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.

Part 1: Access to Supported Employment


The team carried out a comprehensive mapping of supported employment provision in Scotland to better understand: which organisations provide supported employment; what types of assistance are offered; demand for services provided; gaps in provision; and outcomes achieved.

In order to map the landscape of supported employment, the following research tasks were undertaken:

  • Desk-based research, synthesising and analysing existing data, evidence and outcomes on supported employment delivery in Scotland.
  • To supplement the existing knowledge base, we conducted a survey of all Local Authorities via Microsoft Forms, and the response rate was 97%.
  • We undertook semi-structured interviews with 7 Local Authorities.
  • We held a focus group with the Local Authority Supported Employment Network (LASEN).
  • Data analysis of the access and outcomes achieved by Fair Start Scotland provider.s

Supported employment in Scotland is generally commissioned either by Local Authorities or as part of Fair Start Scotland (FSS). Fair Start Scotland is a voluntary support service commissioned centrally and delivered across nine geographic lots in Scotland. It aims to provide employment support to people who may need additional support to find work. Within FSS, the service offer for individuals with additional barriers to work is built on the principles of supported employment. The support should be tailored to the individual, and although the service specification says that not every client will receive the full 5-stage model, they should expect a service that includes key elements of supported employment.

Our research aimed to map out access to supported employment across both of these primary commissioning routes.


There were three key findings that emerged during our research relating to service accessibility:

1. There is a complex mixture of local and national provision of supported employment across Scotland

2. There is a high variability in access rates

3. There is an opportunity to improve access for clients with learning disabilities, and autistic people

1. There is a complex mixture of local and national provision of supported employment across Scotland

Supported employment provision is commissioned nationally through Fair Start Scotland, and locally by Local Authority leads. This results in a complex mixture of both national and local provision.

Many respondents felt that there are benefits to the mixture of local and national provision. Local Authorities noted that having provision that was locally tailored and could adapt to local needs was positive, particularly to reach more rural communities.

However, the research also highlighted some of the challenges of this delivery model. There is variability in local access levels, a mixture of supported employment models on offer and a range in eligibility criteria. There is also variability in how data is collected and reported, making mapping the provision across the country challenging.

Access to supported employment

The review found that there is an engaged and committed supported employment sector in Scotland, with 97% of Local Authorities responding to our survey. 27 of the responding 31 Local Authorities reported providing a supported employment service (87%). Four (13%) noted that there was no supported employment offering within their Council area. One Local Authority did not respond to the survey.

23 of responding Local Authorities provided data on the number of people supported (74%). This data indicated that there appears to be at least two and a half thousand (2,500) clients in receipt of a Local Authority supported employment service in Scotland. There appears to be an additional ~800 individuals receiving supported employment through FSS. The level of access varied considerably by area (see Point 2 below).

Gathering data on what provision is delivered where was challenging. As noted above, 74% of Local Authorities provided data on the number of people they supported. It appeared that the methods behind their calculations varied, and some data reported appeared to be anomalous. For example, some Local Authorities reported Fair Start Scotland access numbers within their data, whilst others did not. Other Local Authorities reported that there was no supported employment access locally but follow up semi-structured interviews indicated that third sector organisations were delivering small amounts of supported employment locally with European funding.

The areas that were not currently offering supported employment noted the following main challenges:

  • Lack of recognised providers of supported employment within the local area
  • No requirement to provide supported employment as a core service
  • Challenges for employers utilising Access to Work funding to pay for appropriate in work support
  • Challenges securing appropriate funding locally to deliver supported employment

These themes and challenges were also often mentioned in survey responses by Local Authorities who were delivering supported employment. Every Local Authority who didn't currently offer a supported employment service recognised that this was a gap and were taking various steps to address it. One Local Authority is in the process of designing and commissioning a new supported employment service. Another Local Authority has multiple services that deliver different elements of the supported employment model, although they do not have one joined up offer delivered by one provider.

"The delivery of supported employment is not viewed as a 'core or statutory function' for any organisation, including Local Authorities. […] leading to a 'postcode lottery' in terms of accessing services. This has been the case for too long and needs addressing."

Local Authority Survey Respondent

Model Offered

The 5-stage model of supported employment was formally adopted by the Scottish Government in 2010 as the supported employment framework for Scotland. The model is guided by the principle that anyone can be employed if they want paid employment and sufficient support is provided. The model is a flexible and continuous process, designed to meet each person's individual needs – and those of the employer.

