We need to prevent Covid-19 halting the progress we have made on health and work.

We need to prevent Covid-19 halting the progress we have made on health and work.

Caroline Masundire reflects on our learning and experience of innovations in health and work and what we can do to minimise impacts Covid-19 will have on employees with health conditions


Covid-19 aside, May was quite a momentous month for me. For the past two years I have been leading Rocket Science’s role in managing the Government’s Work and Health Unit’s Challenge Fund and in May, I completed our overall programme and learning reports.

The Fund, launched in the summer of 2018 was designed to test innovative approaches to help people with Musculo-skeletal and/or mental health conditions stay in work, avoid long term sickness and unemployment. It was part of the Government’s ten-year strategy to get a million more disabled people into work.

We worked closely with 19 Initiatives, ranging from providing rapid access to occupational health support in clinical and community settings, through to direct support and advice in workplaces to capture their learning, understand their impact and identify what worked and what did not. During this time we were also working with other organisations on health and employment issues, including evaluating Fair Start Scotland. All of this experience combined illustrated the difficult challenges both individuals and employers face when managing health conditions at work.

The Challenge Fund was launched at a time of near full employment, we can argue about the quality of employment, but nonetheless the policy and funding focus had shifted to supporting people in work to stay in work and progress or to help those furthest away from the labour market move towards work.

During the Fund, the disability gap was closing (by 5.6 percentage points from July -September 2013) reducing by 1.6 percentage points just in 2019. Evidence was developing about the role of work in giving people the motivation to better manage their health condition and slow down its progression keep them in work for longer and improve their health. There was increasing recognition of the role of good work and conditions in helping to manage workplace wellbeing, reduce staff turnover and help reduce the skills gap. Mental health was widely talked about and supported and funds such as Access to Work provided a lifeline to help people to stay in work.

The arrival of Covid-19 will seriously impact on the progress we have made on health and work.

As services shift to get Britain back to work and the need to prioritise those that can get back to work quickly, the focus and resources supporting those furthest from the labour market are at risk. Our fortnightly Covid, Coffee and Catchup sessions with people in employment services is highlighting how precarious the situation is and the risk that resources will inevitably have to be redeployed to focus on those who are ready for work. There is also the risk that any announcements for the Chancellor in his emergency budget on support programmes will focus on helping people who can easily get back to work more quickly.

We are yet to understand the impact of Covid-19 on the employment rates of people with health conditions, but it is fair to assume that furloughing will have had an impact with the potential for redundancy and likelihood of unemployment for some. Older people are more likely to suffer from health conditions and the latest data on Universal Credit claims showed that around a fifth of people claiming were over 50.

Some people will also have been at a greater risk of contracting Covid-19 because of their work, statistics from the ONS in May 2020, highlighted that 15% of key workers who had a health condition were at moderate risk of contracting the virus. This begs the question on how sustainable is ‘key work’ for people with a health condition, especially if there is a second wave.


These are uncertain times and we are still finding our way on the road to recovery, but we cannot afford to lose sight of the progress we were making and the learning we were developing on how to keep people with health conditions in work.

At the heart of any  approach must be how we:

• support employers to protect employees with health conditions already in work
• help those who have been made redundant or need to change careers because of their health condition
• assist those in need to access other services and support so they don’t fall into crisis.

Three things we can do!

1. Our learning from working with employers is that they are more likely to engage if they need help with a particular issue. As local authorities and other agencies are supporting employers to provide them with grants and business support, it is an ideal opportunity to work with them to identify employees who are at risk of losing their job and because of their condition will find it more difficult to find an alternative role. This includes reviewing workplace adjustments so they can be adapted to new rules of working, negotiating working hours if people need to reduce or increase working hours and offering help to the employee so that they can stay in work.

We found that businesses including SMEs do want to engage, they just need help to understand what they can do to help and a positive experience leads to greater opportunities to support them with staff and workplace practice.

2. We know that for employees who are working insecure, temporary or low paid work, reductions in their income can be make or break for them. The rise in Universal Credit claims illustrates that people are using this safety net, but we know that people will need help navigating the complexities of this as well as help with income maximisation.

Our learning has showed that the kinds of support offered to people to help them get into work such as benefits, housing and debt advice is equally important to help people in work avoid crisis. This can be effective in helping them sustain their employment as well as support their mental health.

3. Finally we need to help people to think broadly about their skillsets and the types of alternative work they can do, especially if they have been out of the jobs market for some time. We know that focusing on an asset-based approach can help people to think more broadly about what they can bring to a role, open their eyes to opportunities they would normally dismiss and support them with job search.

Building people’s skills in job search is really important as is giving them coaching and support to work through the role, the workplace adjustments they might need to have in place and to be confident in having these discussions with their employer.

We can go someway to minimise the impact of Covid-19 for those more vulnerable workers, but we must ensure longer term, that this does not become a reason to stop the progress we were making on healthy work.

