Unison has responded with dismay to news that the Council’s Place Directorate management are proposing to discontinue The Employment Support Service (TESS), which is a flagship services for vulnerable adults and young people with learning disabilities, autism and severe and enduring mental ill health, as well as implementing post cuts at the highly successful Job Shop.
The proposals will see 10 posts deleted at the TESS project, putting all post holders at risk of redundancy. This alongside the deletion of two specialist employment advisor roles at the Job Shop, to be replaced by recruiting new staff at a lower grade. The services being proposed for deletion are delivered by some of the most able, dedicated and expert staff in their field, not just in Coventry but nationally.
This explains how TESS won a national Award for its service only last year, winning Team of the Year from the British Association for Supported Employment (BASE), for its outstanding work in encouraging employers to employ those furthest from the labour market. TESS is also one of a small number of services nationally to be awarded Centre of Excellence status by the Centre for Mental Health, for its work with people who have severe mental health difficulties. TESS is a unique service in Coventry. There are currently no other services able to continue this work. The impact of losing this service for the most vulnerable, their families and employers will be significant.
The review proposals throw the Council’s pledge to protect the ‘most vulnerable’ into doubt. Suggestions the TESS service may be funded through ‘alternative’ means seem half formed. Unison is not convinced that those making the decisions have actually thought through how services are currently delivered. We believe direct public investment is the key to the high quality delivery, for which TESS and the Job Shop have become well known.
Unison is also aware that the Council has an opportunity to bid for substantial European Union money. This opportunity explicitly includes funding to support those facing mental health issues, as well as other groups such as young people and the long term unemployed. If a bid is successful, EU resource could develop and enhance the existing services, without the need for any redundancies. This seems to be a case of senior management making a short term saving to tick a box on the Council’s budget spreadsheet, at a time when local people are desperate to find work.
Sarah Feeney, Coventry City Unison Branch Secretary said, ‘This review proposal gives the impression that Council members and senior managers in Place Directorate see services like TESS as an ‘optional extra’, ‘fluffy’ or ‘nice to do’. They are not – they are the very core of Council provision, supporting those most in need. TESS and the Job Shop give Coventry people, who are struggling, the help they need to get a job and financial security for themselves and their families. We will not benefit from all the new investment and buildings in Coventry, if local residents looking for work are thrown back on the scrapheap, carry on being dependent on benefits and are kept out of the picture when it comes to the new jobs on offer.’
A short term investment from reserves for this year would mean that the existing staff resource and networks can be maintained to ensure the Council can maximise opportunity to deliver a successful service, using external funding from next year. Frankly this cut package is neither necessary nor needed at this time, even if one accepts the wider context of austerity, which Unison of course does not.
This review should be put back in the filing cabinet, which would be a sensible decision for unemployed Coventry residents, for the Council itself to avoid substantial potential redundancy costs, for the staff whose jobs are at risk, and for the Council tax
Contact: Sarah Feeney, 02476 521127, or phone Branch Office via 02476 550829
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Background Note: TESS was established in 1993 to bridge the gap between people accessing social care support and mainstream employment providers; this gap has significantly increased for many disabled people and people with mental health difficulties. With employment rates below 8% for people with learning disabilities and severe mental ill health and 15% for people with autism compared to 46.3% for working age disabled people and 76.4% for non-disabled people (2012 Labour Market Survey). People with the ability and determination to work are being written off as unemployable, passed from provider to provider with no real hope of getting into a job.
The cost to the public purse of supporting an unemployed job seeker is £9,400. This rises significantly when supporting a TESS service user. According to the National Audit Report 2011 the average cost in welfare benefits for a person with learning disabilities is £15,000 per year, this excludes housing benefit, health and social care support costs which can be significant and long-term. Cost Benefit analysis of Supported Employment has demonstrated they are a more cost effective way of supporting people, compared to providing on-going support in day services, professional support through secondary mental health services and continuing to pay welfare benefits, resulting in savings to the tax payer.