The five stages are as follows:

Client Engagement – an opportunity for jobseekers to find out about the supported employment model and to make an informed choice as to whether it is right for them.

Vocational Profiling – A detailed and unique discovery and planning process that enables people to identify what they want to achieve and work out a plan for getting there.

Job Finding – The employment worker and client work together to find vacancies that meet the client's employment goals.

Employer Engagement – The employer worker learns about the job and works out a plan with the employer on how they will support the client through the recruitment process and in the workplace.

On and Off the Job Support – The client is supported to learn the job and sustain employment, this could include job coaching at work, training, support from a workplace mentor and regular workplace reviews.

Of the 31 survey respondents, 20 (65 %) made explicit reference to the 5-stage model of supported employment being provided in their locality. 15 (48%) noted a Project Search site. Project Search is a supported internship programme, aimed at transforming the lives of young people with learning disabilities and autistic people. Programmes are generally delivered in partnership with large local employers. In Scotland Project Search sites are commonly within NHS Trusts, Local Authorities or Academic Institutions. Project Search is not a replacement to supported employment and the two models support and complement one another. Project Search interns benefit from supported employment services that are able to support them into work once their internship has ended.

A wide range of other support was referenced. This includes supported businesses, where individuals are supported by the employer in work. We saw excellent examples of some supported businesses delivering all of the 5-stage model themselves, including supporting employees into other careers and in setting up their own business. Additional examples can be found in the case studies in Annex B.

Access Criteria

A majority of the services on offer noted wide eligibility criteria, welcoming clients with all health conditions and disabilities. Many also support people with additional barriers, for example those with an offending history or an addiction problem. There was limited data available showing the disabilities or needs of individuals accessing supported employment services. Without centralised data it is challenging to assess the extent to which services are reaching individuals with learning disabilities and autistic people specifically. However, our in-depth reviews (see Part 2) found that where services have wider eligibility criteria, individuals with learning disabilities and autistic people may be less likely to access services.

Most services noted that they assisted individuals of any age, but where exclusion criteria were present, they generally focused on individuals under the age of 30. Some semi-structured interview participants expressed concerns that older adults with learning disabilities may be missing out on support aimed at younger participants. Labour market activation policies, such as the Young Person's Guarantee, which are aimed at 16-24 year olds, may not benefit young people with learning disabilities, who may have been held back in school and therefore start their journey to work later in life. This makes it all the more important that supported employment provision is available for all ages.

Gaps in Provision

A key objective of our survey and conversations with stakeholders was to understand the nature and extent of any gaps in supported employment provision across Scotland.

A number of Local Authorities noted waiting lists for their service due to a lack of capacity. Qualitative feedback also noted an increasing number of referrals for those with complex health issues, including mental health, that more "mainstream" employability provision hadn't been able to support.

Knowledge gaps were also referenced – there was uncertainty around the length of time required to provide high-quality job support to clients with a learning disability, particularly in-work support. Relatedly, services noted gaps around support for people in work but struggling or on sick leave, especially where the client had a disability. Those with lived experience noted that employers often failed to offer ongoing support, with adjustments tending to be one-off and at the start of a client's journey.

"Demand is high for supported employment provision in our area and therefore we have to operate a waiting list due to the limited capacity of advisors."

"We have seen a growing demand for our service in recent times for those with complex issues including mental health issues. Clients require more intensive support that other mainstream models of employability provision aren't equipped or able to provide."

"There is a huge gap in the supported employment offer due to a lack of understanding within Local Authority teams. The length of time required to support those with learning disabilities is underestimated."

Responses to our survey of Local Authorities

Otherwise, some respondents felt there was a growing focus on younger people out of work (16-24 year olds), and that this could see those over-29 left behind. Some feedback noted that those with specific additional needs could also be better-served – this point is touched upon in more detail under point 3 below. There either may not be specific provision tailored to the needs of those with more complex needs, the deaf community, or within the criminal justice space, to name a few, or they do not meet referral criteria and therefore "fall through the net".

Local Authorities in more rural locations noted additional challenges around third sector providers closing due to insecurity of funding, and the requirement for them to use long supply chains to reach more remote communities requiring additional funding. There were also feedback that nationally commissioned programmes, such as FSS, were not currently reaching more remote communities.

