The Employment Support sector has the answers

As it stands, two of the biggest drivers behind the cost-of-living crisis are high levels of economic inactivity and low pay. As was discussed at length during both of ERSA’s joint party conference fringe events, with New Philanthropy Capital, employment support and civil society have answers to the problems facing this current government, but it is integral that we are listened to and supported.

Rising inflation has meant workers have suffered a real-term pay cut, people are more scared than ever before to leave benefits for work in the fear that they would be left worse off, and those that left the labour market during the pandemic may be pushed back into work because of their current economic circumstances.

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) method of “any job, better job, career” has not yet sufficiently lowered the levels of vacancy numbers, and more recent government announcements have proven that they are an incredibly long way away from tackling the roots of the problems facing people who are either unemployed, economically inactive or in-work.

As well as being a social problem, then a political one will soon follow for this government. The Centre for Progressive Policy recently found in their report, Hard Up: How rising prices are hitting different places, and how they can respond, that 71% of former Red Wall areas are identified as being in the 25% of local authorities most vulnerable to rising prices. These figures should seriously concern Liz Truss and they will hopefully ensure some significant action is quickly implemented.

With around 40% of Universal Credit claimants being in work, providing opportunities for secure work and routes for progression is vital to tackling this worrying figure. Employment support organisations can help with in-work progression thanks to their experience with Payment by Result programmes. This has meant that organisations, and their supply chains, have often had to continue working with jobseekers after they have started a job, to ensure that the individual remains in work. Placing people into insecure work is not beneficial to the individual or the economy, and it will certainly not persuade jobseekers to re-enter the labour market.

Similarly, on a smaller and more localised scale, ERSA members are perfectly placed to support people into the labour market. These, often third-sector, organisations are trusted in local communities and have relationships with the types of people that are currently unreachable by Job Centre Plus and existing DWP schemes. They can and should be integral in plans for economic growth.

ERSA members and the wider employment support sector have a proven track record of tackling the current problems that face this government, whether that is the problem of economic inactivity, the need for in-work progression, or filling the high levels of vacancies. It is a real shame that underspent funds on DWP schemes like Restart and Kickstart have gone back to the Treasury, instead of being spent on being responsive to the new problems that faces our economy and labour market. This, coupled with the end of the European Social Fund in 2023 and the ‘People and Skills’ strand of its replacement, the UK Shared Prosperity Fund, not being available in England until 2024, will mean that the employment support sector is stretched, expertise will be lost, and people will miss out on support.

ERSA has recently offered to utilise its vastly varied and experienced membership base and run roundtables for commissioners, including the DWP, to shape what comes next based on current experience, intelligence and information, and first-hand knowledge of what works. This will be combined with a focus on the sector’s experience of working with specific groups of people who are furthest away from the labour market.

It is vital that the employment support sector is listened to, in both the immediate and long-term. It is a sector filled with expertise, opinions, and experience, which should be utilised to help tackle the cost-of-living crisis that currently engulfs the United Kingdom.

Further information:

Henry Foulkes, Labour Market and Policy Researcher, ERSA

Contact Henry via

ERSA’s work on UKSPF

UKSPF: What have we got to lose?

The ERSA Conference, Exhibition and Awards | Speak, Sponsor, Network and Learn!
30 November – 1 December 2022 | central Birmingham
Full details at 

Henry Foulkes chairing a panel discussion at the ERSA Conference in April 2022
Henry Foulkes chairing a panel discussion at the ERSA Conference in April 2022

Write a blog post for the ERSA website

A blog is a frequently updated webpage with information or opinion. ERSA Blog posts are published regularly with the most recent at the top.

When writing for the ERSA blog have a think about the following;

  • Use a catchy opening sentence or title that might include frequently searched terms. It can also help add structure to your blog post, if you return to your original thought/ theme at the end.
  • Be personal, give information and your opinion. This is a blog from you and can include what you and your organisation thinks. We will add a disclaimer to the blog.
  • Don’t be afraid to challenge readers. A blog can be a great way of starting a debate and controversy can make for an interesting read.
  • Keep it short. 300 – 600 words for an average blog.
  • Don’t use jargon or acronyms without an explanation. The ERSA blog will be read by those outside of the industry.
  • Write about what you know. If your organisations in expert in self-employment then share some of your expertise.
  • Link to further information. If you are highlighting the key findings from a piece of research, link to the whole research for those who want to read further.
  • Help us to promote it. A blog is a great tool to get your thoughts out there but we need help to get it seen. Please help by emailing/ tweeting/ facebooking/posting on linkedin with it.

Some guides to blogging, which may be if interest, can be found here:

And ERSA blogs can be found here.

#ERSAAwards22 | Why apply for an ERSA Award?

ERSA award benefits: Why apply?

– Official recognition – Team motivation – Talent attraction – PR – Networking opportunities – Funding and business development growth – Easy application –

Success in the ERSA awards – either a shortlist place or award win – is an official commendation of exceptional best practice, judged by independent industry experts.

