Closing the Opportunity Divide

19 June 2018

Recently the newspapers heralded the ‘record high’ number of people in work in the UK, as the unemployment rate fell to 4.3%, the lowest it has been since records began.[1] While, of course, this is a figure to be positive about, I’m concerned that the media coverage surrounding the release of this data may have been too quick to overlook the challenges that remain for the UK employment sector.

The truth is that while employment opportunities have increased for some, they haven’t increased for everyone. There are still over 1.4 million unemployed people in the UK,[2] and many of these individuals are those who have been out of work for the longest, with the most complicated and ingrained barriers to accessing the labour market. Pockets of society may be thriving in the recovering economy, but these 1.4 million people have found themselves on the wrong side of a widening ‘opportunity divide’ and, as an industry, it is our responsibility to not allow them to be left behind.

Providers in the employability sector today are working with a very different set of participants compared to a few years ago. In the years immediately following the Global Financial Crisis we were faced with a large number of people with more limited need for support, who were in many cases only out of work for a short period of time. Today a significant proportion of participants have serious health needs and disabilities, requiring personalised support and specialist advice. This means that the employability industry’s well-discussed need to work together on innovative, evidence-based solutions is more pressing than it has ever been.

I’m pleased to say that Ingeus is committed to achieving this vision. In 2016 we commissioned RAND Europe to review the global evidence base for computerised Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (cCBT) as a means of improving mental health and helping people into work. As a result we have incorporated SilverCloud and Be Mindful, digital apps that have proven to be most effective through the study, into services for our participants, bringing the best of cCBT to their fingertips.

Innovation like this is happening across our industry. For example, I was excited last year to see the outstanding programme run by Hillside Clubhouse and Future Path for ‘Camden Work and Wellbeing’. This was a pilot programme commissioned by Camden Council to test a modified version of the IPS (Individual Placement and Support) approach for long term unemployed people living with mental health issues. It delivered an 8% increase in positive job outcomes for participants with mental health issues, demonstrating that expert collaboration can solve some of the complex problems that our participants face.

Of course, mental health needs are only one part of the picture, and bringing about change is not only about working with those out of work. Employers also need support to adjust to the shifting landscape. Surveys show that 45% of employers fear that it may be difficult for the public to engage with a disabled employee, resulting in disabled people being two times more likely to be unemployed than a non-disabled person.[3][4] To help employers become more confident in accessing disabled talent, we worked with the Business Disability Forum to publish a toolkit to help employers understand, recruit and retain disabled staff.

This work has been complemented by another project in Plymouth called Project SEARCH, run by Plymouth Hospitals NHS Trust, Serco, Pluss and City College Plymouth. This scheme aimed to support young people with learning disabilities into work experience positions to build up their employability skills and to show employers the value that they can add in the workplace. The results spoke for themselves; 69% of participants were supported into paid work, compared to 6% of individuals with learning disabilities nationally. This is another example of the successes we can have when we draw on the strength of our industry partners.

This is an exciting time for the employability sector. To rise to today’s challenges we must innovate and change. In order to close the ‘opportunity divide’ we need to better support those who have been less well served by our previous programmes. We need to create new solutions that are based on a strong, rigorous evidence base and provide the individual support that our participants need.

Without doubt, this is a very challenging proposition, but it also provides a great incentive to move forward. It is through this expert collaboration, innovation and hard work that we will be able to offer paths to employment for those who now need them the most.

Barry Fletcher

Managing Director, Ingeus

Join Barry at our Employment and Skills Convention on 10 July at the Royal Society. We’ll have debates, contributions from politicians and leading thinkers, and masterclasses and presentations on best practice from around the country. This inaugural convention, built on the fifteen year history of our IntoWork Conventions, will tackle the big questions around employment and skills. More information on this event is available here.


[1] CITYAM, UK unemployment falls with number of people in work at record high as wage growth slows, June 2018

[2] Office for National Statistics, Statistical Bulletin: UK Labour Market, June 2018

[3] Guardian, Companies fear employing people with learning difficulties, survey reveals, 2015

[4] Scope, Disability facts and figures, 2017