Wednesday 23 May 2018 | Birmingham Conference and Events Centre 

Plenary 1: Innovation and integration – the public services landscape
•             Superintendent Sean Russell, West Midlands Police Mental Health Lead and Director of Implementation for West Midlands Mental Health Commission
•             Jenny Osborne, Strategic Lead, Health and Employment, Greater Manchester Health,  and Social Care Partnership
•             Jemma Mouland, Senior Programme Manager – Innovation, Centre for Ageing Better
•             Neil Heslop OBE, Chief Executive, Leonard Cheshire

Neil opened the conference by reflecting on the disability and inclusion agenda and its progression over the last 30 years. Going forward, it is important that disability is at the heart of the communication of that progress. Research has acknowledged the gap between the attitudinal shift and the actual change that is felt by individuals. Technology, however, is a “game changer”, and can have real practical implications for people with disabilities. Leonard Cheshire has a 70-year history of supporting individuals into work, both directly and by lobbying for change and creating partnerships. Closing the disability employment gap will require collaboration as well as communication around equality and a rights-based approach.

Sean gave an overview of the West Midlands Mental Health Commission and its objective of improving health and wellbeing outcomes for people living in the region. Much of this involves improving productivity and tackling intergenerational inequality. Early intervention is critical in identifying and intervening in a range of health issues, and they are taking an ‘upstream approach’ by looking at early childhood experiences.

Jenny talked about the social determinants of health, which include employment, housing, family and social support. Research suggests that being out of work has a detrimental impact on mental health. In the GM area, there are 236,000 people out of work, half of which are out work because of a disability and 88,000 are in the ESA support group. The employment pathways for young people has change in recent years, and there has also been a growth of insecure work: 25% of people in the GM area rely on Universal Credit to top up their income and there are over 40,000 zero hours jobs. GM Working Well will deliver better outcomes through co-commissioning and integration with local services.

Jemma gave an overview of the work of Centre for Ageing Better and discussed how to make the most of an ageing workforce. There has been an upward trend in the employment rate for older workers. However, there is still an employment gap, caused primarily by ill health. Raising the pension age alone is not good enough: there needs to be wider action around making it easier to stay in work. This should include access to good quality support, investment in innovative services and the option of flexibility from day one. 

Breakout One – Understanding the Work and Health Programme
•             Richard Clifton, Director of Integrated Services, Shaw Trust
•             Steve Hawkins, Chief Executive, and Mik Belcher, Social Enterprise Development Manager, Pluss

In this session representatives from two Work and Health Programme primes contractors gave their initial impressions of the first few months of the programme. Richard Clifton, Integrated Service Director for Shaw Trust talked about the way Work and health programme is funded now differed from previous employment programmes and crucially doesn’t depend on job evidence or off benefit checks but uses HMRC data and earnings thresholds to track outcomes. With no minimum hours rules for jobs you can therefore place jobseekers in jobs with lower hours and slowly increase them which has benefited the individual and has seen Shaw trust achieve job outcomes already.  Steve Hawkins, CEO at Pluss group talked about how important consultation with potential local providers and the establishment of an expert panel informed the delivery model and ensured their supply chain was truly integrated with local provision and did not replicate what was already there.

Breakout Two – Active body, healthy minds – sports and employment
•             Lindsay Games, Head of Disability, Sport England 
•             Allan Garratt, Managing Director, Street League

This session featured two speakers that explained the vital role that sport can play in employment. Lindsay Games talked about Sport England’s Towards An Active Nation strategy, launched in 2016 in response to the government’s first sport strategy since 2002. The five main outcomes that link the two are: social development, community development, economic development, individual development, and physical and mental wellbeing. Physical and mental wellbeing is linked to how active a person is – and the threat to wellbeing is even greater among the disabled population. Sport England has created coaching and volunteering strategies and has provided funding to initiatives which upskill disabled participants so that they can become a part of the workforce. This was followed by a presentation from Allan Garrett, Managing Director of Street League, who talked about the history of Street League and its growth since being converted into an outcome-focused organisation in 2010. Street League provides 10-week rolling academies for 16-25 year-olds from the 40 most deprived areas of England and Scotland. 70% have at least one socio-economic barrier and 84% have no formal qualifications. The participants play 90 minutes of football/dance/fitness a week and do two hours of classwork, and they cannot do one without completing the other. The programme has seen 55%  of Street League graduates remaining in work or training for 6 months or more.

Breakout Three –  Veterans, disability and employment
•             Sarah Casemore, Director of Operations, The Poppy Factory
•             Iain Downie, Head Vocational Rehabilitation & Training, RBLI

This session focussed on the barriers to employment faced by veterans with health conditions. Sarah gave an overview of the Poppy Factory, which employs around 30 veterans to produce poppies and wreaths. Their IPS scheme has seen over 1000 people into work, with a 71% sustainability rate. The Poppy Factory engages with prospective employers and promotes the benefits of hiring veterans – their employer toolkit can be found on their website. Ian then talked about RBLI and the work they do to support the armed forces community into housing and employment. Ian gave an overview of the employability programme, Lifeworks, which uses a coaching model to build confidence, and allows people to understand barriers and skills as part of a group. An independent evaluation found that 83% of Lifeworks attendees were in work at 12 months and 96% were more confident after the course.

