As Scotland prepares for the devolution of social security and employment powers, the third sector welcomes the chance to influence and shape this process, bringing to the fore the voice of the people it supports, whose lives will be affected by the changes to come.

Our consultation response is broken down as follows:

  • Context setting – new approach to employability, taking in new powers, the Scottish Government’s conversations and the appetite for better ways of supporting people into work
  • Rethinking employability – key points from a recent SCVO discussion paper and associated discussion with the third sector on employability and contribution
  • Third sector ideas and themes – the issues/questions and ideas which the sector is raising as we prepare for the powers over employment support (and social security) to be devolved
  • We explore links between employability and other policy/service areas, focusing on the link across devolved budget areas as well as with reserved social security.

The sector is ambitious about making the best use of new and existing powers and will work hard to hold Ministers and officials to account, particularly in how they engage the people affected most directly by a new Scottish Employability offer. Even with limited power transfer, this is a critical opportunity to change people’s lives.


The current political and policy context in Scotland is incredibly exciting; there are many avenues for debate about future service delivery, including employability support:

  • Current Scottish Government led conversations around a Fairer and Healthier Scotland conversations, a Fair Work Convention and a refreshed approach to its economic strategy with a focus on tackling inequalities
  • A welcome assertion by the Cabinet Secretary for Fair Work that the focus of employability should be on “good work” and not the “work first” approach which currently defines the UK government’s ideology.
  • The emergence of a shared agenda between government and civil society to build on the high levels of participation seen in last year’s Scottish Independence Referendum
  • The devolution of further powers, particularly around welfare and employability support offer an opportunity to demonstrate a better way to support people, building on the principles of the Christie Commission on the future of Scottish public services.
  • The third sector is now more aware and articulate about its own contribution to support people get back into work, take up learning, access volunteering or care for the people and communities around them. This wider role for the sector needs to be better recognised and supported.
  • Continued support for models such as Community Jobs Scotland and the Carers Kitemark for Employers, which recognises the need to ensure supporting people into work goes hand in hand with supporting them to contribute to their community.

On the other hand, third sector organisations have been vocal about some of the challenges:

  • A current ideological focus on getting as many people into any paid work as quickly as possible as being the only goal of employment support.
  • Current practice, which focuses on pipelines and state-commissioned approaches to drive people into work. This focuses on the needs of the industry rather than then needs of the individual and their community.
  • A lack of a strategy for how employability support connects with other public services and community infrastructure e.g. consider the role of Carers Centres, family support, self-help and condition specific services.
  • A partial approach to devolving employability and welfare in the current Scotland Bill which is fast creating a confusing ‘shared’ space between what is reserved and devolved.
  • An economy characterised by underemployment and low skills utilisation, with inequalities faced by women, older people, disabled people, care leavers and those from low income communities. Too many people are isolated from the labour market, and can also be isolated within it – e.g. through exploitative contracts.
  • Indeed, as highlighted by Inclusion Scotland during evidence given to the Welfare Reform Committee, isolation also extends beyond the labour market with disabled people increasingly “..excluded from normal family life, community life and political life, all of which leads them to being marginalised.”

Without addressing these challenges, employability services alone are likely to fail and again will focus on those who are already most job ready. An honesty about how current approaches have failed Scotland’s most vulnerable groups is needed.

Rethinking employability – Reflections on and learning from current debates

SCVO discussion paper

SCVO’s recently published discussion paper has identified key themes and principles with the aim of stimulating debate in the third sector which, in turn, can feed into the consultation process.

This paper aims to encourage a wider debate about social and economic participation and to bring together what can sometimes be disconnected policy areas. We outline a number of key arguments in this paper which we believe should help drive the direction of service planning and delivery;

  • People contribute to society in different ways at different times. Sustainable and meaningful paid employment is the single most powerful way in which people can empower themselves and secure their life chances. But by focusing all of our efforts on getting as many people as possible into any jobs as quickly as possible, all we are doing is targeting support to those closest to the labour market and already employable.
  • Paid employment may not always be the best way for people to contribute to society at a particular point in their life. They may be able to make a bigger impact and gain confidence and engagement with their communities by being supported as carers, volunteers, learners or activists. This would ensure more people are willing, engaged and ready to take on paid employment when it suits their life circumstances and the job opportunities are there. This is particularly critical for those who have been left behind by our current employability support industry.
  • Support for employability cannot focus solely on employment but can be the connection which brings together different services and supports which help individuals to contribute to society based on what they can best offer at any one point in time. The key here is to value all forms of contribution, not just jobs, and to tailor support to each citizen’s capabilities and offer. The experience of our sector is that when people are already valued, supported and confident in their contribution to society, they become more job ready and more often than not paid jobs soon follow.

