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Supporting Scotland's vibrant voluntary sector

Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations

The Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations is the membership organisation for Scotland's charities, voluntary organisations and social enterprises. Charity registered in Scotland SC003558. Registered office Mansfield Traquair Centre, 15 Mansfield Place, Edinburgh EH3 6BB.

Reference briefing: Scotland’s Labour Market Strategy


The announcement of a Labour Market Strategy is highly welcomed as a means of centralising the drive for better jobs, not just more jobs, in Scotland. We recognise that sustainable, meaningful paid employment is the most powerful way in which people can empower themselves. However, people contribute in different ways at different times in their lives and to ignore this merely leads to those furthest from the labour market being left behind. It is pivotal that the core pillar of the jobs plan should be a drive to release the unique contribution of every member of society.  The guiding factors in this new approach to contribution are the principles of human rights, equalities and a continued emphasis on fair work. We want to shift state support for employability away from focusing solely on getting people into paid jobs, to an approach which is about supporting them to contribute to society based on what they can best offer at any one point in time. The key here is to value all forms of contribution, not just jobs, and to tailor support to each citizen’s capabilities and offer. The third sector has a shared ambition for employment in Scotland; centred on driving up employment standards while recognising and unlocking the unique skills and capability of individuals. Current approaches have been criticised for being top-down, and short-term in managing people into jobs. We espouse a move away from the universal pipeline of inflexible state-commissioned support to a focus on the needs of the individual and their community. As such, the approach to the labour market strategy must be flexible and create an enabling environment, allowing individuals to access the information, projects and community groups to assist in their self-development and confidence-building.

Human Rights

Beginning to think about Scottish public policy, and indeed societal issues, in human rights terms provides a framework around which to tackle inequality and promote new approaches to economic growth. Human rights protect the inherent dignity of people and employment is an important aspect of this. Human rights in employment, and support in unemployment, are formally protected within the UN Declaration and the European Convention of Human Rights, enshrining dignity and respect. This is an excellent starting point for a strong labour market strategy. We welcome the continued commitment to the Business Pledge, the living wage and fair work. In 2012-13, 52% of working-age adults in poverty in Scotland lived in households where at least one adult was in employment. It is important, therefore, to ensure that a drive for jobs does not focus solely on statistical improvement and achieving ‘job outcomes’, rather than promoting sustainable employment and skills. The polarisation of jobs, with the number of low paid jobs increasing while the share of middle-rank jobs reduces has led to people being trapped in low-skilled, low-paid employment. This leads to the situation, as described by Jim McCormick of JRF, where “a revolving door, rather than an escalator, is the experience of many low-wage earners.” The Oxfam Humankind Index made clear that satisfying, secure and suitable work is a key priority for the people of Scotland.  There is also a strong business case for providing decent, fair work, including better staff retention, morale, productivity and a healthier community in which to sell, source and recruit. Universal Credit, the Work Programme and the general approach to unemployment at Westminster has threatened the dignity of those looking for work and we hope the Scottish Parliament seizes the opportunity to implement an alternative approach. Any labour market strategy which aims to simultaneously promote employment and social justice, must also commit to moving away from unsustainable and unsuitable contracts and short-term employment. Such employment merely benefits the flexibility desired by employers, whilst failing to put employees’ needs at the heart of employment practices.


Our economy is characterised by underemployment and low skills utilisation, with inequalities faced by women, older people, disabled people and those from low-income communities. Putting equality at the heart of the strategy is therefore crucial. Services must better recognise the specific barriers faced by key groups. Tailored approaches are needed; people shouldn’t have to wait to become long term unemployed in order to get help to move back into work. The third sector has wide-ranging expertise in working with marginalised groups and there may be scope to ‘scale-up’ and consolidate some of the innovation visible in the third sector’s projects and programmes. To work with third sector organisations only through contracting-out arrangements to deliver programmes erodes the distinctive potential of the sector to design programmes and target provision through collaborative approaches.


