Employability Services

– in the Scottish Parliament on 12th March 2020.

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Photo of Mark Griffin Mark Griffin Labour

6. To ask the Scottish Government what its response is to the Scottish Fiscal Commission’s forecast that spending on devolved employability services will be £27 million lower in 2022-23. (S5O-04265)

Photo of Jamie Hepburn Jamie Hepburn Scottish National Party

Fair start Scotland was commissioned for a three-year referral period, ending in March 2021, with a further two years for people to benefit from the nature of the support that is offered. The forecast figures reflect the natural tailing off of that contract. The latest statistics show that more than 19,000 people have started on the service, with more than 5,000 people supported into work in a dignified and respectful way.

Photo of Mark Griffin Mark Griffin Labour

The minister’s answer adds to a series of written responses that reveal that Remploy is no longer active in the scheme in Glasgow; the third sector no longer supports the scheme in Tayside; Rathbone and the Wise group have left the south-west scheme; and, in my region, NHS Forth Valley has pulled out. On top of the Scottish Fiscal Commission forecast that spend will be £4 million lower this year than it said it would be 18 months ago, freedom of information requests have revealed that all the contracts are under performance management after hundreds of compliance issues have been identified. By all accounts, the scheme is in crisis. Fair start Scotland was meant to get disabled people into work and yet we are more than half way through the period and only 10 per cent of referrals have made it into a job for three months or more. How will the Scottish Government turn fair start Scotland around?

Photo of Jamie Hepburn Jamie Hepburn Scottish National Party

That is an extraordinary question. There was not one word of welcome from Mr Griffin that, since the beginning of this initiative, 19,000 people the length and breadth of this country have been supported through the service—5,000 of them into employment—in the dignified and person-centred fashion in which we sought to take it forward. None of them were under the threat of sanction, unlike in the previous initiative that was in place under the United Kingdom Government.

Mark Griffin suggested that it is not a successful initiative; I utterly reject the premise of his question. In the first year of operation of the programme, we supported the equivalent of 9 per cent of the unemployed population in Scotland. The programme that is in existence in England and Wales—which would, presumably, have operated in Scotland had it not been devolved, allowing us to take a different approach—supported only 4 per cent of the unemployed population in those countries. As such, I totally and utterly reject the notion that the programme is not delivering for the people of Scotland.

Photo of Colin Beattie Colin Beattie Scottish National Party

The Scottish Government has taken a substantially different approach to employability services from that of the UK Government, most notably in that participation is voluntary. Will the minister advise how the reach of devolved employability services compares to that of UK Government programmes?

Photo of Jamie Hepburn Jamie Hepburn Scottish National Party

The most fundamental way that it differs is the way that I just outlined to Mr Griffin. Unlike in the approach that is taken by the UK Government, we do not compel people to take part in our programmes under the threat of being sanctioned under the social security system. We have heard that the UK approach has delivered many people into serious circumstances of further deprivation.

I have already laid out the fact that we are supporting a wider cohort of the unemployed population. In relation to the unemployed disabled population in particular, in its last year of operation in Scotland, work choice, which was operated by the Department for Work and Pensions, supported 12 per cent of the unemployed disabled population in Scotland; by contrast, in the first year of fair start Scotland, we supported 19 per cent of the same population. In addition, in the analysis of the first year of operation of our programme, of the 1,000 participants who were surveyed, more than 90 per cent said that they were being treated in a dignified and respectful manner. That is the approach that I will continue to take with our employability services. Yes, there is much to learn; however, we are delivering for the people of Scotland.