Patients have had a loud voice in the NHS for years, even if it’s still not quite loud enough. The UK has hundreds of patient groups - not just the high-profile Patients Association, but also illness-specific ones (there are no less than 70 for kidney disease alone). We can choose our own doctors and hospitals on the NHS Choices website under the banner: 'Your health, your choices.'
What if we looked at employment support in the same way? To me, good employment is just as important as good health. The Five Giant Evils identified by William Beveridge 70 years ago - squalor, ignorance, want, idleness and disease - are just as much a cause and result of unemployment as they are of poor health. So should our support system not also be able to proudly say: 'Your work, your choices'?
By this, I mean involving users not just in their personal plans but also in system-wide design and peer-to-peer support. Given the vulnerable and often marginalised position of many jobseekers, a user-led, bottom-up ‘Jobseekers Association’ admittedly might be wishful thinking.
But there’s no reason why we can’t give a real, nationwide voice to the country’s jobseekers by introducing user-satisfaction measures based on the NHS’s Friends and Family Test ('Would you recommend our service to friends and family?') or by integrating user feedback into all Jobcentre meetings.
From there, we can work towards co-designed services which involve users, along with charities and other support services, in every stage of service design - from establishing what users need to perfecting implementation methods. Sharing what works between Jobcentres will give users the chance to shape the system nationally, and it will give users a sense of ownership not just over their own journey to work but over others’ journeys as well.
Finally, we can build upon co-design and begin to co-deliver – to help jobseekers support one another. Group consultations, where skills and experience can be shared while also saving money for the public purse, are generating buzz in healthcare and could be transformative for jobseekers. They’re also perfect for bringing in external organisations, like employers and charities, to share their advice and expertise.
Another exciting, and transferable, area in healthcare is peer-to-peer support – either through jobseekers supporting one another or former jobseekers mentoring current ones. It could even lead to the elusive job, given how many are still found informally through friends, family and networks. More than anything, though, just having a friend who can empathise is invaluable.
Creating an employment support system for people, by people and with people will require change from the Secretary of State down to the frontline. It’s a whole new way of thinking, a whole new set of relationships and a whole new understanding of the limits of the Jobcentre and the potential of its users.
It’s a process that’s already underway. The civil servants I’ve spoken to about this are clearly committed to offering the best support possible to everyone who walks into their office.
And we’re trying to help make this happen, supporting innovative players in the employment support sector and bringing them together. Whether you’re a welfare-to-work provider, a Jobcentre advisor or a jobseeker, we want to hear your experiences and opinions. We want to hear your feedback on the ideas I’ve talked about in this blog series.
We want you to tell us how, one day, this nation can be as proud of its Jobcentres as it is of its NHS.