme
In 2017, Papworth Trust was awarded funding through the Building Better Opportunities programme which is funded by the European Social Fund and the National Lottery, through the Big Lottery Fund. It’s a really important piece of funding as it enables us to work with a wide range of customers who may not normally fit into the general Government-funded employment programmes like the outgoing Work Programme.

Funds like these are crucial because they are not simply about creating employment outcomes but they recognise the value of skills outcomes too. They are also targeted to the most deprived outcomes.

In the last year, Papworth Trust has worked with over 300 disabled people across Cambridgeshire and Essex on this particular programme. We have great partnerships in place meaning we can link them up with over 20 local training and skills providers including the Citizens Advice, Realise Futures and Purple.

An uncertain future
But there is uncertainty over the future of programmes like these. Brexit and the subsequent withdrawal of European Social Funding would have a serious impact on this vital support that disabled people can access here in the UK. In its Conservative Manifesto, the Government promised to set up a successor funding scheme known as the United Kingdom Shared Prosperity Fund (UKSPF) but with a delayed consultation on it, we remain in the dark about what this will actually look like.

Brexit creates an opportunity to take stock of what is working and what isn’t, and to continue developing the provisions on offer.

So what do we think the UK Shared Prosperity Fund should look like?
1) We need to ensure it joins up work, health and other wellbeing interventions.

2) Driving innovation is key. One of the great assets of this type of funding stream in the past has been the ability to trial and test new ways of working to see what truly makes effective employment support. Any successive programme needs to ensure innovation is at the heart of it.

3) Linked to this is the inclusion of short and long term funding pots. This will enable the sector to pilot new ways of working in the short term, whilst bringing stability for the future.

4) Lastly but importantly, we need to remove the bureaucracy. One of our biggest criticisms of the current funding streams is the onerous paperwork that can distract providers from working with the very people they have been asked to help. Accountability is important but if we can reduce some of this burden for  organisations, we free up more money in the system to be spent on the people who need it most!

Papworth Trust is part of an ERSA/NCVO working group which is developing a set of design principles for this successor fund. If the Government is coming up against hurdles of what a new system should look like, we want to be able to give it the solutions it needs and that will work for disabled people. The funding has been vital in helping disabled people make steps on their employment journey, and we want to ensure it is even better in the future.

Nicola Whiteman, Senior Policy Officer, Papworth Trust