Despite record low unemployment, the latest data from the ONS highlights the challenge our country faces in addressing the increasing number of people who are economically inactive. People who are not involved in the labour market – neither working nor actively looking for work – number around 8 million, including nearly 2.5 million due to ill health.
In a recent report, the Financial Times noted that the UK is the only country in the developed world to see economic inactivity continue to rise beyond the acute period of the Covid pandemic. This amounts to an additional half a million people missing from the workforce when compared to the pre-pandemic trend. Figures suggest the increase has been largely driven by those with physical and mental health conditions, as well as the over-50s leaving the labour market and not returning.
Importantly, nearly 20% of economically inactive people identify as ‘wanting a job’ – some 1.7 million people; and for more than a quarter of this group it is health concerns which are again the key barrier. We therefore have a growing number of economically inactive people who potentially have much to gain, and to offer, through employment if we can reach them with the right support.
The Institute for Employment Studies has suggested that a response to support this group must be based on increasing voluntary access to the kind of employment provision which can offer the specialist support needed to address complex barriers to work. Maximus and the wider employment support sector can deliver this response and thereby help the Government to meet this challenge.
DWP’s employment support provisions such as the Restart Scheme, Work and Health Programme and Intensive Personalised Employment Support offer significant ‘wraparound’ services including access to mental health, housing, and debt support, alongside local job-focused training provision that enable employment in sectors such as logistics, security and customer services.
Our own experience and user feedback shows that this kind of support is really valued by jobseekers, with a tailored approach to reflect their particular needs. The employment services sector has the expertise to develop trusting relationships with unemployed jobseekers, to engage them with the support that they need to move forward – something recent research by the Institute for Social Innovation and Impact highlights as critical in securing successful outcomes.
Existing provision, including the Fair Start Scotland programme, offers voluntary access and referrals from a wide range of organisations including charities and local authority services. This approach could be replicated to great effect through existing or future programmes commissioned by government, creating the opportunity to engage with those currently economically inactive who want to get a job.
At Maximus, we are already engaging economically inactive people across several employment and skills programmes. The tailored service we offer is further enhanced through the unique strengths of our Community Partnership Network (CPN), providing our service users with access to the very best in local expertise from across the public, private and voluntary sectors. Through referrals to our CPN member organisations we are able to complement our own expertise with specialist support from trusted providers to effectively address the barriers which can keep people trapped in economic inactivity.
So the roadmap is there. If government and the employment support sector work together we can reach those citizens who are not working, but want work, helping thousands more people into jobs. Together we can turn an already broadly positive labour market story into an even better one. At Maximus we are ready to do our bit.