From education to employment

All I want for Christmas…

… is an employment services with integrated health provision.

As we near the end of the year and of course Christmas, I can’t help but feel reflective. This is partly because for the next few weeks any paper you open will have commentators reviewing the past year and formulating lists of the best and the worst events, people, theatre shows, restaurants, and pretty much anything you can think of.

For the employment support sector I think we need to look a bit further then the past year to assess how well we are doing.

There are many positive achievements in the sector. Data published this week outlines the successes of the Work Programme, with DWP figures showing that 368,000 long term unemployed jobseekers have now found sustained work through the programme. Additionally ERSA figures show that 640,000 jobseekers have found at least some work whilst supported by Work Programme providers.
Contrary to many press reports the programme is not only working for jobseekers who are receiving JSA benefits but also for larger numbers of those on ESA, where providers are hitting performance targets.

However, we can’t be satisfied with performance for people with health conditions. Far from it. The data still means that the majority of people with health problems on ESA are struggling to find work. In particular, we need to be concerned about jobseekers struggling with mental health conditions. The report by mental health charity, Mind, helpfully highlighted their experiences. Although the press coverage predictably concentrated on the Work Programme and the accompanying press release did little to promote a fair and balanced view of the scheme, the report itself is broad ranging, encompassing all parts of the employment support system.

The truth is, however, as I highlighted on BBC Radio Four’s ‘You and Yours’ programme last week, that the prevalence of mental health conditions amongst the long term jobseeker population is such that the Work Programme alone has no way of financing these health needs. The Work Programme cannot be all things to all jobseekers and thus we need to increase the amount of mental health provision which is available overall as well as integrating a greater degree of health support via NHS services into employment provision.

We have made a lot of progress as a sector. However, there is still a way to go. So what do I want for Christmas? An integrated service that can meet a greater number of jobseeker needs.

Kirsty McHugh is chief executive of the Employment Related Services Association (ERSA)

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