Improving employment outcomes for disadvantaged groups by informing policy
Submitting InstitutionEdinburgh Napier University
Unit of AssessmentBusiness and Management Studies
Summary Impact TypeSocietal
Research Subject Area(s)
Studies In Human Society: Policy and Administration, Sociology
Summary of the impact
This case study describes the impact of research on improving employment
outcomes for disadvantaged groups by influencing Government policy on
employability. The case study focuses on the contribution to national
employment policy from research conducted by the Employment Research
Institute (ERI) at Edinburgh Napier University. Impacts outlined in this
case study describe research that has been applied in the public policy
field to address the issue of improving employment outcomes for those with
complex barriers to employment.
Successive UK governments have been faced with the problem of large
numbers of working-age people not participating in the labour market.
Several groups face significant barriers to employment including lone
parents and those with few qualifications. 35% of households where no one
has ever worked are lone parent households (ONS, 2011). Furthermore,
between 1995 and 2009, the employment rate for people with low level or no
qualifications fell from 60.1% to 55.8% (ONS, 2011).
The publications and sources cited in this case study describe the
development of a method for evaluating barriers to work and training.
Developed through publications in leading journals (see section 3) and
Government reports, the concept of employability was developed as an
analytical tool in the period 2000-2003 to improve understanding of the
`multidimensional barriers to work or progression faced by many unemployed
and employed people' (see 3.3). From 2004-09, the ERI research team was
contracted by the Scottish Government to evaluate a national programme
called Working for Families (WFF) to improve access to employment and
training for lone parents.
The concept of employability provided a framework within which barriers
to employment for the 25,000 clients who registered with the WFF programme
could be identified and evaluated. The research identified client groups
who were least likely to make a transition to employment including: those
aged under 20 years; ethnic minority clients; clients with no
qualifications; clients with disabilities; clients with no work history.
The evaluation highlighted the importance of ensuring that parents had
access to childcare to enable a return to work. By identifying clients
less likely to enter work, the programme was able to ensure that local
authorities could target support for these groups more effectively. In
2007 and 2013, the ERI produced reports for the Department for Employment
and Learning, Northern Ireland (DELNI). The 2007 report (see 5.2)
contributed to the evolution of governmental approaches to partnership
working in the delivery of employment strategies and led to publications
in leading journals (see 3.4 and 3.5). The 2013 report (see 5.3)
identified how cross-cutting issues prevent the economically inactive in
Northern Ireland from seeking work. The review identified actions to be
taken to address low levels of employment among lone parents and carers.
In 2009-2010, the ERI published a report for the Joseph Rowntree
Foundation that used the concept of employability to explore why
disadvantaged parents move into poverty and identified barriers to them
escaping the cycle of low pay/no pay or recurrent poverty (see 5.4). The
study used data from the WFF programme, and added in-depth qualitative
case studies, to further refine and develop the employability framework
and enabled the identification of barriers to employment for single
parents. The report found that parents remain in low-pay and unemployment
due to: a lack of affordable childcare; the operation and monetary levels
of benefits and tax credits; the characteristics of low-paid jobs.
Key researchers and positions held at the institution at the time of the
Professor Ron McQuaid — Director the Employment Research Institute. 1999
— August 2013; Dr Matthew Dutton — Research Fellow, 2006 — present (2013);
Vanesa Fuertes — Research Assistant, 2004 — present (2013); Dr Colin
Lindsay — Research Fellow, 1999 — 2010; Sue Bond — Research Fellow. 1999 —
2012; Dr Valerie Egdell — Research Fellow, 2010- present.
References to the research
3.1 McQuaid, R.W. and C. Lindsay (2002) ``The Employability Gap':
Long-term Unemployment and Barriers to Work in Buoyant Labour Markets',
Environment and Planning C:- Government and Policy, 20, 4, 613-628.