Many Local Authorities who are currently providing a service noted concerns over future budgets, especially as ESF funding comes to an end. They also noted that where funding has been available as core Local Authority funding, this has helped stabilise provision. They felt that access to core Local Authority funding and making supported employment a core service may help to improve quality.

"The lack of clarity over future funding is a real concern. If provision isn't adequate at present then how much more marginalised will people with a learning disability become if funding is cut further."

Feedback from focus group members with lived experience

2. There is a high variability in access rates

Survey responses, focus groups and semi-structured interviews highlighted that there are examples of high-quality supported employment service offerings across Scotland. Examples of best practice are noted in Part 2, and in the case studies included in Annex B.

However, the use of the term "postcode lottery" was commonplace as interviewees described the consistency of supported employment services across Scotland. As noted above, 16% of Local Authorities noted that they commission or deliver no supported employment.

Where supported employment is commissioned locally, there is variability in the range of the eligible population that it reaches. We analysed the number of people each Local Authority reported as receiving supported employment per year, and compared this to the number of people known to the Local Authority with learning disabilities. Although the supported employment on offer is likely to be available to a wider cohort of clients in addition to those who have learning disabilities, we have used this as a proxy to understand relative coverage. This analysis showed that there was a range in coverage between council areas between 2% and 60+% of those known with a learning disability receiving support each year.

Similarly, funding levels vary widely across different Local Authority areas. We received data on funding available for supported employment from 20 Local Authorities. Where known, total funding per Local Authority ranges from £0 to £2,000,000 per annum. Where there is a supported employment service, the funding per person known to have a learning disability locally ranges from £57 p.a. to £1,795 p.a.

There is also a range of access to supported employment delivered through Fair Start Scotland (FSS). In two of the nine geographic lots, there are currently no individuals receiving supported employment. There is a wide range in the number of individuals receiving support across the other seven lots, from under 30 to almost 300.

Widening Access to Supported Employment

Feedback from participants in the focus group highlighted the importance of supported employment and the positive difference it can make. However, only a small minority of participants had had the opportunity to benefit from a supported employment service.

"It's not just having a job that supported employment helps with, it's helped with relationships, providing your own home. This wouldn't have been possible without finding a job – it's not just finding a job and staying in a job, it's the other things that finding a job brings, buying a house, providing a partner and just a whole lot of other things that help you to live a meaningful life."

Focus group member

The role of volunteering

A number of focus group participants spoke about how they had been offered volunteering opportunities to build confidence and skills, but were then not offered the opportunity to take on paid work. One participant spoke about doing many years of volunteering work and feeling frustrated that she wasn't paid for doing the same job that others were paid to do. Further, there was a sense amongst those working with clients that volunteering advertisements could be misleading, and clients exploited as a result. Terminology used when advertising posts could lead clients to believe that they had a job, and the client would then invest significant time and effort without receiving an income.

Money management can be challenging, making volunteering appear favourable for some. Participants noted concerns with navigating a complex benefits system and the effects working upon their claims.

"Support is needed to help clients who volunteer to sell themselves onto something else, something better, and something paid."

Feedback from a support worker

3. There is an opportunity to improve access for clients with learning disabilities, and autistic people

Data availability

We do not have data on the number or percentage of people accessing supported employment through Local Authority services, or through FSS, who have learning disabilities or are autistic. This means that it is challenging to assess the access rates for clients with learning disabilities or autistic people. We do know however that:

  • 1% of all Fair Start Scotland (FSS) clients are reported to have a learning disability.
  • Many Local Authority services report wide access criteria for a range of physical and mental health conditions

This suggests that there could be an opportunity to improve access to supported employment for clients with learning disabilities and autistic people.

In particular, data on learning disabilities is not always separated out from within all disabilities, making it challenging to know whether needs are being met. Our mapping of Local Authority and Fair Start Scotland data doesn't include a breakdown of protected characteristics – for example ethnicity, sexuality, age and gender. This is a limitation of our analysis and Local Authorities noted they think there are gaps for clients with additional needs and barriers to work. Without this data it is challenging to assess the extent of these gaps, and there could be opportunities to improve data collection in this area.

"Not having data which specifically indicates those with a learning disability receiving supported employment opportunities is a huge gap."

Feedback from focus group members with lived experience



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