The new First Minister must help the many ‘economically inactive’ people who face problems getting back into the labour market, says BRIAN BELL
One of the key stories of the Spring Budget has been a concerted effort by government to get more people back into work, access more hours, or extend their working lives. The Chancellor’s statement drew particular attention to the strain that poor health and disability in the population has placed on the labour market, particularly since the pandemic.
As the Fraser of Allander Institute has pointed out, while the proportion of 16-64 year-olds classed by government as economically inactive sits at 21.5%, there are particular challenges north of the Border. Of particular concern are recent trends that have seen the proportion of inactivity attributable to ill-health rise in Scotland.
The figures also show that those who become classed as economically inactive due to ill-health may have commonly dropped out of paid work, not because they were ill, but because they had other motivations such as education, retirement, or family caring responsibilities. In other words, once out of work, ill-health can take hold in people’s lives, often as a result of poverty, making it far harder to get back into the workforce again.
Yet we know that there are solutions that, when designed and targeted properly, can reverse that trend.
We have built some very smart methods of getting feedback from people who use our services at Fedcap, including how we capture and use data and as part of the debate we have been having a look at what is going on for people who have been ‘economically inactive’.
Just over 3,000 people classed as economically inactive have used our services in recent years. And guess what? They are all individuals, all people with their own hopes and fears, aspirations, hurdles to overcome and a wide range of personal circumstances – just like the rest of us.
Some of them have fairly recently lost their job and don’t know where to turn for help; some have been away from the labour market for a very long time; some have caring responsibilities; some are over 50, many aren’t. Some were inactive through choice and now want or need to change. And some were inactive not through choice.
There are themes though that we can pick out, particularly around health and mental health conditions.
We also have a good idea from our data about how we engaged with people in the first place, what worked for them, what didn’t and how some of them have engaged, or sometimes not engaged, with a range of services around them – including Jobcentre services.
In Scotland, we’ve found that support can be particularly successful when people who are out of work are empowered to refer themselves for help. Indeed, over the past few years, half of the adults who have come to us voluntarily, have gone on to secure sustainable employment in under 12 weeks.
The risk that government now faces is that it is shaking up a system which, in many regards, functions successfully. The devil will be in the detail of how programmes are implemented to encourage and motivate people to succeed.
Yes, we all need to provide value for money, especially in these times of reduced government budgets across the UK. However, national programmes like Fair Start Scotland that work in and with local communities, are making the right sort of progress – and at considerable scale. Yes, there’s still work to do, but the availability of bespoke person-centred support, particularly for people with health conditions, is having a positive effect.
The new First Minister will need to build on what has become recognised as a success story and opportunity to grow Scotland’s economy.
Brian Bell, CEO of Fedcap Scotland
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