(Google Scholar citation count: 45) (Web of Science times cited: 21)
3.2 Lindsay, C., McCracken M. and McQuaid, R.W (2003) `Unemployment
Duration and Employability in Remote Rural Labour Markets', Journal of
Rural Studies, 19, 2, 187-200. (Google scholar citation count: 50) (Web of
Science times cited: 15)
3.3 McQuaid, R. W. and Lindsay, C., (2005) The concept of employability.
Urban Studies, 42 (2). pp. 197-219. (Google scholar citation count: 243)
(Web of Science times cited: 66)
3.4 Lindsay, Colin, McQuaid, Ronald W and Dutton, Matthew (2007) New
approaches to employability in the UK: combining `human capital
development' and `work first' strategies? Journal of Social Policy, 36
(4). 539-560 (Google scholar citation count: 57) (Web of Science times
3.5 Lindsay, C, McQuaid., RW., Dutton, M., (2008) 'Inter-agency
co-operation and new approaches to employability'. Social Policy and
Administration, 42 (7). pp. 715-732 (Google scholar citation count: 20 )
(Web of Science times cited: 8)
Grant award: Evaluation of the Working for Families Fund 2004 - 2008.
Scottish Government. Total Award £229,725
Grant award: How can parents escape recurrent poverty? Joseph Rowntree
Foundation. Total award £38,404.00
Grant award: Best Practice in Inter-agency Co-operation — Department for
Enterprise and Learning, Northern Ireland. Total award £44,597
Details of the impact
The impact of the research is evident in changes to public policy in
Scotland and Northern Ireland on improving employment outcomes for
disadvantage groups specifically lone parents, carers and those with low
levels of qualifications. For people seeking a return to the labour
market, there has also been a positive impact on quality of life by
improving access to employment The ERI designed and implemented a
Management Information System for WFF that was used to analyse data on
clients registered on the programme. This enabled the ERI to provide
real-time feedback to local authorities responsible for delivering the WFF
programme. The continuous evaluation and collation of data by the ERI
enabled monitoring of client progress and the identification of relevant
forms of support required by WFF clients. The ERI conducted training
events for local authority key workers with responsibility for WFF
implementation that enabled workers to maximise the impact and reach of
the programme. The ERI's role contributed to 53% of all WFF clients
(13,594) achieving a hard outcome (e.g. a move into work or training) and
a further 13% (3,283) achieving other significant outcomes (e.g.
improvements in employability or increased confidence). Downstream of the
policy process, the ERI evaluation was able to cite evidence from lone
parents whose engagement with the WFF programme had made a significant
positive impact on their quality of life: "It's made me feel that there is
more to life than just being in the house and stick on benefits, there is
a lot more to life, and I just want to give the children a better life."
(WFF client, East Ayrshire); "It's been a great help. It wouldn't have
been possible for me to get back to work without help with childcare
costs." (WFF client, Highlands).
These findings have subsequently impacted the current Scottish Government
Child Poverty Strategy for Scotland (2011) that highlights the findings of
the ERI WFF evaluation: `A number of these local (employability) pipelines
have embedded the Working for Families model which identifies difficulties
in accessing affordable and quality childcare as a significant barrier to
employment and provides a range of support and referrals to address this'
(see 5.7). Findings from the ERIs WFF evaluation have also informed the
Scottish Government's Employability Framework (see 5.10). The Framework
emphasises the role of childcare `in supporting the development and
wellbeing of children, in allowing parents to work in order to provide
economic security for their families, and, in cases of workless families,
in offering routes out of welfare and poverty'.
ERI research for the Department for Employment and Learning in Northern
Ireland (DELNI) also applied the employability framework to produce
effective employment policies. The report, although published in 2007,
impacted on employment policy in 2010. Through interviews with Public
Employment Services across the EU, the ERI produced a series of
recommendations for improving co-operation across agencies involved in the
delivery of employment policy. Recommendations included: the co-location
of services for the unemployed; improving partnership working across
government departments and agencies; pooling resources across departments
to maximise their impact. The office of the Northern Ireland Advisor on
Employment and Skills adopted these recommendations in their report (see
5.6) on tackling unemployment and promoting economic growth: `Improving
linkages between government departments, agencies and local authorities
has been identified as an important mechanism in which to help improve the
service offered to unemployed and inactive clients. Research from the
Employment Research Institute at Napier University compared forms of
inter-agency co-operation, and identified strengths and weaknesses in
different partnership models'.
