An interim evaluation into St Giles Peer Circles Project, using lived experience to help people overcome complex disadvantages and progress towards employment has found that it delivered savings to the public purse of around £76,000 for one individual helped through the project.
The interim evaluation carried out by J H Consulting was launched at an event attended by the Shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensions Rt Hon Jonathan Ashworth.
The Peer Circles Project helps people in Central and South London using professionally trained individuals with direct personal experience of overcoming similar issues. The people helped through Peer Circles have typically experienced a mixture of involvement in the criminal justice system, the care system, homelessness, substance misuse and mental health conditions.
First established in 2017, Peer Circles is a Building Better Opportunities Project funded by European Social Fund and National Lottery community Fund. Peer Circles has since supported 1333 people to overcome severe and complex disadvantage.
The Shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Rt Hon John Ashworth commented:
“This is an excellent example of how people with complex needs can get into and thrive at work if only they are given the right support.”
“We need more programmes like this to get Britain working again. I would work to give providers and local areas the freedom to design programmes like Peer Circles that best meets the needs of local communities and the St Giles Trust are an example of where this works.”
The evaluation found that economically inactive clients of the project were more likely to face added barriers to employment and take longer to move into work (11 months as opposed to 8 months for someone unemployed) due to this. The evaluation concluded that this explained why projects such as Peer Circles should not be judged by the same criteria applied to mainstream education, training and employment support projects.
Women represented over half of the economically inactive clients on Peer Circles. The evaluation found: “Professionals delivering services for women also commented on the excellent support provided by the Peer Circles’ specialist women’s caseworker, recognising the importance of providing this gender sensitive element of the project.”
The use of professionally trained people with lived experience of the issues currently facing their clients was deemed to be “at the heart of Peer Circles” with clients “training, getting experience as Peer Advisor volunteers and moving into paid work supporting others with complex needs.” Over one third of the staff on Peer Circles are former clients and 22 have progressed into similar roles in other organisations – a model deemed as courageous and taking time to develop.
Maggie Cramb, Director of Skills and Employment at St Giles, said:
“At a time when people facing severe disadvantage are most affected by the cost-of-living crisis, projects like Peer Circles have never been more relevant. Our lived experience model is particularly effective at engaging people who are affected by severe and multiple disadvantages. This relieves pressure on other hard-pressed services and delivers cost savings.”
“The evaluation has also confirmed a factor we already knew and that is that people who are facing multiple barriers need additional time and support in order to progress towards employment. There are usually multiple underlying factors that need addressing before someone can realistically be considered ‘job-ready’.”
Examples of people supported through Peer Circles include Dave (name changed for confidentiality), a recent prison leaver who was at risk of being recalled to prison due to a dispute with someone in the accommodation he was living in. His caseworker helped him secure another hostel place, enrol on a construction course and get a laptop so he can revise for it. As a result, Dave stayed out of prison and is now looking forward to finding work. He says:
“The support I get here is priceless. If I hadn’t come to Peer Circles I’d be back inside because I’ve never had this kind of support and vision and way for my future. I’m looking forward to getting a full time job and to live life.”
Read the Peer Circles interim evaluation online.