How the Shaw Trust and Scope have used Workstep to help disabled people find work

Vern Pitt investigates how Scope has supported disabled people to find and retain jobs through the Workstep scheme, due to be replaced this year by Work Choice

The Workstep programme, which helps disabled people overcome barriers to gaining and keeping work, comes to an end in October after nine years.

Work Choice, which replaces Workstep and two other programmes, is designed to provide more support for disabled people furthest from the labour market by tackling the previous scheme’s inflexibilities, such as the expectation that clients will enter work within eight weeks of starting the programme.

Ofsted published an evaluation of Workstep last month, whose conclusions are relevant for the new system.

It found that those providers with connections to local employers were the most successful. Shaw Trust which works with everyone from Tesco to the Inland Revenue, is familiar with the barriers. “The most common barrier [for employers] is, ‘is this person going to take a lot of my time and be able to do the job?’,” says employment director Carole Carson. She says Shaw Trust is able to step in and pick up any problems so the employer doesn’t have to, giving them security.

Early engagement is key to allaying these fears, says Scope’s director of employment services Steve Cairns. “Without employer buy-in from the beginning we wouldn’t be this successful,” he says. For the 85% of Scope’s clients who progress to stable employment (defined as spending 22 weeks in work over six months) his tactic seems to be working.

Carson says the main objective for those undergoing the programme is building their confidence.

Cairns affirms that disabled people bring a new perspective to the workplace and often specific skills. But he says it can take some coaching to help them convey this in an interview situation.

The key to developing a plan to gain employment is for the disabled person, Workstep staff and the potential employer to work together, says Cairns. “It is about starting with a blank piece of paper for every customer,” he says. This way, Cairns believes, you keep the person at the centre of the planning.

Both Shaw Trust and Scope hope to be in the group of suppliers for the new Work Choice programme. They’re positive about the change, which they see as a logical step in the evolution of employment support for disabled people.

Cairns has fears over possible budgetary strains but relishes the challenge. For Carson the purpose of the programme justifies the struggle. “It’s about supporting disabled people to become part of the community,” she says.

More on the Ofsted report on Workstep from Community Care

CASE STUDY: Workstep user and stroke sufferer

‘My employers have learned to be flexible’

Jane Dodson was working part-time as a nursery assistant when she suffered a stroke in 2007, just before her 50th birthday. “I woke up one morning and I had lost the use of my right side and I couldn’t swallow,” she recalls. She lost the ability to speak properly, had acquired dyslexia and had memory problems.

Dobson returned to working her shifts a month later but found it very difficult. “I was exhausted. I would go to work for an hour and a half and come home and sleep for five hours,” she says. She then moved to a new workplace with the same employer and feared she would have to start working full-time. A speech and language therapist then referred her to Scope’s Workstep programme.

Working with her employer Scope fixed her hours, a simple move that proved very helpful. “It was very difficult for me to work out when to set my alarm if I had different shifts. I had to write it all down and go over it again and again,” she says. Scope also helped her claim disability living allowance, and working tax credits, and get equipment from the Access to Work scheme.

Dodson says her employers now understand her disability and are more flexible about her attending hospital appointments.

Now largely independent of Workstep’s support she has much praise for the service she received. “They have helped me 100%,” she smiles.

CASE STUDY: Workstep user who has dyslexia

‘Workstep gave me the confidence to find work’

Chris Thomas has dyslexia and went on to jobseeker’s allowance after leaving college. It was a situation that was making him depressed, compounded by the death of his dad. “I got more and more depressed and frustrated,” he recalls. “You have to get yourself out of that rut.”

After experiencing several rejections, which he attributes to being open about his disability, he saw advertisements for Workstep in his local jobcentre. He says having the staff on the Scope programme behind him has given him the confidence to gain work, knowing that he has someone to help out with any issues that arise.

Thomas is now a full-time store assistant at a pet supplies shop. He is proud of the fact that several of the shop’s disabled customers feel most at ease when he is helping them and often ask for him personally. “Sometimes when I’m not there she’ll walk straight back out again,” he says of one customer with multiple sclerosis who makes sure Thomas is available to help carry her shopping.

Workstep staff also helped Thomas pass a customer care course with flying colours in 2008.

Thomas has now been working for seven years and plans to move into a managerial position in the future.

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