We call for a participation and contribution strategy, with appropriate measures to embed it into public service planning. The recent announcement of a participation measure for young people provides a starting point, although we need to be careful to use the measures as a guide rather than the end goal for planning support.

We therefore call for the debate about employability to be widened to focus attention on people’s contribution. In addition to paid employment, volunteering, community activism and unpaid care are all of significant value to our society. They too deserve support and recognition.

Third sector propositions

As Scotland prepares for the transfer of new powers, the sector has already begun to consider what we might do differently, in particular, to better support marginalised and excluded groups to realise their contribution to society.

At a number of meetings and events held by SCVO, a number of themes have consistently emerged which should feed into our approach to employability and participation:

Be ambitious

The sector is ambitious for making best use of the new powers and is ready to support work to create a more joined up, easy to access employability offer, which combines new powers with existing approaches. Even if the final powers devolved are limited, we can still be imaginative about how we use them to deliver better employability support.

We urge the Scottish Government to work with our sector and others to formulate national outcomes for employability which drive funded work nationally and locally. This should build on the Christie Commission principles to recognise that investment now, a preventative approach, will reap cost savings later. Longer term support for many is needed – and is worth it.

Focus on tackling inequality –Recognising the needs of specific groups:

Services and approaches must better recognise the specific barriers faced by key groups. These should include: care leavers, young people with convictions, early service leavers from the forces, lone parents, people with disabilities, unpaid carers, and people with mental health support needs. Tailored approaches are needed; people shouldn’t have to wait to become long term unemployed in order to get help to move back into work.

The journey to employment for some groups will take longer. For some this might involve Further Education/Higher Education and community education opportunities, combined with traditional employability support. But we must also build support which recognises family circumstances and individual aspirations to contribute. This requires looking beyond employability and ensuring better linkages across services:

  • Ensure tailored and holistic support focused on the needs of the individual
  • Target resources at those who are most disadvantaged and those with additional support needs
  • Build in employability interventions for older people but in particular people aged 50+ and people aged 25+ who have been failed by the Work Programme
  • Ensure support takes into account transport and childcare availability both when people secure a job and when they are trying to get a job
  • Don’t just focus on skills. For example, high-skilled refugees may need support for language needs rather than training.
  • Prioritise early high quality assessment to identify peoples support needs.


Tackling ingrained and deepening gender inequality must sit at the heart of a Scottish approach to employability to better support carers, women escaping violence, lone parents and others. Work by Engender shows that there is a significant gender element in access to financial assets, lone parents, unpaid carers and the salary gaps. Welfare cuts have had a disproportionate impact on women. Better gender-aware investment in social care, holistic work-place support and flexible working would help to prevent this.

Geographic and rural inequality:

We need to identify and seek to remove the specific barriers to work and to “good work” which affect different communities, regions and areas of Scotland. What models of support can reach into isolated, rural areas? How do we bring decent jobs into those areas and find ways to reduce the massively inflated cost of living which reduces disposable income, and which is not taken account of in benefits levels.

Similarly, there are pockets of deprivation that don’t neatly sit within Index of Multiple Deprivation areas. Isolation, crisis and exclusion can affect people in any area at any point of their lives. While it is important to recognise the links between regeneration and access to support, we need to be careful not to simply target support based on postcodes.

Prioritise self-directed support

Many third sector organisations want to see self-directed support become the main mechanism underpinning a more people-focused approach to employability support. Whilst the success of self-directed support in social care is patchy, the principles which underpin this transformative change are strong.

Enable Scotland and others argue that it may be worth exploring a personal budget approach within employability services; individuals are allocated/can access their own budget to choose the kind of support which will help them to secure employment or contribute to society. This should not take away from wider support services but should enable people to have greater control over the support they might need, ensuring more tailored services and empowering individuals to play an active part in their journey back into work. The devolution of Access to Work would fit well in this context. We should strive for a more enabling approach.

Abandon the Work Programme approach

Some within the sector have asked if there really is a need to commission a new programme. The poor performance of the Work Programme approach is fresh in our memory. We cannot just replicate this approach nor the subcontracting / payment by results model which drove the wrong behaviour and pushed some providers to “cherry pick” those who were closest to the labour market.

We need to invest far more in supporting people who get left behind by these ‘payment by results’ approaches. This includes people with disabilities, care leavers, unpaid carers and lone parents – groups within our communities who face specific barriers to finding, retaining or progressing in work.

