The JobCentre Plus in Middlesbrough was coming under fire for not empathizing with jobseekers with mental, emotional or complex needs. In a bid to turn around this perceived or actual view of JobCentre Plus, we were asked to work with residents to uncover their stories and find out what was creating such a strong view locally.
Changing attitudes and perceptions - the problem with job centres.
Middlesbrough Council recognised that some residents accessing support through the Job Centre Plus (JCP) held negative perceptions and attitudes towards the JCP, which adversely affected their health and wellbeing, as well as their families. The council wanted to understand these attitudes and behaviours more closely, make changes and create a campaign that challenged negative perceptions.
Here's what we found.
Ahead of conducting primary research with people using the Job Centre, we sought to develop our current understanding by conducting secondary research into the health and wellbeing of welfare claimants.
Existing research told us that individuals suffering from mental ill-health did not feel confident with the quality of support they received from their local JobCentre Plus and this led to a vicious cycle where individuals held negative perceptions of JobCentre Plus staff, impacting on their relationship with advisors and exacerbated poor mental health.
Working with local mental health services, we facilitated two focus groups with benefit claimants and conducted two surveys - one with benefit claimants and one with service staff.
Following this, we analysed the data and pulled together an insight pack for Middlesbrough Council to help them tackle this issue and provide stakeholders and partners with testimonials and first-hand experience of people using the system. We then interpreted the findings into themes and proposed recommendations for change and action. These ranged from improvements to communications and service re-design/ system change.
We found that individuals accessing welfare support held deep-rooted myths and perceptions that acted as a barrier for them in accessing employment support. For example, claimants strongly felt that any mental ill-health would act as a barrier to them gaining employment.