Women’s over-representation among the lowest paid in the labour market means that many women are reliant on benefits to top-up their low pay. Close the Gap concludes that women are twice as dependent on social security as men with 20% of women’s incomes coming from the benefits and tax credit system compared with less than 10% of men’s. Engender have also found that if the number of female owned businesses grew to equal men, we would have an additional 108,480 businesses, bringing a 5.3% growth to the Scottish economy. Engender have recently called for a £50m Women’s Employment and Enterprise Challenge Fund to help reduce the inequality between women and men in business-ownership and employment. The Scottish Parliament’s Welfare Committee recommended that any social security programmes over which the Scottish Government has control should be designed to overcome the barriers which prevent or restrict women’s labour market participation. The labour market strategy must also recognise the difficulties around women’s full participation in the labour market – thus integrating childcare and benefits provision.


A recent report by the Equality and Human Rights Commission, Is Scotland Fairer?, highlighted that disabled people are nearly twice as likely as non-disabled people to be unemployed and current skills interventions are failing to engage disabled individuals. Personalised support can have a real impact on disabled individuals. The DWP has set up a Personalisation Pathfinder pilot in South West Wales to test whether more personalised service can help disabled jobseekers become more work ready. The Pathfinder provides a flexible, advisory approach for ESA/JSA claimants with a health condition or disability, including a personalised advisor, support through access to a dedicated specialist Health and Disability Coach, support tailored to claimants’ specific needs and improved links with local delivery partners. Such attempts to recognise the specific barriers should be adopted within this strategy. Our skills-interventions are not immune to equalities issues and traditional occupational segregation, as highlighted by Modern Apprenticeships. Only 3.9% of apprenticeship starts in Scotland in 2015/6 were disabled and women account for only 5% of engineering apprenticeship starts. In 2015/16, 74% of MA frameworks had a gender balance of 75:25 or worse. The SNP manifesto pledged to deliver 30,000 apprenticeships and to target additional places on higher-level courses, including graduate-level apprenticeships. However we would warn that a focus on higher-level qualifications will only reinforce this trend, rather than dismantle existing structural disadvantages. While some degree of segregation is perhaps inevitable, more needs to be done to disrupt stereotypes and misconceptions, both within the attitudes of our young people and our employers. In order to integrate the equalities agenda into the labour market strategy, we must target resources at those who are most disadvantaged and those with additional support needs, prioritising early, high quality assessments to identify support needs.

Collaborative approaches – Community Jobs Scotland

Community Jobs Scotland (CJS) is a useful example of a collaborative project, successfully helping young people into work, education or volunteering. Since it began CJS has created 7000 paid opportunities with nearly 600 different third sector employers across Scotland. These opportunities are mutually beneficial, as the individual receives ‘real life’ employment experience, linked with on-the-job training and development. In return, the third sector receives increased staffing capacity to achieve its aims and objectives. Now entering its sixth phase, CJS has demonstrated its ability to move high numbers of disadvantaged young people into positive destinations. The latest Phase 5 performance figures show that 56.4% of participants achieved an employment outcome, with a further 8.6% entering education and 3.8% engaged in volunteering. CJS has developed important knowledge around working with particular groups, such as young offenders, care leavers and those with disabilities or long term health conditions. Working with these often marginalised groups has involved engaging with a range of partners to deliver wraparound support. There are key opportunities to expand CJS, and similar collaborative projects, to ensure a wide range of support, based on real world jobs, to people looking to get into or back into work.