Breakout Four –  Adapting the workplace
•             Rachel Clift, Director of Health & Wellbeing, PeoplePlus
•             Bob Marsh, Head of Specialist Employment Services, Clarion UK

This session focused on how employers can adapt workplace practices and environments to get disabled people or those with a physical or mental health condition into work. Rachel Clift, talked about Access to Work, a DWP funded programme, which offers practical and financial support for people with disabilities. There are currently 25,020 approvals for Access to Work grants. A holistic assessment follows and is carried out on-site by an assessor. Assessors offer on the spot advice and provide their recommendations. Bob Marsh reiterated the importance of Access to Work from a user’s perspective and also stated that deaf people were the biggest users of Access to Work. 60% of employers were not aware of Access to Work and many disabled people were also unware of the programme. It was clear that often simple improvements or adjustments were needed to make a more conducive working environment for disabled people.

Breakout Five –  The secrets of sleep:  BITC’s Sleep Recovery Toolkit
•             Peter Gilheany, Director, Forster Communications

In this session, Peter Gilheany talked about the Sleep Recovery Toolkit, developed by Business in the Community in partnership with Public Health England. The toolkit offers insight and advice on addressing the increasingly damaging sleep-loss epidemic affecting the nation. Peter talked about the fractured nature of the modern working day, due in part to technology and social media, with a customer base which expects assistance outside of typical working hours. He also talked about the detrimental effect shift work has on the mind and body, as well as the nine signs of sleep deprivation and the legal responsibility held by an employer.

Breakout Six:  Apprenticeships pathways – making it work for disabilities
•             Graeme Whippy MBE, the Business Disability Consultant for Channel 4
•             Beatrice Barleon, Policy Development Manager, Royal Mencap Society

The focus of this session was about making apprenticeships accessible to those with disabilities and health conditions. Beatrice Barleon talked about offering inclusive apprenticeships at Mencap and the Maynard review. The Maynard taskforce was commissioned to reach an understanding of the issues and barriers faced by those with learning difficulties and improve the accessibility of apprenticeships. The importance of this is that only 5.7% of people with a learning difficulty known to social services are currently in employment. Graeme Whippy also stated that the sector needs to be more inclusive, employers need innovative thinkers and different views. Ignoring disabled people, those with a physical or mental condition, is ignoring that enormous creative talent and employers often make assumptions about people’s capabilities. Getting disability employment right, means getting apprenticeships right. Flexibility, the right attitude and understanding by employers is essential.

Breakout Seven:  Breaking the cycle – MSK support
•             Maureen McAllister, Service Manager, Working Well with Arthritis, Arthritis Care Scotland
•             Belinda Quinlan, Head of Health and Wellbeing, Reed in Partnership

Maureen from Arthritis Care Scotland opened a discussion about people who are affected by musculoskeletal (MSK) conditions and highlighted the link between MSK and deprivation. Research suggests that for those who develop an MSK condition, 87% say it has a high impact on their work, and one in three will have stopped working within five years. People need support to stay in work, and the key to this is a flexible working environment. Belinda from Reed in Partnership then talked about the support they provide to people with MSK issues who come through the Work and Health programme. The main barriers faced by people they support are fluctuating conditions and fear of asking for reasonable adjustments at work. Reed employ integration managers who are able to access over 200 services in the London area in order to find support that is tailored to the individual.

Breakout Eight:  Below the radar – mental health and employment
•             Nicole Moore, Disability Consultant, Remploy
•             James Walsh, Chief Executive Officer, Steps to Work

Nicole Moore of Remploy opened the breakout with some key figures about the impact and prevalence of mental health conditions. In particular, she highlighted a loss of 91 million working days last year at a cost of £33 billion, as well as the social and financial benefits of employment. James Walsh of Steps to Work spoke about the challenge of mental health in the workplace, drawing on his own experiences. He raised the importance of employers adapting for mental health needs and the benefit of Mental Health First Aid Training, as well as the range of techniques Steps to Work employ to support staff and clients with mental health conditions. Nicole finished the session by highlighting the difference between clinically defined recovery and actual personal recovery. 

Plenary 2: Getting on – the reality of delivering employability services
•             Alan Cave, Chief Executive, APM UK
•             Brian Bell, Managing Director, Working Links and Director, Start Scotland and Turas Nua
•             Elizabeth Armstrong, Chief Executive, Better Pathways
•             Lisa Quinlan-Rahman, Executive Director of Customer Strategy and Experience, Scope

Alan Cave of APM opened Plenary 2 by praising the government’s ambition to reduce the disability employment gap, but questioned whether the mechanisms were in place to achieve that. He said that empowerment of people with disabilities is the most effective way of improving employability, but the employment system can sometimes be disempowering. He called for integrated support, codesign and coproduction of services and effective use of Personal Budgets. He finished by suggesting employers should feel more confident hiring disabled workers, and outlined the benefits to performance, diversity and staff retention.

Brian Bell of Working Links gave an overview of his recent experiences in the employment support sector. He refuted a comment made by a member of the Work and Pensions Select Committee about providers ‘cherry picking’ clients, and gave an example of a man with multiple and complex needs that had recently been helped by his organisation. He went on to speak about employment support in Scotland and the challenges of its aging population. He commended its commissioning landscape, with the Scottish Government’s value statement ‘no one left behind’ built into the tender process.  

Elizabeth Armstrong of Better Pathways spoke about the need to collaborate in an increasingly difficult funding landscape. She spoke about the changing market whilst the need for flexibility and time for people with mental health conditions has remained a constant. She highlighted benefits of the Independent Placement and Support (IPS) model, which brings together the employment and health spheres. She finished by calling on employers to see the benefit of hiring people with mental health conditions.

Lisa Quinlan-Rahman finished the session by highlighting Scope’s report, ‘The Disability Perception Gap’, which aims to understand the experiences of jobseekers with disabilities. According to the report, disabled applicants apply for 60% more jobs than people without disabilities. In addition, 30% of people believe  disabled people are not as productive as non-disabled people. She spoke about the services Scope offer and called for the government to end mandatory programmes for people with disabilities.