(Picture: Tracy Elsdon, Thrive employment specialist team leader)
A ground-breaking employment programme, run through the West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA), has helped more than 350 people with long-term physical and mental health conditions into work.
The milestone figure has been reached 18 months after the Thrive Into Work trial was launched with £10.2 million of government funding.
Under the trial, employment specialists based in GP surgeries and other health and community settings across the region work with primary and community health teams to integrate employment support and health services and identify suitable jobs for people.
Sean Russell, WMCA implementation director mental health, for wellbeing and radical prevention, said: “They work on a place-and-train basis - putting people into work first and supporting them in the first few months.
“When we launched this trial in June 2018, we knew there were at least 125,000 people in the West Midlands who were out of work with a disability or health issue, most of which were due to a mental health problem or a musculoskeletal condition such as back pain.
“We are very pleased by the continued success of the trial, which has so far resulted in 356 people gaining paid employment. Helping people to find the right sort of work can aid their road to recovery or assist them to find new ways of managing their health conditions.
“If we focus on people’s health and health outcomes, the social and economic benefits will follow, enabling them and their families to thrive.
“We still have many people in the trial with whom we are actively working to find good work.”
Tracy Elsdon, Thrive employment specialist team leader, has helped many people, including former nurse Marcy Williams, who was in the depths of depression and who is now back enjoying the career she loves.
Marcy, who can now “dress to impress” and hold her head high, added: “Thrive to Work should have been around sooner. This programme helps people to build their confidence and realise that there is support out there to get into work if you have health issues.”
Among others, Tracy’s team is currently helping a 60-year-old man with physical and mental health issue back into work after 20 years of unemployment.
She said: “Employers can be really scared about taking someone on with a health condition, worrying about rules and regulations and that they may have a lot of time off sick.
“But we go out and meet them, build relationships with them, reassure them and highlight the benefits the person can bring to their business. We have had a lot of success and businesses appreciate there is support after the person has been taken on.”
Jessica Pitt, a Thrive employment specialist, said smaller companies were often more receptive to taking on people with health conditions than national firms, with more centralised recruitment systems.
Her stand-out client was a 28-year-old married father-of-five children under eight, who had a variety of health conditions, including autism, and who had been unable to cope, giving up work five years earlier.
With her encouragement and support he is now back working as an aviation engineer, taking home £4,000 a month, has paid off his debts, bought a bigger house for his family and is now being trained as a test pilot.
“His progression has been phenomenal and it’s great to see,” said Jessica.
Government figures show there are more than four million people of working age with a long-term health condition or disability in the UK who are not in work and evidence suggests that as many as 90% of non-working people who use mental health services would like to work.
The trial recruited participants up until the end of October and runs until October 2020. There are well in excess of 1,000 other people still being supported to find work through the programme.
Case Study: Here you can read Marcy’s story, written before she successfully gained employment as a hospital nurse.
I was referred to Thrive by my counsellor who felt returning to work would help me.
I had been through a difficult time which led to me having little or no confidence and I desperately needed to get my life back on track. I was suffering with depression and anxiety and this had also led to me becoming reliant on alcohol. I was hoping that getting some help could build my confidence and turn my life around and hopefully get me back into the career I had loved for so long.
I had several issues in my last role and I doubted my capabilities. I was also worried about making the same mistakes and the employer finding out about my health conditions. My concern about returning to work was that I wouldn’t be confident enough to do the job I had trained so hard to do.
My employment specialist, Tracy, made me feel at ease straight away. I felt I could share information with her without her judging. She has a knack of making me feel good about myself. We worked through applications and person specifications and interviews, and she even attended employers with me to help me get a job and this has made me feel so much more confident. We looked at the options available to me for part time work as we worked out how much I could earn. I would not have realised taking a part time job would leave me worse off if we had not done this! Even between face to face visits with Tracy, I am able to contact her for advice and she always gets back to me, this reassures me that she does care about me. She also visited my old employer to try and help me obtain a reference as I couldn’t face doing this after my experiences with them. I also get to have a coffee and chat and she makes sure I eat if I haven’t been able to face it as she is happy to meet me out in the community, as I feel more comfortable doing this than in a GP surgery.
I was offered a role within the NHS, unfortunately this was withdrawn after waiting a while as they had to consider other applicants… this made me feel like I was employable and gave me hope and in the next two weeks I have been offered further interviews and I am keeping everything crossed that they go well.
The main thing about the whole programme is that the work I do with Tracy builds my confidence and I enjoy the feeling of believing in myself. I deal with rejection a lot better. Before Thrive, if the job offer had been withdrawn then I believe I would have given up.
I am confident that I will find work. With the support from Tracy and the preparation she helps me with prior to every interview, I know the right role will come along.
I believe that Thrive has stopped my spiral further into depression and alcohol. I am able to manage my feelings a lot better and I believe in myself a lot more. Tracy has also discussed with me in-work support and feeling I am not alone as soon as I go into work helps me.
Although I have periods where I doubt my confidence, I know that a conversation with Tracy will help me work through this. She has provided me with skills to manage this and as a result I have now started to dress to impress and hold my head high.
I have not needed to continue with my counselling, as I have started to work through my issues. I feel focussing on work has lifted a cloud.
I am also now considering reviewing my anti-depressants and I have arranged a health check to discuss this. My drinking is now under control. I also no longer require sleeping tablets
Thrive to Work should have been around sooner. This programme helps people to build their confidence and realise that there is support out there to get into work if you have health issues.
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