Greater Manchester's pioneering approach to ill health will help thousands stay in work

Thousands of Greater Manchester residents whose health makes it hard for them to work will benefit through a ground-breaking new service launched today by the Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA) and Greater Manchester Health & Social Care Partnership (GMHSCP).

Working Well Early Help is the first programme of its kind in the country. It brings doctors, employers, individuals and support services together in partnership to take early action to help residents with ill health at a crucial point when they are starting to be at risk of falling out of employment or newly out of work.

Backed by England’s largest ever NHS investment in local employment support, as well the European Social Fund, the £8 million scheme aims to change how health and employment services work together.

Adults of all ages across Greater Manchester who are experiencing poor health can receive up to six months of individually tailored advice and support from a dedicated caseworker to help them back to good work. This will typically include health, wellbeing and lifestyle advice; building of confidence and relevant skills and experience; and help to make changes at work or find suitable new employment.

It is estimated that 150,000 Greater Manchester residents are out of work due to their health – making up almost 2/3 of unemployed adults in the city region. For people aged 50 to 64 in particular, ill-health is the main barrier to work.

Early support, as offered by the new service, can be critical to people’s future prospects. Only one in five people get back to work after being off for six months, and after two years someone is more likely to die or retire than ever return to work.

Impacts of unemployment can include poorer general health, worsened mental health, increased likelihood of dying earlier, decreased physical activity and greater alcohol and tobacco consumption.

The recent Greater Manchester Independent Prosperity Review highlighted the costs of health-related unemployment to the city region. Local adults with long-term health conditions are nearly 13% less likely to be in work. The review concluded that health and social care are key to boosting productivity, spreading prosperity and tackling disadvantage across Greater Manchester.
The new scheme will particularly benefit people working in, and running, small and medium sized enterprises. Such SMEs – which are estimated to make up over 99% of Greater Manchester’s businesses – are often unable to afford traditional occupational health services. Working Well Early Help aims to fill this gap.

Mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham, and Greater Manchester’s executive lead for population health, Sarah Price, launched the initiative at a special roundtable event at Oldham Library. They were joined by Richard Cienciala, deputy director of the Joint Work and Health Unit at the Department of Health and Social Care / Department for Work and Pensions, local people who have found themselves struggling in work or losing their job because of their health, and some of the frontline staff who will now be supporting thousands of residents facing the same situation.

Mayor of Greater Manchester Andy Burnham said: “Our new Working Well Early Help programme is another example of how we are doing things differently in Greater Manchester and is another step forward for our ground-breaking Working Well programme. This pioneering new programme will allow us to act quickly to support those at risk of losing their job due to ill-health. This will make a real difference and could transform the prospects of thousands of residents facing long-term unemployment because of their health."

Sarah Price, executive lead for population health in Greater Manchester, said: “Being able to work is vitally important to the health, wealth and wellbeing of our residents, and to our city-region as a whole. It is a tragedy that people who fall out of employment because of their health can soon end up more likely to die or retire than ever get back to work. Our new Working Well Early Help programme is tackling this significant challenge head-on, by providing early support to thousands of people before long-term unemployment and its most serious consequences take hold."

Cllr Sean Fielding, Oldham Council leader and Greater Manchester portfolio lead for employment and skills, said “Statistics show that in Greater Manchester residents with long-term health conditions are more likely to be out of work than in other parts of the country. That is why we are supporting this new service which offers people the support they need to stay in or return to work. The free service works in a holistic way, providing person-centred, tailored support to each individual. I would recommend anyone with a disability or health condition who is either struggling at work and currently on sick leave or newly unemployed to contact the service.”

The Working Well Early Help service builds on Greater Manchester’s family of highly successful Working Well programmes, which has so far assisted more than 20,000 longer-term unemployed people with health conditions to move towards work.

The initiative is being delivered by MAXIMUS Healthworks, in a partnership between MAXIMUS and north west-based social enterprise Pathways Community Interest Company. Together they have provided decades of specialist health, wellbeing and disability support. Its impacts will be evaluated by the city region’s Salford University and Sheffield Hallam University.

Article Published: 25/03/2019 14:23 PM