From education to employment

Do you fancy a challenge?

Kirsty McHugh, Chief Executive, ERSA

Do you fancy a challenge? These were the words which launched the Government’s new Challenge Fund and it appears the answer from a lot of you is ‘yes’.

For those of you not in the know, the Work and Health Unit is one of the most interesting parts of central government. It is led jointly by the Department of Work and Pensions and Department for Health and Social Care and is charged with solving – or at least making marked progress on – the entrenched issue of people with disabilities and health conditions being out of work.

You might remember the ‘Improving Lives’ strategy launched after a huge consultation. This is looking to put in place the building blocks to make transformational change in our society and thus increase the numbers of people with disability and health conditions in work by one million.

This is one of those issues where everybody is on the same side. There’s cross party support, public support and no real push back from any sector.

However, questions arise about the ‘how’, including responsibilities of and support for employers (of all sectors), the role and nature of intermediaries and how the benefit system operates to support people manage and improve conditions so that jobs can be retained or gained.

It’s this ‘how’ question that the Work and Health Unit is designed to address. Put simply the evidence base about what works in helping people stay in work and gain work when they have disabilities and health issues is not as robust as we would like.

That’s not to say that we don’t know anything. Quite the opposite – we know that there have been organisations working to support individuals with disabilities and health conditions into employment for decades.

We also know that many businesses have been upping the ante in the support they give to staff members who enter work with disabilities or health conditions, or acquire them whilst in a job. But we need to know more and we need to learn from the very best.

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This is why the Work and Health Unit launched the Innovation Fund. That’s already funding a range of public service interventions designed to learn about what works in the delivery, co-ordination and alignment of the services that people with disability and health conditions use aimed at increasing the number in employment.

The Challenge Fund has now been created from the wider Innovation Fund to identify and fund innovative approaches aimed at testing these and learning more about how we help more people with the two most common issues stay in work – musculoskeletal and/or mental health problems.

Those it benefits might be at risk of losing their job because of sickness or may be already off work through ill health.

Refreshingly, the Government isn’t coming at this with pre-conceived ideas about what works or could work.

As such, it has drawn its parameters broadly, with projects welcomed that operate within one or more of the following areas:

  • Helping people stay in work by increasing their ability to self-manage their mental health and/or MSK conditions.  
  • Helping people access advice and support about what sort of work they might be capable of doing given their wider needs and circumstances.  
  • Developing new approaches to help employers and individuals develop workplace solutions, or ways of working that facilitate greater work participation of those with MSK and mental health conditions.
  • Improving systems by joining up services to strengthen communication, liaison or joint action to help those with mental health and MSK conditions to remain in work.  

Also refreshing is the focus of the Challenge Fund on encouraging innovation and ideas with an emerging evidence base.

These might be interventions which you have some reason to believe might bear fruit; programmes which have been running for a while but need a better evaluation; interventions which we could learn more from if they were scaled up; or potentially support which is known to be working in one area or sector, but could potentially operate effectively in another if tested.

Rocket Science is running the Fund, with ERSA’s support. To know more go to or book onto the market warming events via

Deadline for applications is 17 August.

There, I told you it was challenge.

Kirsty McHugh, Chief Executive, ERSA

Copyright © 2018 FE News

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