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Social prescribing could close the disability employment gap

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Social prescribing would enable healthcare professionals to refer patients to non-clinical services

Social prescribing could help close the disability employment gap, according to a report from the Work Foundation.

Social prescribing A pathway to work? defines social prescribing as enabling healthcare professionals to refer patients to a non-clinical service, who work with the individuals to co-design ‘non-healthcare interventions' such as one-on-one coaching or help with debt management.

The report recommended employability and work-related outcomes become a core aim of these social prescribing services, with greater recognition of the important role work plays as a social determinant of health and wellbeing. Helping a patient into work has been found to be therapeutic, may help to promote recovery and rehabilitation, and leads to better health outcomes, among other benefits.

It highlighted the need for work to be ‘good'; so offering control, support, flexibility over start and finish times, involvement in decision-making, and job satisfaction.

Including employment skills in referrals could also help to close the disability gap, the report states. This gap (defined as the difference in employment between those with and without disabilities) currently sits at more than 30%, according to Work and Pensions Committee data.

The report highlighted a Social Prescribing Network members' survey that found the majority (70%) of respondents agreed employability and work-related outcomes should be included in the specifications of social prescribing services. When a patient is receiving social prescribing the referral rate for skills and employability schemes is currently one in six (17.5%), indicating that links do exist but could be improved.

Karen Steadman, research and policy manager at the Work Foundation, said the focus should be on helping the patient to find meaningful work.

“Social prescribing services should more directly recognise getting clients who want to work back to work, as a key aim – whether this is in the short or long term,” she said. “More emphasis must be placed on the role of meaningful work in sustainably reducing social isolation, improving self-confidence and self-esteem, and improving health and wellbeing.

“However, we must show caution before tying such an approach too closely to the welfare system: to help those who most need it we must listen to what they want, and support them on their pathways.”