An ‘Intensive Personalised Employment Support’ programme is to be introduced which will “provide personalised employment support for long-term unemployed disabled people,” the new Work and Pensions Secretary Amber Rudd has announced.
“Disabled people will be able to work with a dedicated key worker to get and stay in employment,” she says.
The support comes from a new £40 million fund and is expected to benefit around 10,000 people.
The Intensive Personalised Employment Support programme will provide “highly personalised packages of employment support for people who are at least a year away from moving into work.”
People will be provided with coaching to help build their independence, confidence and motivation, as well as work experience to help boost their career prospects.
Rudd added: “Everyone, no matter what their background is, should have the opportunity to thrive in the workplace, and having the right support in place for disabled people is one of my greatest priorities.
“To truly help people transform their lives, there can be no one-size-fits-all approach.
“That’s why this new programme is designed to offer people, who may think they will never move into work, tailored support to help them overcome any personal barriers they may have in the first instance, and then to focus on boosting their skills.
“There are also huge economic benefits to improving disability employment rates. More than half of disabled people are in work, but in order to realise the full potential of disabled people in Britain we want to go further and see one million more disabled people in work by 2027.”
People on the scheme will be offered a dedicated key worker who will work with them to overcome complex barriers which may be preventing them from entering work, ensuring they have a personal support network in place.
The voluntary scheme will be rolled out across England and Wales in 2019, and applicants will receive support for up to 21 months, including 6 months of in-work support for those who get a job.
Neil Heslop, Chief Executive of Leonard Cheshire, said: “Many disabled people with complex needs face significant barriers in accessing the workplace. It’s crucial that specialised employment support is available and the government responds to the challenges people often encounter.
“A more tailored approach can help reach those who are not currently receiving any employment support or skills development. The experiences of disabled people must be central for this support to meaningfully build confidence in an ongoing way, reflecting their individual circumstances and aspirations.”
The Intensive Personalised Employment Support programme will support people living with a disability who are unlikely to move into work within the next year or longer and may need additional support. Other existing government support to help disabled people get into and stay in work includes the Disability Confident scheme, the Work and Health programme, the Access to Work grant and Jobcentre Plus services.
The pathfinder report that informed the Intensive Personalised Employment Support programme
The government has established a managerial type of policy context in which it is aiming to “provide support which could enable disabled people to undertake employment in the open market rather than in protected or segregated employment.”
The government have in particular targeted those disabled people who have just started claiming Employment and Support Allowance, before they undergo a work capability assessment for ‘interventions’. This approach is founded on an entrenched belief that “the longer a disabled person or an individual with a health condition is unemployed, the harder it is for them to return to work.”
However, an alternative explanation is that those who are not employed because of a health condition for longer periods are simply too ill to work. Nonetheless, the government has focused on notions of “work-readiness” as a means to “help” disabled people into work, which tends to sidestep the barriers that people face because they are chronically, often progressively and incurably unwell. It’s something the government simply refuses to accept, preferring instead to focus on perceived negative ‘attitudes and behaviours’, and the assumption that disabled people somehow lack skills and ‘character’.
Research was carried out by IFF Research Ltd on behalf of the Department for Work and Pensions, to evaluate the Personalisation Pathfinder trial, which was introduced in April 2015 in three Districts: South West Wales, Surrey and Sussex and Greater Wessex. The report can be found here.
In part, the research aimed to “establish whether the Pathfinder worked in moving out-of-work individuals with a disability and/or health condition closer to employment and, if so, how and why it achieved this. Specifically, the objectives of the research were to understand:
- Take-up of the Pathfinder programme – detailing the profile of individuals who joined the scheme in terms of employment history, claimant group, nature of health condition etc., as well as exploring the reasons and motivations for taking part
- The impact on outcomes for claimants. This includes both ‘hard’ impacts such as claim status and employment outcomes as well as ‘soft’ impacts such as attitudes towards work, levels of job-seeking activities, and perceptions of ability to manage health conditions
- Value for money
- Any impacts on the reputation of DWP and/or Jobcentre Plus among claimants.
The chief purpose of the Personalisation Pathfinder was to help claimants to become “work ready” through offered tailored support to those with a disability or health condition who are unemployed, and it aimed to investigate the impacts of an approach focused on personalisation, flexibility, peer support, and integration with local support.
The report discusses findings from two waves of a basic quantitative survey with claimants on the Personalisation Pathfinder as well as from qualitative interviews with claimants and Pathfinder stakeholders.
Job seeker’s Allowance (JSA) claimants with a health condition or disability accounted for the greatest proportion of participants on the Pathfinder (50 per cent), followed by Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) pre-Work Capability Assessment (WCA) claimants (38 per cent).
Only around one in eight (12 per cent) of the participants were ESA Work Programme ‘completers’ (WP). The majority of participants had been in employment at some point before joining the Pathfinder (76 per cent). Six in ten had left their previous employment due to health related reasons and more than seven in ten regarded their health as a key barrier to returning to work.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, participants claiming JSA were generally less likely to perceive their disability as impacting on their employment before joining the Pathfinder. They were also, unsurprisingly, less likely to believe their health condition or disability limited their ability to return to work. They tended to report fewer barriers to returning to work and were therefore generally more positive about this prospect. Three in ten claimants were in work twelve months after joining the Personalisation Pathfinder.
ESA pre-WCA claimants were most likely to have found work while on the trial. Nearly a third of this group had, however, returned to a previous employer or job.
ESA WP Completers were the least likely to have found work, but the ones who did were more likely than the other claimant groups to credit the support they received from the Pathfinder in moving them into work. ESA WP Completers were also more likely to feel they needed health related support that the Pathfinder could not offer and that this prevented them from moving closer to employment.