We must also better evaluate the experience of these groups in accessing existing support e.g. Employability Fund and Modern Apprenticeships. Has it worked for them? For example, the current cap on individuals who can access Work Choice is unhelpful and exclusive.

One Parent Families Scotland has suggested, “…a holistic approach to supporting people to achieve their potential; in the long term, skills and employability services should be integrated and the direct link with benefits removed.”

The Community Jobs Scotland programme which is led by SCVO and involves 585 third sector organisations has demonstrated that an approach which gives people real jobs on real salaries with real contribution to their communities is successful at supporting those who are furthest from the labour market. To date, CJS has supported around 6000 young care leavers, young people with convictions, young people with disabilities and long-term health conditions, young carers and early service leavers from the forces.

Move beyond commissioning and contracting

The third sector already plays a significant role in supporting employability and wider participation – but Government often focuses on a very narrow appreciation of its offer, just in terms of how the sector can fit into employability commissioning pipelines.

How can we move beyond commissioning and contracting to ensure that community infrastructure is supported? Carers centres, women’s centres, care and repair, local employment projects, family groups; lone parent support projects and condition specific charities all play a significant part in getting people back into work or to retain employment. Examples include:

This kind of support is particularly valuable because it is based in the communities where people live, or in virtual communities with which people regularly engage. Investing in this community infrastructure will offer a more holistic approach to supporting employability. This is because it helps people to build on their own capabilities, gain social connections with their community, build confidence and self-worth and contribute to society.

Simplify support

We need to do more to map out and communicate the full employability offer in Scotland and make it much easier for people to find their way to the help they need.

We currently have a complex landscape, which isn’t often connected. We have a chance here to take an overview, look at what works well – and what doesn’t. We should consider the support needs of groups who are not currently supported by employability programmes, including those who need support to contribute but are invisible to the system. Within a more universal offer we can offer more tailored support to prevent people moving into long term unemployment or from becoming economically inactive simply because they have been ignored.

Help people to stay employed

Intentionally or not, national and local government policy can make it difficult for people to find or stay in work. For example, cuts in care packages can lead to carers having to give up employment and depend on benefits. We must take stock of how current approaches and programmes work, of research such as “Ties that Bind” which show the sometimes negative impact of public services on people’s lives.

We must offer a fuller package which helps people once in work – if that is needed. We should invest more in mentoring approaches for lone parents and people leaving custody. Some people will need more once they make the transition. Vocational rehabilitation approaches and better links with social care and other provision may help people to retain employment. The recent focus on more effective primary care provides an opportunity to consider how this might be done. Consider work done within NHS Lothian in relation to Working Health Services.

Joining up employability support with other policy areas

Links across Scottish Government budgets

Scottish Government’s plans for employability support needs to be joined up with other policy areas and budgets. These include Skills, Housing, Justice, Health, Drugs, Alcohol, Social Care and Veterans support. The Scottish Government also need consult widely over how the new European Structural Investment Funds 2014 – 2020 can contribute to employability support in Scotland.

The Scottish Government needs to get better at accepting spend in specific policy areas such as employability will read directly across to major savings in other areas. For example, the Scottish Government Care and Justice Division currently spend £5,300 per week to keep a young person in a Secure Unit. This is a total of around £275,000 for 1 year for an individual. Government figures suggest about £32,000 a year to keep a young person in Polmont for 1 year.

Having said that, SCVO has had positive experiences recently in connecting the Community Jobs Scotland programme with very different parts of Scottish Government. This includes areas such as Care and Justice, Looked after Children, Veterans, and Cyber-resilience. We therefore believe the appetite is there and simply needs to be supported.

Links with DWP programmes
The sector is generally supportive of the Scottish Government’s call for further devolution of employability support powers, including Access to Work and Jobcentre Plus services. The patchy manner in which welfare and employability is being devolved is a recipe for confusion and complexity:

  • The third sector remains highly critical of the continued reservation of conditionality and the punitive sanctions regime which will undermine more positive approaches to supporting people into employment that might be designed with devolved powers.
  • Devolution of disability benefits (DLA to PIP) are likely to push people out to work and not towards it because they are being accompanied by planned cuts to the associated budgets.
  • Changes to tax credits and benefits may act as disincentives, with people leaving the labour market. This will exacerbate existing inequality. There may also be wider impacts across families e.g. carers being forced to give up paid work to care.

