22 December 2015

At the beginning of a new year people’s thoughts often turn to resolutions – whether it be a new job, a healthier lifestyle or a new way of living.

And in Sheffield, almost 150 people are looking forward to a happier and healthier 2016 after signing up to a “Working Well” scheme, which aims to give help and support to those who are out of work, or have never worked, due to health reasons such as depression, anxiety and long-term conditions.

Working Well links health and employment support closer than ever before, with referrals being made by GPs surgeries for the first time.

The scheme, funded by the council and the Department of Work and Pensions, is being trialled for two years and is expected to help at least 345 people living in areas with the highest rates of health-related unemployment, paving the way to more effective support for more than 25,000 people in Sheffield who are unemployed for health reasons.

Lesley Thompson, aged 51 from Upperthorpe, was referred to the Working Well programme in November after being out of work for more than ten years following a redundancy. She had been suffering from long-term depression and said: “The programme has really helped me – even after a week it had made such a difference.

“Before I went, I had my guard up – I didn’t want to be pushed into something I didn’t want to do. And I said that to them. But there was no pressure. They’ve been so good.

“I’ve now got onto a course that will help me get a job working in social care. And I’m so pleased. The way I was feeling two years ago or six months ago – you wouldn’t have heard me being so bubbly about something and so enthusiastic. I think it’s brilliant.

“Without the course, I’d probably still be sat here, fed up with having no money and worried about how I was going to pay the bills and manage to eat. It’s still a struggle but I’m so much more positive – it’s really given me the boost I needed.”

Councillor Mazher Iqbal, cabinet member for public health and equality at Sheffield City Council, said: “We see people in our communities whose health is going downhill for want of a job. Existing conditions get worse and mental health problems, such as anxiety and depression, are really common. At the same time, we know people’s health can improve when they are working.

“We’re trying to link health and employment support more closely through this trial and to give people hope who might have felt like there wasn’t much left. This is just one of the many things we’re doing to tackle poverty and inequalities here in Sheffield, and try to make things better for people.”

Sheffield’s Working Well is being trialled in the north east, east and central parts of the city.
Progress is expected to be gradual as people tackle complex and long-standing issues. But already a boost in confidence is widely being reported amongst those taking part, some of whom are seeking training and volunteer opportunities as an important step to get back to work.

The support they receive includes one-to-one support to build confidence, motivation and positive thinking. It is provided by voluntary organisations Soar, Zest and Manor and Castle Development Trust who are working on behalf of the council and Jobcentre Plus.

Lynsey Golland, Service Manager at Zest, said: “If we focus on what people can do and help people to get into the work area that they are interested in, we find that they are more likely to stay in their job and often their health conditions improve becoming more manageable and occasionally even disappear.

“For many people it’s a confidence issue. That’s why we work with them on this, to help them think differently and positively. We also help with interview techniques and job searching, but many people aren’t ready for this yet. Instead we work at a pace that’s right for them. We don’t provide anything that’s clinical. Instead it’s support that’s not pressurised and is all based around trust.”

The pilot project is for people on Employment and Support Allowance whose illness or disability affects their ability to work. Referrals onto the scheme can be made directly by local GPs as well as work coaches at Jobcentre Plus.

Jill Twigger, Senior Operations Manager at the Department of Work and Pensions explained: “The high numbers of people receiving Employment and Support Allowance are a concern for us all so this project enables us to try a joint innovative approach.

“DWP have been involved in the project from the start and it is making a real difference to people’s lives. We know work is beneficial but people often have complex issues which need to addressed to enable them to move into work – this programme aims to do that and results so far are really positive.”