The recognition it gives to individuals and teams working in the employability industry, in arguably its most challenging year to date, is a primary motivation for submitting an entry.

ERSA recognition adds credibility to your services and business ethics: a genuine draw for potential new employees, supply chain partners, and funders.

Success can be announced and applauded internally, on social media, in stakeholder and commissioner communications, and to the media. The PR opportunities are huge. ERSA will support you to shout about your success and will promote successful entrants through our conversations with key stakeholders, ERSA forums, social media, and PR activity.

The submission process is straightforward and not onerous. Applying for and winning an ERSA award is an achievable target for companies of all sizes. We welcome applications from anybody involved in the sector, ERSA member or not.

Submitting an entry on behalf of a partner organisation is also a great way to recognise collaborative working and a job well done. Almost half of 2020’s ERSA winners were nominated by another organisation.

Celebrate your immense efforts in supporting those that need it most: we look forward to receiving your entry.

The sector awards open on Friday 25 June 2022 and full details can be found here.

Far from full employment


The recently released Taylor review was widely covered as an attempt to get to grips with the gig economy amid the growing sense that too much work in the UK was not ‘fair and decent’. The review comes on the back of five years of robust employment growth but stagnant wages and the proliferation of various forms of atypical work, from self-employment to zero hours contracts. Given this one could be convinced that the UK has solved the problem of getting people into employment and what was now needed was a concerted push to improve the world of work.

While there is some truth in this characterisation it risks ignoring the fact that a lack of labour force participation, under- and unemployment are still big problems. As the – recently released –  ‘Work in Brexit Britain’ by the Resolution Foundations shows the UK is still far short of reaching full employment and will face the twin challenges of an ageing population and the prospect of significantly reduced migration in the future.

Although employment is at a record high, for many groups and in many parts of the country rates remain low. While half of all people with disabilities are in work in the South East, less than a third in Northern Ireland are. 70 per cent of single parents in East Anglia are in work, but this figure is just over half in the West Midlands. By closing these gaps we could reap significant rewards: our estimates suggest that helping relatively disadvantaged groups could result in 2.6 million more people in work and an employment rate of 78 per cent by 2020-21.

So how do we go about doing this? Three key groups and three specific policy areas stand out. First is the need to avoid a reversal in the success we have achieved in helping single parents and second earners. In the past two decades we have seen a dramatic improvement in the share of single parents and second earners in work, yet the change from tax credits to Universal Credit risks undermining this. Under UC – following a succession of budget cuts – it is likely that single parents may be incentivised to work fewer hours than under tax credits.

Second we need to do more to support those with disabilities and long-term health problems. Currently policy is too-focused on helping people into work and insufficiently concerned with job retention, despite the fact that more people leave work for health reasons than move into work from health-related inactivity. We propose that there should be a statutory ‘right to return’ period of one year for those absent from work due to sickness. To encourage employers to actively support people back into work, the government should also offer a rebate on Statutory Sick Pay (SSP).

Finally we need to do more to support older workers. This is partly about improving the financial incentives, for instance by making it easier to partially draw down the state pension. It is also about encouraging firms to create, and employees to request, flexible working arrangements.

There is a danger that constantly reaching new highs in terms of employment every month breeds complacency. It is important to remember that amongst significant parts of the population and in many places lots of people still do not participate in the labour market. While the government is right to be concerned about the quality of work, concerns about quantity remain just as relevant.

Stephen Clarke is Research & Policy Analyst at Resolution Foundation

Andrew Mackenzie, Reed in Partnership, on the risk gambling presents to people trying to get back to work

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New research by employment specialists Reed in Partnership provides a stark warning about the difficulties problem gambling can cause people looking for jobs, as well as those currently in work.

We commissioned YouGov to survey adults in Britain, which revealed that more than a quarter of working people who gamble would prefer to keep the extent of their gambling hidden from colleagues. This rises to more than a third of people who work in finance, accountancy or legal services.

We found that 1 in 10 working adults have direct experience of the problems gambling can cause in the workplace, as they know someone for whom gambling has negatively affected their work.

The consequences of gambling can be severe and even lead to job losses, with, for example, 8% of people in the construction industry knowing someone who has been fired because of it.

As well as the gambling addiction itself, worries about mounting debts and impact on family life can be a real distraction at work. This in turn affects productivity and our survey found that 1 in 20 men say they sometimes think about gambling at work.

Business security

Our research showed that almost three quarters of people think businesses should be concerned about the impact of gambling on their employees, but we know that few companies have workplace gambling policies.

Businesses need to take it more seriously by developing a clear anti-gambling at work policy. They should also be more proactive in providing employee support, by providing information in the work place so that employees can recognise the symptoms of problem gambling early. There are organisations who can help, such as Gambler Anonymous, but often a lack of information or embarrassment about the situation can prevent people from seeking assistance.