Get in touch to find out more about our work.


Caroline is an Associate Director at Rocket Science based in our London office.  You can check out her profile here.

Rocket Science publishes review of philanthropy for the Greater London Authority

Earlier this year Rocket Science were commissioned by the Greater London Authority to produce a Review of Philanthropy in London.

As you may know, last week Centre for London published More, Better, Together: A Strategic Review of Giving in London; this follows earlier calls for action, from the London Fairness Commission (2016) and Charities Aid Foundation (2017), for the Mayor to use his office to harness civic philanthropy and similar private initiative for public good.

Rocket Science’s Review of the Greater London Authority’s role in supporting philanthropy is intended to help shape and inform the Mayor and the GLA’s response to these calls. You can download a copy of the Review, Harnessing the capital’s giving: What is the role of the Mayor and Greater London Authority in enabling civic philanthropy?

I hope the proposals we have suggested in the Review will help improve the effectiveness of private, particularly business giving in working alongside statutory and charitable resources to tackle London’s rising social needs.   A GLA response to the research is expected in October 2018.

As always, we would be very pleased to hear any feedback on the Review, and ideas or offers of help to implement these recommendations.

The GLA commissioned Rocket Science to undertake independent research into the role the Mayor and GLA could play in enabling philanthropy in London. We welcome Rocket Science’s findings and recommendations and along with the Centre for London’s recent ‘More, better, together’ philanthropy report. The GLA is considering its role and will respond to both reviews in October.

It is still all about People, Poverty and Places

It is still all about People, Poverty and Places

Things change but nothing really changes.  Caroline Masundire reflects on ten years at Rocket Science and the uncertain future for employment and skills.

I celebrate ten years at Rocket Science next month and never has a decade gone so quickly or been as eventful.

One of my interviews took place in Birmingham, during the 2007 Welfare to Work Convention run by CESI (now the Learning and Work Institute). An annual all-singing, all-dancing affair, where the great and good assemble to debate all things employment, skills and welfare.

Those were the days. A big exhibition, too much choice and little time to attend sessions, announcements such as City Strategies trialing local control over employment programmes (sound familiar?) and a bit of a knees up.

It was a time where there was a lot of cash around, new policies and programmes were being created, but we were also on the precipice of the Great Recession of the noughties. Work was the answer to everything – better mental health and wellbeing, a route out of poverty and key to local growth and prosperity. Regions played a key role in economic regeneration, new technologies, like Linkedin, were starting to connect people and networks and the idea of leaving the European Union was unthinkable.

But 2007 also presaged a time of great shakeup in the employment and skills sector. Outsourcing firms and new market entrants from the US and Australia were eyeing up the DWP contracting prize. The Freud and Leitch reports called for radical change and benefit reform was a growing twinkle in Iain Duncan-Smith’s eye.

So how much has changed in the past ten years?

I attended this year’s convention at the Oval earlier this month, the first I had been to for several years. The exhibition was much smaller and I could count the “outsourcers and new market entrants” on less than one hand – gone were the flashy stands, googly-eyed freebies and neckerchiefs. This, alongside the general mood of the convention, was a clear indication that the sector continues to experience shakeup:

  • Less money is being invested in national programmes and what is left locally will disappear in 2019. There is little assurance of what will replace ESF post Brexit.
  • This, alongside apprenticeship and skills funding reform, has forced provider consolidation and reform, with many redundancies in the sector.
  • Getting someone a job is just not good enough anymore. The cost of housing, Universal Credit and insecure work means that we have to prepare people better to manage this insecurity and build their financial resilience. Work is no longer a route out of poverty.
  • Despite investment into skills and education we are not making the real progress we need to compete in the global economy.

Many people I spoke to feared a policy vacuum for employment and skills over the next couple of years as the Government focuses its efforts on Brexit negotiations. Devolution in many places is taking its time and we might not see real change for several years. Work Local, the Local Government Agency vision for employment and skills devolution is a common-sense approach. But this sets the scene for 2021.

What does this mean for the sector?

Addressing in-work poverty is the next big thing and we have to ensure that investment in getting people back to work, focuses on poverty reduction. Our relationship with clients and employers will need to change as will our services and offer.

Despite policies and funding, it will be up to local organisations to take control over how to make the most of what is happening in their area. They will need to really understand what will make their place resilient in a post-Brexit world. And start to put in place plans and structures.

Most reassuring from the Convention was the passion and commitment of organisations working on the front-line. Despite such challenges and change, this passion has not waned and many of the organisations that were helping people back to work in 2007, are still here – ten years on. This collective experience and passion is the sector’s greatest asset.

Governments, Ministers, policies and funding come and go. So the greatest lesson I have learnt from the passing of ten years, is that employment and skills has, and always will be about People, Poverty and Places.

Caroline is an Associate Director at Rocket Science based in our London office.  You can check out her profile here.