Skip to main content
Generate PDF
Bookmark and Share

Supported Employment

Overview - Disability & Employment

It is recognised that disabled people and those with long-term health conditions, learning disabilities or mental health issues can face particular and complex barriers to sustained employment, such as stigma and discrimination or lack of confidence and skills. These barriers result in low levels of employment: 46.3 per cent of working-age disabled people are employed compared with 76.4 per cent of the general working-age population, a 30.1 % difference (ONS, Labour Force Survey Q2 2012).

The total figures hide much worse levels of labour market exclusion for some disabled people, in particular young disabled people, those with low or no formal qualifications, people with learning disabilities and people with mental health issues.

Although some progress was made in narrowing the employment gap between disabled and non-disabled people at the start of the century, since 2010 progress has stalled. That year the UK's employment rate for disabled people was lower than the EU average. This reversal of fortunes is reflected in the eSAY statistics for people with learning disabilities in Scotland, which recorded a fall to only 8% in work in 2012.

To promote a fairer and more inclusive society it is vital to tackle these inequitable employment rates and support people with disabilities into sustained work. Experience and research has shown that the nature of this support is a major determinant on whether or not disabled people will get opportunities for employment. Disabled people overwhelming want personalised employment support and this corresponds with the evidence on what type of support is the most effective (EU-Social Inclusion, Income and Living Conditions Survey 2010).

The Sayce review found that 'Evidence from across learning disability, mental health, physical rehabilitation and beyond shows consistently that support that is flexible, personalised, long lasting when needed, with a rapid focus on job search, is more effective than a series of stepping stones to employment. It also shows support must be available to the employer.'

This approach is encapsulated in supported employment; and the very similar approach - Individualised Placement and Support (IPS) or evidence-based supported employment (EBSE) for people with mental health issues.

What is Supported Employment?

Supported employment has been defined in Scotland as, "promoting the rights of all individuals to achieve their full potential through a model of flexible support that enables people to overcome barriers to their employability and access real jobs for real pay".

Supported employment is the most effective employability approach in terms of helping disabled people into sustainable paid work (Beyer & Robinson, 2009; Perkins, Farmer & Litchfield, 2009; Wistow & Schneider, 2007).

Supported employment schemes initially were used to help people with learning difficulties, but have increasingly been extended to other impairment groups such as people with long-term mental health conditions. Supported employment for people with mental health conditions, known as Individual Placement and Support (IPS) or evidence-based supported employment, is backed up by a body of evidence. The EQOLISE randomized controlled trial (Burns et al, 2007) compared the outcomes of IPS versus high-quality train-and-place vocational rehabilitation in six European centres, including the UK. It showed that 54.5% of people engaged with the IPS service worked for at least one day compared to 27.6% of people who engaged with the other vocational services.

Supported employment's aim to match people with jobs in the open labour market is what many unemployed disabled people want. Stanley and Maxwell found that 86% of people with mental health conditions currently not in employment would like to work (IPPR, 2004). Similarly, a review of employability support for disabled people in Edinburgh in 2013 found that generally disabled people wanted paid work; work that was appropriate - fitted their needs, skills and aspirations, and with empathetic employers.

Disability Rights UK's report in 2013, Taking Control of Employment Support found that "there is a gaping gulf between what disabled people want and what they get" in terms of employability support. And "Disabled people require effective support which genuinely improves their position in the labour market."

People want personalised support, such as is delivered by good quality supported employment. For that to be a reality, services have to focus on individual's strengths and attributes and the case loads of employment support workers need to be kept low. The IPS Fidelity Scale states 20 clients or less; and specialist services working in Scotland with people learning difficulties or autism tend to have case loads of around 12-14 clients.

For examples of supported employment in action, both videos and short case studies, see the SUSE website.

The Supported Employment Model

Recognising the role of supported employment in tackling inequality, the Scottish Parliament's Equal Opportunities Committee report 'Removing Barriers and Creating Opportunities' (2006) recommended good quality supported employment be funded in Scotland, and to drive this a Framework be produced.

The Supported Employment Framework for Scotland was published in February 2010 by the Scottish Government and COSLA. The Framework lays out the five stepped approach to supported employment, recognising it as "an employment first approach", which focuses on positive outcomes for individuals.

Table 1: The Five Stage Approach to Supported Employment  

Supported Employment Stages - supporting the aspiration towards 16+ hours of work

Engagement by SE Service

Vocational Profiling

Job Finding

Employer Engagement

On/Off the Job Support and Aftercare

Helping disabled people most distanced from the labour market to make informed choices on their own future.

Identifying skills and preferences for work, giving work experiences that will help the individual make their own vocational choices.

Identifying the preferred job through employer engagement, also providing support to the employer.

Finding out about the workplace environment, co-workers and the 'supports' a person might need.

Providing backup to the employee and their employer, developing independence in the workplace and addressing career progression in due course.

Supported employment can be considered "an end to end" service for people with disabilities or long-term health conditions. It should sit within the local employability pipeline, so services and individuals can be linked to local resources, but supported employment clients need to be offered consistent, ongoing support from one employment support worker, who holds the thread of their employment journey into, and within work.

Scottish Government, along with SUSE and other partners, is working to improve the quality and consistency of supported employment in Scotland. Funded by Scottish Government, a Supported Employment Professional Development Award (SQA Level 7) has been developed by the Scottish Qualifications Authority, which is the first industry-specific professional qualification.

SUSE and BASE are working to produce quality standards for supported employment services; and SUSE is working with the Scottish Government to produce a set of outcomes for supported employment which can be used in the commissioning, design and evaluation of supported employment services.

Research & Learning

Here you will find some of the key documents in this area. If there is a document you would like to share here, please use the 'Contact Us' link at the top of the page.

'A Working Life for all Disabled People' The Supported Employment Framework for Scotland, 2010.