Barrier to returning to work

Our research showed that 2 in 5 unemployed people have gambled in the last year, which means in many cases betting away their Jobseekers Allowance.

When we interviewed Reed in Partnership’s Employment Advisers – who work with job seekers every day – as part of our research, they said that in their view unemployed people can turn to gambling because they are “bored, stuck in a rut and have nothing else to do”.

The risk posed by gambling is greater for those who have been out of work for a prolonged period and do not have experience of budgeting for themselves. Our Advisers told us that a frequent consequence of gambling is that an individual cannot afford to travel to interviews and appointments, and so the issue has a very real impact on their prospects of finding work.

Fixed Odds Betting Terminals are the electronic machines found in betting shops and are controversial because people can easily lose hundreds of pounds very quickly. Our survey found that these machines are particularly attractive to unemployed people, with twice the proportion of people out of work playing them as those in work.

We believe that employment support programmes should recognise the risk gambling presents to people trying to get back to work by providing guidance to prevent it from developing into a problem.

Gambling has become more accessible than ever, with smart phone apps meaning that no one is more than a few clicks away from making a bet. You can read our full report, which includes a series of recommendations, here.

Link to report:

For confidential advice and emotional support call the National Gambling Helpline on 0808 8020 133 to speak with a trained advisor. Lines are open from 8:00am to midnight, seven days a week.

ERSA Manifesto blogs: Liam Crosby from Community Links on Payment by Results contracts

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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.

Employment support providers know – sometimes all too well – that the commissioning structure behind our services makes a huge difference. Several discussions at ERSA’s conference last December highlighted the huge impact that commissioning structures and mechanisms can have: ultimately affecting the way in which providers’ can work with jobseekers. This is felt particularly strongly when it comes to working with people who face the most complex barriers to the labour market. Given the importance that commissioning models can have on driving providers’ behaviour, it is good that ERSA have made this a key area of their 2015 Manifesto.

Payment by Results – the means of commissioning in which providers compete to deliver services, bearing the risk and upfront cost instead of the taxpayer – has grown hugely in importance over the last few years. Their use is now particularly notable in the employment support sector, to the extent that Iain Duncan Smith recently described their rise as a “revolution in this Parliament”.

As an organisation with a long history of successfully delivering Payment by Results (PbR) contracts, as well as engaging with the social finance policy behind these schemes, Community Links has a good understanding of what this “revolution” can mean to small voluntary sector providers. Our experience working with PbR has taught us several key lessons, which we set out in a policy briefing . Our experience with PbR has been very varied – from the New Deal programmes to the Work Programme, today our £5.4m PbR portfolio includes eight different contracts which range from 50% to 85% payment on results.

Alongside our delivery experience, Community Links has for many years been involved in the thinking behind social impact bonds (SIBs). As part of Community Links’ work running the Prime Minister’s Council on Social Action in 2008 we proposed SIBs as a means of providing finance for voluntary sector organisations to deliver PbR contracts. This idea has taken on somewhat, being trialled at Peterborough prison in a scheme that may be rolled out as part of the Transforming Rehabilitation programme launched last month.

PbR as a means of commissioning has several attractive features. In our experience, PbR can work particularly well when the contracts are small scale (resulting in a closer link between providers and the commissioner) and when the outcomes are simple, for example when only one outcome is required. When PbR works, it should enable us to deliver our services innovatively, drawing on our local knowledge and experience.
But PbR also brings certain challenges, and is definitely not without controversy. Prison reform campaigners have warned that the introduction of PbR into rehabilitation work will be a ‘disaster’. Certainly, by passing risk from the government to private or voluntary sector providers, these contracts change the relationship between these organisations and the state. We think three main issues need to be addressed in order to ensure that PbR contracts work well:

  1. Contract financing needs to be carefully addressed. A blended funding model, with some ‘up-front’ or grant-based elements is useful; and PbR should not be the default way of contracting. This is particularly the case when working with people whose situations are most complex.
  2. The size and structure of PbR contracts can determine the role that different organisations play. Smaller PbR contracts would increase the number of small voluntary sector organisations able to become prime contractors. Supply chain issues – such as the extent to which risk is passed down from prime to sub-contractors – should also be addressed.
  3. PbR contracts risk forcing providers to focus on a narrow range of outcomes rather than working holistically. A greater proportion of up-front payments can enable providers to work more holistically. For groups that have the most complex issues, PbR contracts should be designed to incentivise the achievement of intermediate steps and ‘soft outcomes’.

Many of the points in ERSA’s manifesto mirror these principles. It’s crucial that the pricing model within PbR contracts truly reflects the costs of supporting jobseekers; and that PbR programmes can be designed in a way that allows join-up of outcomes with those sought by other providers, such as housing associations. It’s also important that these contracts are designed in a way that supports smaller organisations to be able to entre and thrive in the market.

Whatever the result of the election in May – Payment by Results is now a fixture in the employment support funding landscape. We hope these principles can help to make sure it works for all jobseekers including those facing the most complex barriers to the labour market.