ERSA Manifesto blogs: Daniel Dumoulin, St Mungo’s Broadway, on employment support for people with complex needs


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.

ERSA Manifesto blogs: Rt Hon Stephen Timms MP on Labour’s vision for employment support

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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.

Far too many people in Britain could be in work, but aren’t.  Young people, over 50s, people with health problems, people already out of work for some time are being left behind. We need to open up the chance of work to many who have been out of work long term.

Much more still needs to be done for the hardest to help; particularly for those who are out of work on health grounds and also for older jobseekers. We need to do much better, and in a cost effective way.

Labour’s plans for reform – Localism and the Compulsory Job Guarantee

Labour will take a localised approach to employment support.  Effective employment support requires a wide range of services to be available too – in particular, skills support; in many cases, health or housing support too.  The current Work Programme, with its big regional contracts, does not have access to those services.  The kind of integration that is needed cannot be delivered in Whitehall. 

Partly because of huge regional contracts, the Work Programme has squeezed out really good, local voluntary sector organisations with specialist expertise.  Local authorities barely get a look in. 

We want the replacement for the Work Programme to be contracted at city or county region / LEP level.  And, in time, we want actual commissioning to be carried out at the local level too.   We want local authorities, colleges, local employers – and the NHS – to be round the table.  That kind of integration is feasible in a city region not in Whitehall.

The key integration is between employment support and skills support. Furthermore, the case for localisation is particularly compelling for people out of work on health grounds.  Localisation will allow integration with the health service. 

Greater Manchester’s Working Well project is for people claiming ESA who have been through the Work Programme.   Commissioned by the Greater Manchester combined local authorities it expects to work with 5000 people claiming ESA who leave the Work Programme between April 2014 and March 2016. The project board is chaired by one of the local authority chief executives, and includes Jobcentre Plus, NHS England, the local Drug and Alcohol Team, the mental health trust, Greater Manchester Housing, Manchester College and the Adult Education Service. 

For effective employment support for the hard to help, we need other services in the area to be on hand too.  Being able to deliver that is a very powerful argument for the localised commissioning in Working Well – and that we want to see replacing centralised commissioning, on big regional boundaries, which has characterised the Work Programme and – in our view – been at the root of its weaknesses. 

The second major change we want to make is to introduce our Compulsory Job Guarantee.  Our proposal is that people under 25 who have been claiming Jobseekers Allowance for a year, and also people over 25 who have been claiming Jobseekers Allowance for two years, should be guaranteed the offer of a job – six months in duration, at least 25 hours per week, paid at least at the level of the National Minimum Wage.  Where necessary, the Government will pay the wage costs for six months and ensure that a job is available. 

We are calling it a Compulsory Job Guarantee.  We will accept in Government the responsibility to make sure jobseekers have the chance of work.  But we will equally expect jobseekers, responsibly, to take up the opportunity of work once it has been offered.  Once the offer has been made, and hopefully usually a choice of positions will be offered, the payment of jobseekers allowance will cease.

There is now a historically large number of people who have been out of work for a long time.  The current expansion in employment, and the growing  challenge to employers in finding enough staff, presents us with an opportunity to change that – to bring those people back in to the workforce, to enable them to make a positive contribution. The Job Guarantee is the way to do it.  The cost of delivering it is falling as unemployment comes down.  We are determined to realise the opportunity.

We think we have a model now – with localised commissioning and the Job Guarantee – which can do much better.   Labour is will ensure we invest the resources to deliver it – in a period when budgets will be very tight – reflecting how important we see this as being.  The human cost of leaving people behind is too high a price to pay.

Andrew Dunn of the University of Lincoln discusses research on jobseekers’ attitudes to employment

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The coalition’s increased use of conditionality for claimants of Jobseeker’s Allowance/JSA (soon to be Universal Credit) and its tougher financial sanctions for non-compliance are part of a policy trend, dating back to the 1980s, that is underpinned by politicians’ belief that many people prefer benefits to employment.  Yet academic researchers insist these politicians’ are misguided; their evidence repeatedly demonstrates that unemployed benefit claimants possess mainstream work values and that the overwhelming majority both want employment and actively seek it. However, academics tend to rely on what unemployed people tell them. In what follows I discuss the findings of my 40 telephone interviews with frontline employment support staff in the summer of 2011. 

My respondents worked in all kinds of welfare-to-work organisations, in diverse locations across England, Scotland and Wales; 25 were in ‘employment adviser’ type roles, 11 in employer liaison, and 4 were office managers.  Most said that between a quarter and half of their present long-term (over 6 months) JSA claimant clients did not want employment (this finding does not contradict the existing conclusion about the vast majority of unemployed people wanting a job, given that about two-thirds of JSA claimants re-enter employment within 6 months).  However, all 40 said that many of their long-term JSA clients remained unemployed because they were too ‘choosy’ in the jobs they were willing to do; most of the 40 said they believed that a majority would enter employment within two months if they applied for a range of relatively unattractive jobs.  Thirty-six of the 40 said that there was a particularly difficult group of clients from families and neighbourhoods which had experienced considerable worklessness over ‘three generations’, and who consequently saw claiming out-of-work benefits as normal and morally acceptable.

The only other UK study of welfare-to-work industry employees to focus specifically upon their clients’ attitudes towards employment is Shildrick et al.’s (2012) ‘Poverty and Insecurity’, which also included interviews with unemployed and employed people about their own work attitudes.  These authors are archetypal examples of what Alan Deacon refers to as the ‘quasi-Titmuss school’ – a group of left-wing academics who dominate British social policy, are often involved in poverty lobby organisations like CPAG, and strongly object to any criticism of benefit claimants.  Shildrick et al. drew the firm conclusion that people ‘love’ working and ‘loathe’ claiming benefits based on what unemployed and employed people said however they completely dismissed their 13 welfare-to-work industry respondents’ comments (which were very similar to what my 40 said) as biased! 

While biases and prejudices inevitably influence interview findings, this favouring of one form of research over the other is remarkable. Both forms have their strengths and weaknesses. The professionals have vast experience of their unemployed clients’ job search activity (mine had spent an estimated total of 147,000 hours in the company of the people they told me about), and the unemployed people interviewed might be reluctant to risk losing their income by telling a stranger on tape they do not want a job, even if they believe the risk of being reported to the benefit authorities is tiny.  Yet because conclusions like Shildrick et al.’s are pleasing to left-wing people’s ears, they receive little or no critical scrutiny from other social policy academics.  In fact, among their book’s many plaudits, Hartley Dean in ‘Critical Social Policy’ (2014) even suggested that Shildrick et al. should have emphasised their finding about the strong work ethic of benefit claimants even more than they did! 

When I first published an article about my 40 interviews, the Journal of Social Policy invited mainstream social policy authors Sharon Wright and Greg Marston to write response pieces (see Volume 42 Issue 4).  Their main criticism, drawing on Lipsky’s ‘Street Level Bureaucracy’ (1980), was that government propaganda influences front-line staff, leading them to give biased descriptions of their clients.  While I accept this happens, I also think that if their clients had shown a fiercely strong commitment to employment, at least some of the 40 would have said so.  Tellingly, some said they were shocked by their clients’ attitudes to work, which, they said, had led them to abandon long-standing more positive attitudes towards the long-term unemployed. 

My book, ‘Rethinking Unemployment and the Work Ethic’, includes a detailed description of the research findings. Please feel free to email me to discuss any of the issues I have raised ( 

Any opinions represented within this blog are the authors and do not represent the views of ERSA.