Evaluations Into Peer Advice
Interim Evaluation Into Peer Circles 2023
Evaluated by: JH Consulting
Summary of findings:
- Peer Circles is a unique education, training and employment (ETE) project – with a big difference: it recognises the many personal, social and economic reasons why people with complex needs find it so difficult to get good jobs and change their lives, and it helps them to find bespoke solutions that work. Over the last 5 years it has supported 1333 of some of the most excluded and challenged people, with 38% moving into ETE outcomes..
- Peer Circles clients are amongst the most vulnerable and stigmatised people in our communities: around half are homeless; two thirds are ex-offenders; three quarters have mental health needs and two thirds an addiction issue; two thirds of all women have experienced domestic violence. Most have poor basic skills and have not been in work for years. Poverty affects all.
- The successful and ground-breaking ‘lived experience in action’ model is at the heart of Peer Circles: clients training, getting experience as Peer Advisor volunteers and moving into paid work supporting others with complex needs. Over one third of Peer Circles staff are former clients, with a further 22 working in support roles in other organisations. It has taken time to develop and is courageous: judging when someone is ready for the role and understanding how to support them is a challenge successfully met by the project.
- Bringing about real change is not a quick fix, taking an average of 12 months for sustainable progress. Patience, tenacity and a genuine interest in what holds someone back and how to help them address it is essential, provided by expert and dedicated caseworkers ‘who’ve been there’. Continuity of support is pivotal and is evident in the high retention rates for staff and volunteers.
- Women have particular challenges including the trauma arising from being victims of violence and exploitation, and of having children removed. The specialist support from Peer Circles helps them to restore their self-belief and begin the complex and hard work to rebuild their lives.
- A home, stable finances, good mental health and relief from addiction underpin progress and job outcomes alone don’t reflect progress: the vast majority of clients need to spend significant time addressing emotional and practical issues before they have the confidence, motivation and ‘head space’ to think about training or work. Peer Circles should not be judged as a standard ETE project. Funders have shown insight and flexibility in recognising this, working with SGT to understand individuals’ progress and project impact beyond ETE targets.
- Peer Circles becomes the ‘go to’ service in a very difficult social and economic environment. Pre-Covid saw a lack of housing options, accessible mental health support and other public services, and the rise of the gig economy, then exacerbated by the pandemic. Peer Circles continued to support and engage throughout the pandemic, including lockdowns. Now, the record increases in the cost of living place additional pressures on the most excluded, making Peer Circles all the more vital.
- Client centred, effective partnership development builds success. Partnerships are client focused – predicated on their needs and how they can be addressed. Relationships are highly positive, involving referral and cross referral as well as mutual learning to aid service development.
- Cost benefit analysis of some Peer Circles cases identifies significant savings to the public purse. Peer Circles costs around £2,500 – £3,000 per client, comparing very favourably with, for example, the Governments recent Restart programme (£2,429 for less complex people). Identifying the costs to the state arising from a client prior to their engagement on Peer Circles (criminal justice, social care etc.), assuming continued progress after leaving the project average savings per year are around £60,000 per client – using a very conservative approach. This figure doesn’t include the contributions made by clients through taxation on earnings etc. It demonstrates that in addition to positive impact for individuals, families and communities, Peer Circles also gives excellent value for money.