Employment, employability and contribution

The experience of our sector is that when people are already valued, supported and confident in their contribution to society, they become more job ready and, more often than not, paid employment soon follows. In light of this, valuing all forms of contribution is key. While most people’s primary contribution is likely to be through employment, many will also continue to contribute in other important ways. Volunteering, community activism, kinship care and good neighbourliness are all of significant value to our society. These forms of contribution too deserve support and recognition. While people may contribute in different ways at different times throughout their life, it is also true that people may contribute in different ways at the same time in their life. There must be flexibility in the system to enable multiple forms of contribution simultaneously. It is worth exploring how volunteering can expand the human right to participation. The Scottish Government has acknowledged the potential of community participation in helping to address social issues, such as isolation, poverty and inequality. In recognising the value of volunteering, the labour market strategy has the potential to both assist individuals to contribute valuably to society while simultaneously tackling other social ills. Focusing on all forms of contribution would enable a more holistic and joined-up approach, with scope to acknowledge the multi-faceted nature of the support required my some individuals. Under the current system, there is a disjoint as employability programmes largely operate separate from other programmes such as prison services and drug and alcohol support.


The ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach at Westminster, involving mandatory job placements and mandatory referrals, is an arbitrary system which has consequences for well-being and self-worth. Scotland has an opportunity to create a more holistic system which focuses on self-worth, working on people’s confidence via their local networks and their peer group. It would be beneficial to hand over power to individuals, allowing them to recognise and uncover their own skills and strengths. Community has a key role to play in this self-directedness. A focus on community activity is not only beneficial to the individual but in turn also advances the common-good for the wider community itself. Community infrastructure offers a more holistic approach to supporting employability, assisting people to build on their own capabilities, gain social connections within their community, building confidence and self-worth. Self-directed support, leading to some degree of self-discovery, affords people the space to realise how they can best contribute to society outside the traditional Beveridge-era categories of employment, idleness and benefits. Current volunteering systems are often geared towards supporting those closest to labour markets, assisting those who are digitally capable and can volunteer in traditional ways. We must look towards expanding volunteering projects so that they are more accessible to those who have not yet identified their personal skill set in a manner which fits neatly into application forms. Formalising the role of community groups through investment in local infrastructure and helping people to connect with their peers for mutual support can have exceedingly powerful results. Community involvement and support takes many forms, including:

Future skills needs

The World Economic Forum recently reported that 65% of children entering primary school today will ultimately end up working in completely new job types that don’t yet exist. Labour market strategies must, therefore, be designed to meet both current and future demand for jobs. Economic strategies, Regional Skills Assessments and Skills Investment Plans (SIPs) are important tools in this planning process. At present, there has not been enough engagement with the third sector on SIPs and we believe greater engagement would facilitate better skills planning and asset mapping.

Digital and technological change

Digital skills are a key aspect of future skills needs. Research by Tinder Foundation identifies that 90% of all new jobs require digital skills, with almost three-quarters (72%) of employers revealing that they would not even interview a candidate who does not possess basic computer skills. This is problematic given that there are still approximately 800,000 people in Scotland who cannot effectively access the internet, as they either don’t have the means of access (broadband/equipment), the necessary digital skills, or the motivation to go online. Research tells us that the people offline are more likely to be older, disabled and on low incomes. Urgent attempts to support more people to go online are crucial to ensure existing inequalities are not increased. The third sector has established a reputation of trust with many of these groups, meaning voluntary organisations are able to direct individuals to support and in some instances provide direct support, through training and outreach services. The other side of this technological change is the perceived risk of ‘technological unemployment’ at all levels of the economy as a result of seismic structural changes caused by digitalisation. In light of this, there is a case for breaking from traditional work guarantees and realising that survival must be separate from employment and production.