It is not enough to say that the Scottish Government cannot respond to all of the above mentioned cuts because they are reserved. It should:

  • Ensure planning for employability services takes into account this additional confusion and complexity that people will face.
  • Ensure planning in other areas is joined up with employability support e.g. access to transport, encouraging flexible working practices and investment in “in-work” support.
  • Work with civil and political society, local government and others to create a more connected and effective response to challenge regressive reserved policy
  • Continue pushing for further devolution of employability powers to ensure coherence of the employability support offer. This includes Access to Work, Flexible Support Fund, Specialist Employment Support, Community Work Placements and resources attached to the Youth Obligation

In its role on the Joint Ministerial Working Group, the Scottish Government needs to push for the following:

  • Ensure that the Work Programme and Work Choice financial settlements are not determined by the poor job outcome performance of the Prime Contractors, the discounting that they offered to secure the Prime Contracts and the changing financial model with the removal of attachment fees
  • Better integration between the Jobcentre Plus and the Scottish Government Employability offering. It may be difficult, but at least at a practical level, the Joint Ministerial Working Group should ensure as much as possible that these programmes reinforce each other. For example, in SCVO’s own experience with Community Jobs Scotland, the connection made with DWP Employment Benefit Advisors who are based in prisons has led to better support for young people and an agreement with the DWP to defer putting young people with convictions onto the Work Programme if they are likely to move into a Community Jobs Scotland job on release
  • Negotiate flexibilities in terms of how Job Centre referrals tie in with devolved employability support. For example, unemployed people should be able to remain on JSA when they take up a Scottish Government Employability Fund training place. This would free up resources to support training rather than living costs for more unemployed people in Scotland.

Ensuring seamless transition

We share the both the Scottish and UK Government’s concerns about ensuring that people in the Work/Work Choice programmes do not experience any issues as we transition to new arrangements.

The issue of transition to new programmes/delivery mechanisms featured heavily in the work of the Expert Group on Welfare. There are risks here which must be managed. However, we believe that the journey to more effective services can be achieved, and in planning for this transition, we urge the Scottish Government to bring together an advisory group which supports this process involving the sector, providers and more importantly, those who are likely to benefit from employability support.


Paid employment remains one of the best ways in which people can take control over their lives. But solely focusing on getting people into jobs is a mistake.

We need to build a system of support to help people who might otherwise get left behind contribute based on what they can best offer at any one point in time. The damaging effects of people abandoned, stigmatised and caricatured have been felt in many of Scotland’s communities over the past decades. Too many of Scotland’s people are disconnected and de-motivated through unemployment, discrimination, and disadvantage.

Under the overarching “Fairer Scotland” banner, Scotland is in a position to rethink how it enables people to fully participate in the economy, in our society and in our communities. With the devolution of key benefits such as Carers Allowance, we can also think differently about how we support other ways in which people contribute to society. With the devolution of d isability benefits we can consider how we better empower disabled people to live fully and to participate on an equal basis. With new powers over employment support, we can rebalance investment in employability programmes to give people the opportunity to direct their own support. By focusing on people rather than pipelines we can help connect all key services which people need to find and sustain paid work – in making these connections, we can truly transform people’s lives.

Reflecting on the work of the Expert Group on Welfare, there has to be a clear set of principles guiding how we implement the new employment support (and social security) powers. These include:

        • Treating people with dignity and respect.
        • Building trust and support by being transparent
        • Empowering people to take control over their circumstances.
        • Offer choice in how services are delivered.
        • Build on the assets of individuals, families and communities.
        • Helping people into work for anyone who can and providing effective support for those who are prevented from working, to enable them to participate in their own way.

This would be a strong starting point.


Ruchir Shah, Policy Manager

Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations,

Mansfield Traquair Centre,

15 Mansfield Place, Edinburgh EH3 6BB


Tel: 0131 474 8000


About us

The Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations (SCVO) is the national body representing the third sector. There are over 45,000 voluntary organisations in Scotland involving around 138,000 paid staff and approximately 1.3 million volunteers. The sector manages an income of £4.9 billion.

SCVO works in partnership with the third sector in Scotland to advance our shared values and interests. We have over 1,600 members who range from individuals and grassroots groups, to Scotland-wide organisations and intermediary bodies.

As the only inclusive representative umbrella organisation for the sector SCVO:

        • has the largest Scotland-wide membership from the sector – our 1,600 members include charities, community groups, social enterprises and voluntary organisations of all shapes and sizes
        • our governance and membership structures are democratic and accountable – with an elected board and policy committee from the sector, we are managed by the sector, for the sector
        • brings together organisations and networks connecting across the whole of Scotland
        • SCVO works to support people to take voluntary action to help themselves and others, and to bring about social change.

Further details about SCVO can be found at