1. Executive summary
Fair Start Scotland (FSS) is Scotland's first fully devolved employability support service. FSS was launched on 3 April 2018, with the aim of supporting 38,000 people towards and into the labour market, over an initial three year period. The key focus for the service is to provide tailored and personalised support to all those who participate.
This is the fourth FSS evaluation report published by the Scottish Government (SG). This report presents an overview of evaluation research relating to the third year of service delivery from 1 April 2020 up to 31 March 2021, and includes:
- a telephone survey of 1,027 FSS participants
- local area case studies in Fife, Greenock and Motherwell
- a survey of 349 individuals who left FSS early
- telephone interviews with 19 FSS participants
- survey of FSS providers on employment outcomes
- an economic evaluation of FSS
- analysis of Management Information data of the 10,357 participants who joined FSS in the third year
Reach of FSS
- FSS received 14,000 referrals in the third year (with 74% of those who were referred joining the service) and 10,357 people joined the service in the third year. This is a decrease from the 12,077 that joined FSS in Year 2, but demonstrates an improved rate of successful referrals over the three years (by 16 percentage points compared with Year 1 and by 5 percentage points compared with Year 2 of FSS).
- Compared to the unemployed population of Scotland, women, young people (aged 16-24), individuals from ethnic minorities, older individuals and those living in rural areas were underrepresented in the third year of FSS. However, the service saw a higher proportion of disabled individuals, those aged 25-34, individuals with disabilities who had also been unemployed for more than two years, and those living in the 15% most deprived areas compared with the overall unemployed population of Scotland.
- Compared to the first and second year of delivery, Year 3 saw improvements in the number of women, young people (16-34) and those living in rural areas joining the service. However there were lower proportions of those with disabilities, older individuals, those from the 15% most deprived areas and those with disabilities and who were unemployed for more than two years.
- Just under a fifth of participants who engaged in the participant telephone survey were from a priority family group, identified as being more at risk of child poverty.
Motivation & Early Leavers
- Participation in FSS had a positive effect on motivation to find employment for 61% of participants in the telephone survey, with 35% reporting that their motivation to find work had 'increased a lot'.
- However there was some indication that those who have been out of work for longer periods, and those limited by a long term health condition felt less strongly about returning to work.
- The barriers to employment most commonly cited by participants were impacts from the COVID-19 pandemic (35%), lack of skills, qualifications and experience (14%) and lack of suitable jobs in their local area (14%).
- Of the 10,357 who joined FSS in the third year, 3,704 (36%) left the service early (i.e. left the service before the end of the pre-employment support period of 12-18 months and without having achieved a job outcome). This is significantly lower than the early leaver rate compared to Year 2 which was 51%. Young people (aged 16-24), those with a conviction and those who did not receive benefits were more likely to leave the service early than those who did not have these characteristics.
- The results of a survey conducted with a proportion of early leavers suggest that the most common reasons for leaving the service early were: participants didn't find the service useful (36%); they felt it wasn't being adapted to meet their needs (15%); or they had found employment (15%).
- The three most commonly mentioned recommendations suggested by early leavers to prevent participants from leaving early included: improving communication between the service providers and FSS participants; suggesting more tailored job opportunities; and being better at taking participants' specific needs into account when providing the service.
Process: Referral and Service Delivery
- Providers who participated in this year's local area case studies discussed the effects of the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic as well as their responses. Providers identified a number of positives including their capacity to switch to remote working with participants and pivoting towards the use of social media to generate referrals. Providers felt that a key strength of the FSS was its delivery model, in particular its flexibility and capacity to adapt to the changes brought on by the pandemic.
- It was also however noted that some of the improvements seen at the level of local delivery in last year's report, such as improved relationships between providers and local stakeholders had stalled to some extent. This is likely to have been caused or at least exacerbated by the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Related to this were a number of challenges which were identified by providers and local stakeholders, most notably that they felt the local employability landscape in each area remains cluttered and confusing to navigate for participants as well as those engaged in the delivery of employability services.
- Providers also fed back that they felt the profile of participants they had been seeing since the onset of the pandemic had shifted towards those closer to the labour market and who therefore tended to have fewer barriers to employment.
- Just over two fifths of telephone survey respondents who were in employment recalled being offered some type of in-work support. While survey respondents remained generally positive about the form of in-work support that they received, - with 77% noting that they found the development of an in-work support action plan useful and 80% noting the same with regards to one-to-one appointments - these ratings of usefulness have declined compared to last year's findings.
- There was some variation across different groups with regards to finding different types of pre-employment support useful, e.g. individuals from minority ethnic groups found several types of support less useful than white individuals.
- Two thirds of the telephone survey respondents reported no difficulty accessing support during the periods when government guidelines restricted the ability to meet in-person. However, 17% reported not feeling comfortable using technology and video conferencing, and 12% reported lack of access to the internet and lack of access to devices/technology.
Values and principles
- Consistent with previous years, a clear majority of participants rated the values and principles of FSS highly. 95% of respondents stated that they were treated with dignity and respect by FSS and 83% felt that the service took account of their individual needs and circumstances.
- 83% also felt they had choices about the support they received, 82% reported that the service offered support to improve their general quality of life and wellbeing, and 84% reported feeling they were in control of their progress.
- Similar to previous findings there were however variations in participant views of the service depending on their demographic characteristics, with women and those from ethnic minorities somewhat less likely to rate the service as highly as men and white individuals.
Moving towards work
- For those FSS participants for whom sufficient time has elapsed to allow for recording of employment outcomes, the FSS Management Information data demonstrates that 35% had moved into work. Further, 23% of these participants sustained employment for 3 months, 18% sustained employment for 6 months and 15% sustained employment for 12 months.
- There are some groups for whom starting and sustaining work seems to be more difficult, such as those who are disabled, lone parents, those with convictions, individuals from rural areas and those who had been previously unemployed for more than two years.
- With regards to those who moved into work the most common types of job included: elementary occupations (28%); sales and customer service occupations (16%); and caring, leisure and other service occupations (14%).
- Analysis of data collected by providers suggests that the proportion of individuals who moved into work and were receiving the living wage was 65% over the course of three years of delivery. It was noted that this figure had improved to 84% for Year 3 participants.
- Similarly, across the three years of delivery, 47% of participants who moved into work were employed full-time – with this increasing to 60% of participants for Year 3.
- An economic evaluation of FSS using a social cost benefit analysis model, developed by the Department for Work and Pensions, demonstrated that FSS provided a positive return on investment with benefit-cost ratios of 1.4, 1.6, and 2.0 from the perspectives of participants, public finances and society, respectively.
- Findings suggested that there were considerable variations in the cost effectiveness of the service at a regional level, and dependent on the level of support that participants required.
- In particular it was noted that the lower than anticipated costs (when compared to FSS's original business case) were due to FSS attracting a larger proportion of individuals who were closer to the labour market than originally intended.
Reflections on Three Years of Evaluation
- This section of the report utilised evidence collected across the three years of evaluation and assessed these against the stated aims of FSS.
- It found that while FSS had performed well to date in relation to certain aspects, including delivering a service which embodies fairness, dignity, respect and voluntary participation and to some extent with reference to commitment to delivering a person-centred service, that there remained room for improvement with regards to its goals around delivering job outcomes, facilitating local alignment and integration and supporting those further from the labour market.