In 2012 the ERI was commissioned by DELNI to provide an analysis of how
multiple cross-cutting issues prevent the economically inactive from
seeking work and provided a baseline against which DELNI could measure
progress. The report (see 5.3) identified policy lessons on effective
forms of employment support for disabled people and those with care
responsibilities. Professor McQuaid presented results of the report at a
research seminar held by Analytical Services within DELNI on the 22nd May
2013 and attended by senior civil servants. The report was also discussed
in the Northern Ireland Assembly on the Committee for Employment and
Learning on the 8th May 2013 where it was stated that the ERI had enabled
DELNI to target support to specific client groups: `Two groups emerged
from the baseline study as requiring additional help through being
inactive because of particularly difficult circumstances: those out of
work because of ill health or disability; and those who have caring
responsibilities for children, particularly lone parents...So the baseline
study suggests that, if we are to have a new strategy and do new things,
we should concentrate our efforts on those two groups'. (Official Report
Hansard. 8th May 2013, Committee for Employment and Learning)
In addition to policy impacts in Scotland and Northern Ireland, the ERI
has contributed to the development of employability policy in England
through the publication of a report in 2010 commissioned by the Joseph
Rowntree Foundation (see 5.4). The JRF report identified why disadvantaged
parents move into poverty and what barriers prevent them escaping the
low-pay/no-pay cycle. This report was cited by HM Treasury, The Department
for Children, Schools and Families and the Department for Work and
Pensions on policy to reduce child poverty: `Recent research indicates
that parents' employment decisions are influenced by the type of
employment available, the financial benefits of moving into work,
including concerns about financial insecurity or loss of benefits, the
costs and nature of childcare available, and perceptions about all these
considerations' (see 5.4).
In addition to impacts on public policy, the ERI has also sought to raise
awareness and understanding among the general public on issues raised by
their research. ERI Director Professor McQuaid, was interviewed by BBC
Radio Scotland and featured on the BBC News website to discuss the issues
of childcare as a barrier to employment (see 5.8). Professor McQuaid was
also interviewed on the 18th March 2012 edition of the influential BBC One
Scotland news programme `Sunday Politics' (see 5.9).
Sources to corroborate the impact
5.1 Evaluation of the Working for Families Fund (2004 - 2008).
The Scottish Government. 2009. Available at: http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Publications/2009/04/20092521/0
5.2 Committee for Employment and Learning. Official Report (Hansard).
Economic Inactivity: DEL Briefing. 8 May 2013 available at: http://www.niassembly.gov.uk/Documents/Official-Reports/Employment/2012-2013/130508_EconomicInactivity.pdf
citing McQuaid, R., Lindsay, C., Dutton, M., (2007) Best
Practice in Inter-agency Co-operation. Department for Employment and
Learning, Northern Ireland. Available at:
Personal contact provided.
5.3 McQuaid, R., Graham, H., Shapira, M., (2013) Economic Inactivity
Strategy: Literature Review Project. Department for Employment and
Learning, Northern Ireland. Available at:
5.4 Ending Child Poverty. Mapping the route to 2020. March 2010.
HM Treasury. Department for Children, Schools and Families. Department for
Work and Pensions. Available at:
citing McQuaid, R., Fuertes, V., Richard, A., (2010) How can
parents escape from recurrent poverty? Joseph Rowntree Foundation.
5.5 McQuaid, R., Fuertes, V. Egdell, Bergmann, A. with A.E. Green
(University of Warwick) (2011) Promoting Jobs Growth to Benefit
Disadvantaged People and Communities — An International Review of Best
Practice, Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment, Northern
5.6 Office of the Northern Ireland Advisor on Employment and Skills 2010.
Recovering the Unemployed and Economically Inactive into the Economy.
2010. Available at: http://goo.gl/YNcfqI
5.7 Child Poverty Strategy for Scotland. The Scottish Government.
March 15, 2011. Available at:
5.8 Professor Ronald McQuaid on BBC News (19/8/09) discussing the
importance of ensuring that parents can access the labour market. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/scotland/8313194.stm.
5.9 Professor McQuaid on BBC One Sunday Politics Scotland (18/3/12)
discussing the importance of the Working for Families Programme in helping
parents get back to work.
5.10 Working for Growth. A refresh of the Employability Framework for
Scotland. Published by the Scottish Government, September 2012.