Prior to the SUSE Annual Conference, our CEO, David Cameron, participated in the Economy and Fair Work Committee which was discussing the Disability Employment Gap.

During the 90-minute session, alongside Oxana Macgregor-Gunn (SAMH) and Ashley Ryan (Enable Works), they discussed a wide range of topics, including:

  • The move in delivery model from Fair Start Scotland (FSS) to No One Left Behind (NOLB) and the impact of local employability partnerships (LEPs).
  • The Supported Employment Review.
  • What more the Government could do to reduce the DEG.

The discussion initially focused on the impact of LEPs to deliver policies that are bespoke to their local area. The panel stated that the impact of NOLB is unclear and they have concerns whether the needs of disabled people are being met. They advocated for more co-production and inclusion of disabled people in decisions that affect them. Disabled people do not get choices about the service they can use – there is often only one service in an area. This needs to change. This topic was debated further at the SUSE Conference during the panel discussion.

The need for a Quality Standard for Supported Employment

David highlighted the issues in our sector, specifically the investment required for staff and skills development and, recognising that employment policy can differ between local authorities, how a Quality Standard for Supported Employment would ensure a service level that disabled people could expect across all parts of Scotland.

With regards to the Supported Employment Review, David said, “There are many elements in it that we were very excited about. I had some conversations with senior civil servants in 2023 about some preliminary ideas for implementation. There has literally been nothing since.”

David highlighted that Scottish Government were invited to the SUSE Conference to give an update on the Review. “I felt that we could not have another Conference at which we did not mention it, because it feels as though it has been forgotten about it; it has disappeared.

We are keen to see the review recommendations taken forward. We understand the financial constraints and I suppose that there must now be a question of where the responsibility for implementation sits. Is it with central Government? Is it with local authorities? We look forward to seeing something resolved and some progress on that, particularly.”

Ashley confirmed that they have found their greatest success with local authorities who invest heavily in Supported Employment, a prime example of this has been seen in Edinburgh where there is multi-year structure for investment.

“From our point of view, local authorities that heavily invest in and understand the need for (Supported Employment) programmes see the greatest success” confirmed Ashley. There was a recognition that in some cases the smaller local authorities potentially do not have the resources that the larger local authorities have to implement large-scale supported employment provision.

The panel agreed that there isn’t a consistent approach to implementing the review recommendations. “That is probably where we would like to see the Scottish Government taking a stand. We are not seeing the need for qualified staff or the quality framework being implemented. For services such as individual placement and support there has been a greater focus on fidelity reviews and quality reviews of IP services and the kitemark to say that you are delivering an exceptional service. That does not happen in Supported Employment and it absolutely should” said Ashley.

The discussion also highlighted how some local authorities work together to commission Supported Employment services across the region, understanding the nuances of each area but being able to deliver a quality services with qualified staff, as seen in Forth Valley.

Why don’t employers understand the business case for closing the Disability Employment Gap?

The question was posed, as it is the Government’s policy to close the disability employment gap, is enough being done from a Government policy level?

MSP Colin Smyth stated that businesses are struggling to fill vacancies, yet there is still a significant DEG, the two things are disconnected. He asked why employers don’t understand the business case for closing the gap.

Oxana pointed out that “the beauty of the Supported Employment model is that it also supports employers to educate, support and engage with a workforce that they did not previously know existed. Disabled people become an excellent workforce, but for that to happen we need to work very closely with employers because there is still a misunderstanding; they are not quite sure how to engage with a workforce that is diverse and maybe not familiar to them. The gap can be closed to a significant extent through tailored work with employers.”

David highlighted that addressing the issue of large numbers of disabled people and those with long-term health conditions leaving employment every year would have a hugely positive impact on the DEG, without putting a single extra person into work.

“There are many agencies that could help them, although one of the challenges is that there is not enough resource for that. There is resource for getting people into jobs but not nearly enough for keeping them in jobs. There should be more proper in-work support.”

The panel urged the Committee to consider long-term stable funding.

Inconsistent funding was highlighted as a factor in the loss in specialist services for people with sensory disabilities and the failure to manage the marketplace of providers to ensure that needs can be met. There needs to be an investment in specialist services.

They also discussed the need for greater investment in transitions to ensure young people have better choices when leaving school.  Many are still going to college whether this is the right route for them.

Following the session, David said “The MSPs were well-informed and asked questions that were relevant, which suggests they have a good understanding of the issues. However, ultimately, we want to see the recommendations from the Supported Employment Review implemented.”

Further to discussions at the SUSE Annual Conference, David plans to meet with civil servants to help to drive forward the implementation of the recommendations.

View the full Committee Report here.