Delinking jobs from living and the Universal Basic Income

While realising that this is not a short-term goal, but rather a longer-term ambition, it is a good idea to explore the idea of a Universal Basic Income (UBI) in Scotland. A UBI is a measure which recognises that, as the labour market changes, the once solid link between jobs, employability and benefits must also be questioned. The social contract which has governed our welfare state in the post-war era appears out-dated in the light of both the existing and predicted automation and digitalisation, as well as other societal issues such as caring. In light of this, we require a cultural shift to modernise our employability support and benefits system. A UBI is also one answer to the growing debate around work-life balance, enabling greater flexibility around work, leisure, education, caring and other community responsibilities. It has the potential to offer much greater financial independence and freedom of choice for individuals between work and leisure, education and caring, while recognising the huge value of unpaid and voluntary work. Moreover, research has found that UBI can have a particularly positive impact on women. Contrary to Universal Credit, UBI treats women as individuals, rather than part of a household, thus enabling greater financial independence. Research has found that at least 59% of unpaid carers in Scotland are women and 74% of Carer’s Allowance claimants are women. Women are also twice as likely to give up paid work in order to care.[1] The UBI would go some way to recognising this unpaid work as an endeavour of significant social value. UBI also has the potential to remove much of the persistent stigma of benefit-claiming. The pressure of the current arbitrary benefits system has had a negative impact on wellbeing, made worse by the social and political discourse which labels people as ‘benefit cheats’ and ‘undeserving’, leading in some cases to social isolation and deprivation. Pilots elsewhere have found positive impacts in education, health and nutrition. If we are to work towards a citizen’s income, it is important to have a period of consultation, national discussion and a strong pilot project. The recent defeat of the Citizen’s Income in Switzerland has highlighted the importance of ensuring the details of the plan are thoroughly convincing. Costing is thus key, and for that reason, we would agree with the Compass report that a partial, transitional system, which keeps some means tested benefits for a start, may be the best initial step.

Employability agenda

It would be misguided to attempt to create a labour market strategy without engaging with employability support programmes. There must be some integration of the strategy and the new employability service in Scotland. Some key points to consider:
  • Under the new system, will there be efforts to ensure that vacancies with employers who have been found to engage in poor employment practices will not be listed?
  • In contrast to the current system, the new system must ensure that people are not forced into employment for employment’s sake, ultimately ignoring the nature of the job. Rather, it should make a genuine investment into participants’ skills under a person-centric system of support. This would have a powerful impact in addressing barriers to employment.
  • Discussions around local devolution and localities directing employment support are problematic. A nationally directed approach, which incorporates the third sector as key partners, delivered at a local level, is a key to best outcomes. We would therefore advocate for a national programme, rather than 32 individual approaches.
  • Procurement is also a key issue, with competitive tenure often undermining the sector’s ability to participate in programmes to their full potential. The third sector already plays a significant role in supporting employability and wider participation, but Government frequently focuses on a very narrow involvement – often in terms of how the sector can fit into employability commissioning pipelines.


It is an ambitious goal to release the potential of all individuals. However, this goal is informed by, and promoted within, on-going agendas around fair work and social justice. Movement towards the vision presented in this paper, requires only the full realisation of existing concepts and goals. A recent report by the Fraser of Allander Institute claimed that too often jobs strategies focus on ‘what do we want?’, rather than ‘how do we do it?’. We understand that the Scottish Government does not have full responsibility for the employability agenda, due to certain powers and programmes remaining reserved. There are thus different audiences for aspects of this report. With this in mind, we would narrow our vision to three specific ‘asks’:
  1. Give increased attention to specific barriers to employment and intersectional issues at play when designing employability support. The barriers surrounding marginalisation, based on characteristics such as disability, gender or caring status cannot be solved by one-size-fits all approaches, but rather require explicit attention and subsequent funding. Lack of digital skills also represents a specific barrier, requiring of dedicated programmes and attention.
  2. Engage with the third sector as a key partner, rather than a service provider. Collaborative approaches are key to success and we urge the Scottish Government to assess opportunities for scaling-up existing collaborative approaches and uncovering new possibilities for future partnership-working.
  3. Redefine contribution within this labour market strategy, and future employability strategies, recognising the value of community involvement, caring and volunteering. This will not only send a clear message that Scottish Employability support will break with the arbitrary system adopted at Westminster, but will help to re-engage those furthest from the labour market. As part of this, working at community level and introducing aspects of self-directed support will catalyse self-building and strengthen the ability of communities to address other societal ills.
Contact: Ruth Boyle, Policy Officer Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations Email: Tel: 0141 465 7532
Last modified on 27 May 2021