Evaluation of Access to Work
Individual Budget Pilot Strand
Research Report DWPRR 620, Department for Work and Pensions, December 2009
a study commissioned by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP)
This report presents the findings of a qualitative evaluation of the provision of employment support and Access to Work (AtW) alongside Individual Budgets. It was one of three strands of an AtW evaluation which was commissioned by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), and carried out by Institute for Employment Studies.
Individual Budgets were piloted in 13 local authorities across England, and a separate evaluation of these has been carried out for DWP.
AtW was aligned, but not fully integrated, with Individual Budgets, and so AtW funds were not received by service users as part of their Individual Budgets. Alongside some of the processes involved in obtaining an Individual Budget, additional employment-related support was being piloted by DWP and Jobcentre Plus (referred to as ‘the employment option’). The employment option centred around employment marketing leaflets from Jobcentre Plus; a four-page leaflet and a more detailed booklet.
The evaluation was based on in-depth interviews in three of the Individual Budget pilot areas; Kensington and Chelsea, Norfolk, and Oldham. Thirty-eight interviews were carried out with four key groups of stakeholders:
- Individual Budget pilot leads (4)
- other key staff involved in delivering Individual Budgets and supporting service users (12)
- Individual Budget service users (10)
- Jobcentre Plus staff (12).
There were a number of issues which arose during the fieldwork, including a low level of buy-in to this strand of the research from most of the key stakeholder groups, timing issues around the employment option and Individual Budget processes, and the timing of the evaluation itself. These issues resulted in the total number of interviews being fewer than had been planned, and they also impacted on the results of the evaluation.
The process of obtaining an Individual Budget in all three pilot areas began with an assessment process, which determined the total amount of funds, or allocated budget, available from the various funding streams. Once the allocated budget was known, a support plan was put together, which set out the ways in which the service user would like to use their Individual Budget. Support planning would typically be as user-lead as possible, with support from a care co-ordinator or support broker, and with input from family, friends, key workers and other advocates as appropriate. The support plan had to be approved by the local authority and the organisations holding the relevant funding streams. On approval, the funds were paid out on a regular basis to service users, who could be supported to use them.
There was a wide range of support funded through Individual Budgets, for example, paying for driving lessons, going to the gym, funding decorating or other home improvements, and paying for a computer and broadband, as well as more traditional forms of social care support, such as paying for carers.
Alignment with Access to Work
In all three areas, there was little or no use of AtW in combination with an Individual Budget, so the research team were not able to explore how the alignment of Individual Budgets and AtW worked in practice.
There was also some confusion among staff about how AtW was aligned with Individual Budgets, with few being clear on how this process would work.
There were a number of reasons why take-up of AtW alongside Individual Budgets had been low, including:
- relatively low take-up of Individual Budgets themselves;
- AtW is for people with a job offer, and many Individual Budget service users have been out of work for some time;
- not enough publicity about AtW combined with Individual Budgets;
- AtW may be better suited to people with some sorts of impairments rather than others.
Staff generally supported the principle of providing information and options around employment for service users, but saw it as a fairly minor part of their job.
Considering employment as an option
Employment materials were sent by DWP to Individual Budget staff in autumn 2007, although by early 2008, staff knowledge of their purpose was patchy. Some staff had given the materials to service users who had employment as an aspiration in their support plan, but not all staff interviewed had seen the materials. Staff generally saw their role as signposting to relevant sources of employment support, such as Disability Employment Advisers at Jobcentre Plus, or local voluntary organisations, rather than in supporting service users to pursue employment, although there were exceptions to this, for example amongst staff working with service users with learning disabilities. In contrast, staff working with mental health service users thought that any discussion of employment should be initiated by service users themselves. Nonetheless, it was thought that moving towards employment was an appropriate goal for many service users.
Individual Budget staff thought that Jobcentre Plus needed to be more proactive in making links with social services. Jobcentre Plus staff interviewed were aware of the need to present employment options appropriately and supported employment materials reaching service users via their Individual Budget support staff. Pathways and WORKSTEP providers were very positive about providing additional information and support to help Individual Budget service users consider employment.
The employment materials
The employment materials consisted of a leaflet and a booklet, available in standard and easy read formats. Few Individual Budget and Jobcentre Plus staff knew much about the contents of the employment materials, and not all staff and service users interviewed had seen them. Most staff thought that they were a useful resource, although they would not change their general approach to signposting regarding employment issues. Staff working with mental health service users questioned the extent to which the materials would be seen as relevant by their service users.
Most staff thought that the materials had been sent too late for them to have made full use of them with their service users. Some staff questioned why the materials were specifically for Individual Budget service users, when the information they contained was quite general and could be used more widely.
Some service users thought that there was too much information presented in the booklets in particular, and that it looked quite daunting. Staff and service users generally preferred the leaflets to the booklets, and the easy read versions to the standard versions. Service users said that they found it useful to know a little about the programmes outlined, and staff and service users liked the stories in the back of the standard booklet. Staff commented on how the pictures had been improved from earlier versions of the materials they had seen. There was general agreement that the materials were accessible, but that some service users, for example, those with learning disabilities, would need support to use them.
This strand of the research presented considerable challenges, due to reasons including the low take-up of Individual Budgets and AtW, and the timing of the employment option. Fewer interviews took place than planned as a result.
Individual Budgets were viewed in a positive light by all staff as they promoted independence and raised aspirations. Most staff agreed with the principle of providing employment information and signposting service users to sources of employment support, as long as this was initiated by the service user themselves.
Take-up of AtW alongside Individual Budgets had been very low and the evaluation found few examples. As a result, the research team was not able to look at the alignment model in practice. Low take-up was attributed to a low take-up of Individual Budgets, and the funds being unsuitable for people looking for work. The research also found low understanding of AtW, and its alignment with Individual Budgets, amongst Individual Budget staff.
There had been little activity on distributing the employment option materials to service users. A more thorough and wide-reaching brief from DWP or Jobcentre Plus on the employment option may have been useful. Improving links more generally between Jobcentre Plus and social service staff was thought to be important in supporting service users in the future. Individual staff hoped that Jobcentre Plus could be more proactive in this area.
Not all staff had seen the employment materials but a few had used them with service users. Service users had generally found the information in the materials interesting. Staff and service users tended to prefer the leaflets to the booklets, and the easy read to the standard versions. The materials were felt to be less relevant to mental health service users.
The impact of aligning AtW with Individual Budgets appeared to have been minimal, both in terms of take-up and the extent to which the process was understood by many of the key actors. There was also little impact of the employment option, although some staff were more aware of the range of specialist disability employment services that were available. Some service users thought that the information may be useful to them in the future.
The potential for providing employment information as an option was viewed positively by staff, but it was thought that the materials would have a greater impact over the medium and long term. To bring about greater impact in the future, more effective mechanisms for cascading information through to Individual Budget support staff would be needed. This could include providing workshops and increased partnership working with Jobcentre Plus.
Evaluation of Access to Work: Individual Budget Pilot Strand, Aston J. Research Report DWPRR 620, Department for Work and Pensions, 2009.
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