Supported employment: review report and Scottish Government response

A full report including findings and recommendations of an independent review of supported employment in Scotland commissioned by Scottish Government. Initial response from the Scottish Government is included in the supporting documents.

Introduction and Methodology

Introduction to Supported Employment

Supported employment is an evidence-based, personalised approach that provides support to people with disabilities or other disadvantaged groups to secure and maintain paid employment in the open labour market.

Supported employment is based on the model of "place and train" where participants learn on-the-job with support from work colleagues. This is backed up by the skills of a job coach or employment support worker who provides well-structured, flexible support to both the service user and potential employer. This support includes identifying the skills, preferences and experiences of the individual and matching these with potential employers.

The job coach then searches for a suitable job and provides training in the workplace once this is secured. Onsite training continues to the point where the service user and the employer are satisfied that the duties of the post can be discharged without the day to day intervention or assistance of the job coach. The length of on-the-job support is determined to an extent by some of the natural workplace support that becomes available from colleagues.

The job is not an end in itself. Individuals should be able to access continuing assistance for career progression, to acquire new skills or to move roles. This can include providing specialist support to individuals who want to launch their own business.

A supported employment service typically follows a 5-stage model:

As outlined in the Supported Employment Framework for Scotland[1] the approach is guided by three main principles:

  • the job should be in an integrated workplace;
  • the jobholder is paid the rate for the job; and
  • all individuals have the right to end their reliance on welfare benefits, i.e. reduce poverty.

Scottish Policy Context

As outlined in A Fairer Scotland for Disabled People: Employment Action Plan, the Scottish Government has committed to at least halving the disability employment gap in Scotland by 2038. Part of achieving this commitment entails undertaking a review of the current supported employment provision across Scotland, as part of implementing the employment actions agreed in Scotland's Learning Disability Strategy, The Keys to Life and the subsequent implementation framework.

Achieving this goal, and improving disabled people's experience of employment, is a long-term challenge. The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic is having a considerable impact on many areas of society – in particular health, but also on the economy and the labour market. Evidence from the previous recession suggests there is a danger that existing labour market inequalities could be further exacerbated, suggesting that this focus on improving support for disabled people to enter and retain fair work is now more important than ever.

Whilst some good initial progress has been made in reducing the disability employment gap, it still remains significant, and the Scottish Government recognise sustained and collaborative effort is required.

The Scottish Government believes that supported employment plays an important part in helping those who would otherwise struggle to gain employment in the open labour market into work. As such, it is a model that can make an important contribution to the ambition to at least halve the disability employment gap in Scotland.

Supported employment delivery for learning disabilities and/or autism in Scotland sits underneath these policy frameworks:

  • No One Left Behind: Scotland's plan for an employability system that puts individual needs at the forefront.
  • A Fairer Scotland for Disabled People: Written with the involvement of disabled people, this sets out actions to support disabled people to live independently. This includes reducing barriers to employment and halving the disability employment gap.
  • The Keys to Life (2013-23): Scotland's Learning Disability Strategy; with the ambition that people with learning disabilities should be treated with dignity, respect and understanding and able to play a full part in their communities.
  • Scottish Strategy for Autism (2011-21): to ensure progress is made in delivering quality services for autistic people and their families.

Supported employment is offered in Scotland through two primary routes. Firstly, it is offered as part of Fair Start Scotland, which started in April 2018 and is now contracted to run until March 2023. Secondly, Local Authorities commission supported employment services.

There is currently an opportune 18-month period to review supported employment policy and determine how to implement recommendations from this review. Fair Start Scotland contracts run until March 2023 and recommendations within this report could be considered in determining what support comes after this. The current Learning Disability and Autism strategy, Towards Transformation, is a two year plan which also runs to March 2023.

The review of Supported Employment

In April of 2021, Social Finance was commissioned by the Scottish Government to conduct an evaluation of supported employment delivery within Scotland. The research was designed to provide a robust, independent review of how supported employment is delivered, and where gaps in provision lie.

The evaluation sought to address the following core research questions:

  • Where is supported employment being implemented and where are the gaps in provision?
  • What type of service is being provided by Local Authorities, for whom, and what are the outcomes?
  • What are some of the reasons for gaps in the service and how can these be addressed?
  • How can the service providers be further supported to promote greater consistency and use of service?

Our methodology

This report brings together quantitative findings from data collection and analysis of access levels and outcomes achieved. It also includes themes from qualitative research with supported employment providers, commissioners, clients and wider stakeholders.

We have employed a mixed-methodological approach to the review. The research has aimed to map the current landscape of supported employment in Scotland, assess the quality of provision and provide recommendations for future delivery.