The authors clearly stated that it is not possible to assess from the research what proportion of claimants would have achieved these outcomes without the assistance of the Pathfinder. Although there are indications of “work-readiness” improving among those who did not find work – and I am not sure how one measures that – improvements in wellbeing and social isolation, it was concluded, were “more modest”.
Methodology: some first glance criticism
The research was framed by the political application of the theory of change – this is essentially a description of how and why a desired change is expected to happen in a particular context. It is focused in particular on mapping out or “filling in” what has been described as the “missing middle” between what a programme or change initiative does (its activities or interventions) and how these lead to desired goals being achieved.
It does this by first identifying the desired long-term goals and then works backwards from these to identify all the conditions (outcomes) that must be in place (and how these related to one another ‘causally’) for the goals to occur. Government sectors use the theory of change to promote various managed social and political changes, to define their long-term goals.
So it is a model based on backcasting, which is a planning method that starts with defining a desirable future and then works backwards to identify policies and programmes that will connect that specified future to the present.
The outcomes in a theory of change must be coupled with indicators that guide and facilitate measurement. The measurement is often of changes in behaviours and perceptions. Not on political and socio-economic context and personal circumstances.
However, any serious explanation of anything in the social world should be suspect if it only uses one theory – e.g. a theory of financial incentives, or peer influences. All successful models are assemblies of multiple elements and theories – and they are open to exploration. Anyone familiar with systems thinking will be dubious of linear explanations, especially where complex phenomena like disability, employment, homelessness, poverty or social isolation are concerned.
One key problem with the theory of change is that it does not model how events happen; rather, it models how strategists believe things will happen. Theory of change is a forecast that shows what conditions they believe must exist for other conditions to come into being. It’s easy to see how the model may very easily accommodate and amplify assumptions, prejudices and channel bias. The model may confuse accountability with ideology, ambitions and hopes.
Often, theory of change is insular and parochial, too. It can fail to take the external context into account. This is an important criticism in the context of current government behavioural change programmes, as the emphasis is entirely on individuals, who are somehow viewed as detached from their social, cultural, economic and policy contexts.
Participation in the programme was voluntary. However, people decided not to engage with the programme, so the invitation letters were reworded, making the statement about the programme’s voluntary basis of participation less prominent, to nudge people into engaging. That is unethical, because it bypasses the important condition of fully informed consent. Yet later in discussion between job coaches and claimants, the voluntary aspect became important in retaining some participants:
“The voluntary issue is quite interesting actually, because I have had people who have come back from the Work Programme, have sat down in front of me and you can tell have arrived expecting me to say, ‘Right, you’re going to do this/you’re going to do that/you’re going to do this’, and they’ve been quite defensive, and they’ve said, ‘You know I can’t work.
“So when I’ve said, you know, ‘That’s fine, you don’t have to. This is a voluntary programme’, they’ve almost said, ‘Oh don’t walk away. I’m interested’, you know. The voluntary thing has definitely produced a different reaction from people.”
Nonetheless, some 11% of the participants still said they were unaware they had a choice in whether they participated. Nearly one-fifth (19 per cent) of claimants thought that the Personalisation Pathfinder was mandatory; this proportion rose to 36 per cent for ‘ESA WP Completers.’ And even those who understood that participation was voluntary nonetheless expressed fears that they may be sanctioned if they refused to engage (page 59):
“I did not feel I could say no to the Pathfinder, because if we don’t do what they say, they’ll stop our money.” (JSA Caseload claimant, Surrey and Sussex).
Another criticism of the pathfinder is that it does not seem to differentiate between perceived health-related barriers to work and actual health-related barriers to work. Part of the aim of the programme was to influence people’s perceptions of barriers, a strategy which had little impact overall. Because despite the government’s magical thinking on this issue, health related barriers are very real, and not something that ill people choose to conjure up in their minds.
Another problem with the theory of change approach is that it doesn’t confirm the plausibility of the theory. Also, to be able to test, refine, and improve a theory of change over time, you need to be able to accurately measure its key elements. Not differentiating between Conservative notions of perceived and actual health-related barriers leads to measurement problems, for example.
Another major criticism of applied behavioural scientist Kurt Lewin‘s theory of change model is that it ignores the influence of organisational power, conflict and politics; it is “top-down” and management-driven. As such, it is non-dialogic – a very authoritarian approach to policy making.
This is down to a misuse of the original theory and its underpinning intents. This presents an irony given that Lewin’s original wish was to extend democratic values and resolve social conflicts. Even critics of Lewin’s work have drawn on his Field Theory to develop their own models of change. Including the government.
Any change that the Conservatives initiate is generally imposed on others and micromanaged. If prescribed, theory of change quickly becomes a compliance exercise and loses much of its original value. Theory of change frameworks requires a commitment to an open, reflective and realistic approach. The Conservatives seem completely incapable of any of those prerequisites for any reliable and meaningful social research to benefit anyone but themselves.
Assumptions reflect deeply held beliefs, norms and ideological perspectives. These inform the design and implementation of programmes. The quality of a theory of change process rests on ‘making assumptions explicit’ and making strategic thinking realistic and transparent. Power relations, both in the programme’s context and within organisations, limit the ability to challenge established ways of thinking and working. So a theory of change process often brings to the surface conflicts and tensions which require negotiation.
It’s certainly true to say that some “politicians, like any other social group that is in a rarefied or tightly knit, small community, will frequently suffer from psychological ‘groupthink’.” Dr Paul Taffinder, Chartered psychologist.
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