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Economic inactivity research project (those with family commitments and the long-term sick and disabled) -Literature review.

McQuaid, Ronald W; Graham, Helen; Shapira, Marina; Raeside, Robert


Ronald W McQuaid

Helen Graham

Marina Shapira


This report presents the results of the research project is titled: DEL Economic Inactivity Strategy: Literature Review Project. It was commissioned by the Department for Employment and Learning Northern Ireland and carried out by the Employment Research Institute of Edinburgh Napier University.
The overarching aim of the research is to: provide a detailed understanding of how multiple cross‐cutting issues prevent the economically inactive from seeking work, in order to better inform the Departmental Strategy on reducing economic inactivity. Specifically, the review considers two groups: those with family commitments; and the long‐term sick and disabled.
The literature review summarises primarily academic findings around the multiple and cross‐cutting barriers to employment for the long‐term sick and those with family responsibilities. For those with family commitments, it seeks to identify the characteristics of those least able to work: what kind of dependents they are caring for; what this entails in practical terms; and how this impacts their ability to work. The report also seeks to identify best practices in policy interventions aimed at helping these groups into the labour market.
Both disabled people and those with caring responsibilities face significant inequalities together with high economic inactivity rates. The barriers to employment facing disabled people and those with caring responsibilities are on the face of it very different, because it is a different life circumstance that is creating this barrier for them. It must also be remembered that there are great differences within each of these groups and so policies, and their implementation, need to be targeted very precisely to particular sub‐sections of each group. While most policy responses will target each separately, there are a number of similarities in what the literature suggests are the main barriers to employment and the general principles of policy responses:
Qualifications and skills. Lack of qualifications and skills is a crucial barrier to employment among those two groups of clients. Three quarters of disable people with tertiary level of educational qualifications are in employment compared to a one third disabled people without qualifications in employment. However, the issue of those disabled people leaving compulsory education with low qualifications needs to be tackled as this group may be distinct form those with qualifications and a career who become disabled later in life. Among those with caring responsibilities, the evidence suggests that again those with no qualifications find it particularly difficult to enter the active labour force. Care responsibilities (especially early motherhood) and disability impede the individual from gaining qualifications. More support is needed to enable these groups to undertake qualifications, but it might also be a case of tackling this at an earlier stage than after they become unemployed adults.
Employer attitudes. Both groups potentially face discrimination from employers, who may perceive their additional needs as too great a burden, and anti‐discrimination legislation does not necessarily help overcome. There is a need to increase awareness and understanding of legislation, but also respond to employers’ concerns about the cost of compliance, and offer support for adjustments to working hours or premises. In addition to public bodies raising awareness, employer or employer organisation initiatives to convince others to take on more people can help raise awareness, although the success of them is not often evaluated rigorously.
Personal attitudes and efficacy. These are linked to employer and wider societal attitudes. Some clients may not necessarily have the belief that they can find and sustain employment. They may perceive the obstacle created by their disability of caring responsibilities is too great. They may also perceive that there is a lack of suitable jobs and responsive employers.
Financial incentives. These appear to be effective particularly for those already contemplating employment. This may suggest in some cases that low pay for the jobs that people can enter is an issue.
Lack of policy integration, joined up thinking in service provision. Health professionals and childcare providers do not necessarily have employment in mind when delivering services, but they potentially have a role to play in increasing it. Similarly, employment services workers often do not understand the whole scope of caring responsibilities of their clients, and may not be sufficiently equipped with specialist knowledge to understand fully the specific problems that face their clients with disabilities. Hence it is important that policies have clear specific objectives that embrace both employability support and specialise support for those with caring responsibilities or with disabilities. Targeted initiatives with clear outcomes may be appropriate, with key workers who can flexibly help in meeting client needs (directly or through working with other bodies). In addition, better communication between specialist support services (for caring and/or disabilities) and employability service providers might improve efficiency and effectiveness.
The biggest effects are sometimes at the margin. There is a balance between the levels of support for those closest to the labour market anyway, who need the least intervention but are most likely to move into the labour market, and levels of support for those farthest from the labour market. Decisions need to be taken on where to set the balance.
Sustainability of employment. The kind of jobs that these two client groups often end up in – specially created jobs for the disabled, or ‘flexible’ low‐paid work for those trying to reconcile work and care – may not necessarily have a sustainable impact on future employment prospects, as they tend to be low skill and limited progression. Clients may end up back in inactivity, or requiring a great deal of in‐work support.
Evaluation of the efficiency of employment services for those two groups should focus more on the sustainability of jobs as well as job entry (as has happened in, for instance, the Work Programme). This requires monitoring of those clients who started to work and supporting them further in addressing the problems they face as the result of the intersection of their specific needs (caring responsibilities/disability) and their employment.
Policy lessons. The policy evaluation literature has suggested some aspects of initiatives to get the disabled and those with care responsibilities into work that have enjoyed some limited success (some of the points relate to both groups). Of course the specific local circumstances and contexts of initiatives and their delivery etc. are fundamental to their success, but the literature suggests some general principles around successful initiatives.
What appears to effective for supporting disabled people:

a focus on workplaces; making them more aware of legislation but also more knowledgeable about what adjustments disabled people actually need, and what support might be available to them to make adjustments;

improving awareness about the programmes, and coverage and uptake of programmes aimed at supporting disabled people into employment, including expanding beyond those most work‐ready and tackling the harder to reach;

increasing the employability of disabled people through equipping them with better qualifications and skills

an integrated approach to each of the policy elements, including skills development, job placement and support after employment.
What appears to effective for supporting those with care responsibilities:

the importance of integrating childcare (or other care) with employability support;

effective partnership working between agencies and with employers;

there is a need for more childcare that is affordable even to those on the lowest incomes;

affordable transport that facilitates the journeys between home, work and childcare providers;

holistic support that recognises and responds to the needs of the individual, and is delivered by a well‐trained and sympathetic advisor;

policy stability that ensure longer term funding, as start‐up costs are often large and effectiveness in achieving outcomes can be low in the early stages.


McQuaid, R. W., Graham, H., Shapira, M., & Raeside, R. (2013). Economic inactivity research project (those with family commitments and the long-term sick and disabled) -Literature review. Northern Ireland: Department for Employment and Learning Northern Ireland

Report Type Project Report
Publication Date Feb 28, 2013
Deposit Date Aug 19, 2013
Peer Reviewed Not Peer Reviewed
Keywords Economic inactivity; family dependents; long-term sick; disabled; employment barriers; Government unemployment policy;
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