The research took place over a four-month period between May and August 2021. At interim stages throughout the research, findings and themes were presented to a project steering group for their input.

Multiple methods were used in the research:

Local Authority Survey

A survey of all 32 Local Authorities was created and shared with Local Authority leads for completion in May 2021, and yielded 31 responses (97% completion rate). The survey contained 15 questions designed to provide a baseline understanding of the following:

  • locations where support is on offer/not on offer
  • type of supported employment models on offer
  • client groups supported and eligibility criteria
  • funding available
  • number of clients supported
  • outcomes achieved
  • gaps and challenges

A list of questions asked are presented in Annex A. Themes emerging from qualitative and quantitative survey data analysis are presented in this report. All findings have been anonymised so that gaps, challenges and confidential data cannot be attributed to individual Local Authorities.

Semi-Structured Interviews

The research involved in-depth semi-structured interviews with over 25 participating organisations to explore their role in supported employment delivery. A full list of organisations represented through semi-structured interviews is included in Annex C.

Interviewees were selected to cover a wide range of stakeholders involved in supported employment delivery in Scotland and included:

  • Fair Start Scotland prime contractors
  • Local Authority service providers and commissioners
  • Central Government policy leads
  • Third sector providers
  • Sector support organisations
  • Groups representing those with lived experience

To support open sharing of views, participants were told that feedback would not be attributed to individuals within this report. Instead, themes were collated by the research team and are presented in this report.

Lived Experience Research

The views of those with lived experience was gathered in two ways. Firstly, through individual interviews in case study site areas (see below), and through a focus group meeting facilitated by an organisation working with people with lived experience. This two-hour focus group was facilitated in a semi-structured way to allow the conversation to progress to topics of importance as defined by participants. The aim of the discussion was to understand the experiences participants have received of employment and employment support, what worked well and what they would like to see in an ideal world. This conversation was recorded and quotes and themes from participants feature throughout this report.

In-Depth Case Studies

Four services were selected for in-depth case study. Two-day full supported employment quality assessments were undertaken on three sites, and a one-day review on the final site. The reviews followed the British Association for Supported Employment (BASE) framework for assessing supported employment quality. The reviews involved the following activities:

  • a pre-review self-assessment undertaken by the service
  • case file analysis
  • interviews with service providers, clients and employers
  • feedback and action planning with services

The four services were selected for review based on preliminary data analysis to ensure a range of service size, location and commissioning structure were selected. The four sites were selected on the basis that they were:

Site Number / Rationale for Selection

1 Commissioned through Fair Start Scotland (FSS) and delivered by the FSS contract holder that delivers the highest quantity of supported employment through FSS.

2 Commissioned through FSS, subcontracted to a third sector provider, in a region in Scotland with limited Local Authority supported employment provisio.n

3 Commissioned by a Local Authority and delivered in house by the Local Authority in a City Regio.n

4 Commissioned by a Local Authority and delivered by a consortium of local third sector providers.

Each site was presented with a detailed report indicating the quality of their delivery along with areas for improvements. Results of these reviews are not presented in this report to preserve confidentiality of services. However, themes emerging from these reviews are presented, along with anonymised case studies (Annex B).

Focus Group Research

Two focus group research sessions were held with supported employment stakeholders. One focus group was held with the report steering group and another held with the Local Authority supported employment network (LASEN).

An online tool called EasyRetro was used to gather participant feedback and views. Research questions were presented to participants around three elements of supported employment delivery: working with employers, client voice and the quality of support on offer. Views on best practice, gaps and recommendations were collected. Participants were able to vote for feedback that resonated with their experience and a group discussion was then facilitated to draw out key themes.

Themes from these focus groups are presented throughout this report.

Reflections on Methodology

In a research project of this length it has not been possible to undertake detailed quality assessments of all supported employment providers in Scotland. However, the sample assessed has been selected to provide a good range of different types of providers and commissioning models. It should therefore provide an indicative basis of the range of quality of provision across Scotland.

Although the evaluation was able to gather feedback from 97% of Local Authorities on their supported employment provision, there was limited data available on outcomes and provision centrally. The report explains the challenges mapping the provision in more detail and suggests recommendations to improve this.

We are aware when carrying out reviews and analysis that supported employment provision in 2020 and 2021 has been impacted by COVID-19. However, we also know that supported employment providers have still been able to support clients into work during this period. We have been mindful of the impact of COVID-19 when assessing quality and access to provision.

Finally, although the evaluation has incorporated the views of those with lived experience, it should be noted that the research methodology was not designed by those with lived experience. In recognition of this, researchers used semi-structured interview techniques to allow participants and focus groups to shape the questions asked and findings given.



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