1. Executive Summary
In early 2019, the unemployment rates for Scotland (3.2%) and the UK (3.8%) reached record lows. Nevertheless, the Scottish Government’s economic, labour market and inclusive growth strategies recognise that, for many people living with poor health, financial disadvantage and other barriers, moving into secure and fair work remains a significant challenge.
In order to support action to help people with barriers the Scottish Government (SG) has developed Fair Start Scotland (FSS). FSS is a service designed at, and for, this time of low unemployment. As such it focuses clearly on those seeking work who are further from the labour market, and who face a range of barriers to participation. Looking to the future, SG is mindful of the need to deliver services that can also respond to a downturn in the economic cycle and to any potential labour market shocks arising from EU exit.
In 2015, SG undertook public consultation to develop a new approach to delivering employment support services. The consultation response Creating a Fairer Scotland: A new future for employability support in Scotland laid the foundation for the design of new services that were devolved to Scotland in 2017, having previously been delivered by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) across the UK. A year of transitional services followed, during which SG worked with Service Providers and partners to successfully implement Work First Scotland (WFS) and Work Able Scotland (WAS).
The fully devolved service (FSS) launched on 3 April 2018, and aims to help at least 38,000 people towards and into employment, including those facing barriers to entering the labour market. The key focus for the service is to provide tailored and personalised support for all those who participate; to provide a service in which participation is voluntary, so people have a choice on whether they want to engage, and to ensure that participants are treated with dignity and respect in their journey towards work. SG have contracted this work out to six different FSS Service Providers across Scotland who will deliver services on their behalf across nine geographical lots, and over a five years to March 2023.
Scottish Ministers have committed to a “test and learn” approach to the ongoing improvement of employment support and both the FSS service design and evaluation reflect this approach.
This first FSS evaluation report identifies initial areas of success and for improvement across the first six months of service delivery (to Sept 2018) and highlights the actions being taken to improve current delivery and longer term development and design. The report summarises findings from commissioned research by Rocket Science UK Ltd, including interviews and online surveys with FSS Service Providers and key delivery partners Jobcentre Plus (JCP) and DWP. It also reports findings from participant focus groups and analysis of management information undertaken by SG analysts.
Positive evidence highlighted through the research includes:
- genuine partnerships established by key players across Lots;
- recognition by Service Providers and JCP/DWP staff of the benefits of a person-centred service model that treats participants with dignity and respect;
- people with a wide range of motivations, characteristics and barriers being attracted to FSS;
- participants seeing FSS as a way to move towards lasting and meaningful employment;
- participants valuing the personalised nature of the service and the wide range of support available to deal with issues at their own pace; and the
- benefits of a wholly voluntary service for participants, Service Providers and delivery partners, where the voluntary offer transforms the nature of this relationship, the character of the initial discussion and the roles of the Adviser/Work Coach and their participant/customer.
The review also highlighted a number of areas for improvement which SG is working on with Service Providers and partners:
- The voluntary offer brings challenges in estimating the potential numbers of participants who could benefit from services against the numbers who wish to engage at any point in time. This has impacted on the balance of initial high referral numbers through JCP to Service Providers, and the extent to which these referrals are realised as starts on services.
- We know who we want FSS services to reach, and the majority will come through JCP as working age benefit recipients, but we have not yet seen the flows expected. A key reason for this is likely to be the time taken to develop the partnerships and understanding amongst all involved that is required to support implementation of a new service. Particular challenges have arisen in understanding the detail of the eligibility criteria and service offer, and from the continuing public misconception around the voluntary nature of the offer (as also seen in the transitional services evaluation).
- In terms of eligibility, there is evidence to suggest that we are clearly engaging the disabled population and those with health conditions. However, there is a significant challenge to make improvements in reaching certain groups, particularly those from black and minority ethnic (BAME) communities. SG is committed to working with people and organisations who support BAME communities in understanding the barriers, cultural and otherwise, around why people from these communities may not be engaging, as this is a key part of the person-centred service model.
Finally, SG is working with Service Providers and other partners on a range of actions to improve FSS delivery and to embed learning in the development of the next iteration of employability service design and delivery. These actions and next steps include:
- working on ways of reaching and engaging potential participants. FSS is now in its second year of delivery, and SG is committed to working with partners to explore how to more effectively engage and build credibility with people of different ethnic backgrounds amongst others;
- looking at different ways to raise awareness of the service through new marketing approaches, along with a commitment to support understanding of eligibility for the service;
- Ongoing discussion with Service Providers on their feelings about the challenges arising from administration and monitoring requirements. SG is currently reviewing the performance management framework in consultation with Service Providers with a view to streamlining this where possible.
- Furthermore, SG is reviewing elements of service delivery to ensure that those who face significant health issues are being supported as effectively as possible; and
- Continuing to focus the evaluation activity on participants’ experiences of services. The research will measure longer term outcomes and impacts, as well as responding to real-time feedback to inform continuous improvement of service delivery. The next evaluation phase will also explore other measures of success and progression towards work, and the extent to which the voluntary offer impacts on referrals into the service.