Analysts from Scottish Government undertook four focus group discussions with Fair Start Scotland (FSS) participants, as part of the ongoing programme of evaluation of the service. Focus groups were with disabled participants or those who had long-term health conditions, and participants from minority ethnic groups. These groups were chosen as previous monitoring and evaluation evidence has highlighted issues around under-representation and less positive experiences of the service.
The focus group discussions aimed to explore the views, experiences and impacts of taking part for those who joined during Year 4 (April 2021 – March 2022) of the service delivery.
1.1 Explanation of terms used in this report
Key worker: A dedicated person providing support to each FSS participant including regular (or remote) contact.
Fair Start Scotland / FSS: Scotland's first fully devolved employability service aiming to provide support to those further away from the labour market and those with complex barriers to employment, to gain sustained employment through personalised 12-18 months of pre-employment and up to 12 months of in-work support.
Participant / Focus group discussions participant: A member of the focus group that has experience of taking part in and receiving employability support through the FSS service.
1.2 Background to FSS
Fair Start Scotland (FSS) is Scotland's national employability support service that has been delivering employability support across Scotland since its launch in 2018. The service has been set up following the devolution of employability support under the Scotland Act 2016. The service is delivered by a mixed economy of public, private and third sector suppliers, in nine geographic contract areas across Scotland.
The service aims to support those who face significant challenges accessing the labour market. A range of individuals are eligible to join including: those who have been unemployed for a long time, disabled people or those with a long term health condition, those from minority ethnic groups, lone parents, those living in 15% most deprived local areas, those who are care experienced, refugees and those with past convictions. Individuals can either be referred to the service by Jobcentre Plus or other services or people can self-refer. The service is entirely voluntary.
The design and delivery of the service has been underpinned by a set of values and principles as outlined in the Creating a Fairer Scotland: A new future for employability support in Scotland consultation. One key value is 'dignity and respect' which specifies that all those who join the service can expect to be treated with dignity and respect throughout each step of their journey into employment. One of the central principles underpinning FSS is the principle of 'a flexible, "whole person" approach'. This includes but is not limited to ensuring a smooth referral process, providing a personalised service that is delivered by highly skilled individuals suited to the needs of each person and providing in-work support.
Those who join the service can expect to be provided with long-term, intensive employability support including 12-18 months of pre-employment support and up to 12 months of in-work support. Central to the service is the concept of the key worker who provides personalised support to each FSS participant, including regular, face-to-face or over the phone contact each week.
Since its launch in April 2018 until September 2022 there have been 51,076 starts on the service and 47,613 individuals took part (with some individuals taking part in the service more than once).
1.3 Evaluation of FSS to date and resulting recommendations
These focus group discussions form part of a wider programme of on-going evaluation of FSS committed to by the Scottish Government. Previous reports published are available on the SG website. 
The most recent FSS evaluation report: Fair Start Scotland evaluation report 4: year 3 overview presented findings from the evaluation of the third year of FSS delivery and outlined key issues and challenges to the future delivery of the service based on the reflection on the evaluation findings across the three years of service delivery. Specifically the report recognised that certain groups continue to be underrepresented in the service including people from minority ethnic groups, older people aged 50+, disabled people and those living in rural locations. The report found that people's experiences of the service differ with those from minority ethnic group having less positive experiences than participants overall. One of the key recommendations arising from the report was to establish comprehensive measures to address the ongoing issue of underrepresentation of certain groups in FSS as well as variance in how different groups experience support provided by the service.
These focus group discussions explore views, experiences and impacts for two groups of FSS participants for whom the issues around underrepresentation and/or less positive experiences of the service were especially relevant. This included disabled participants or those who had a long term conditions and those who were from minority ethnic groups.
1.4 Aim and objectives
The aim of this short series of focus group discussions was to explore views, experiences and impacts of taking part in FSS for those who joined the service in Year 4 and who were disabled or had a long term health condition or those who were from a minority ethnic group. The findings from this research will feed into the continuous improvement of the FSS service and help to inform future evaluation activity.
The specific objectives were to gather evidence on participants':
- barriers to work
- experiences with regards to being treated with dignity and respect when taking part in the service
- experiences of the referral process and of joining the service
- experience of pre-employment and in-work support
- impacts of taking part
- views on the future delivery of FSS and other employability services
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