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Employment-focused social enterprise proves itself… with little support


31 May 2019 at 4:43 pm
Maggie Coggan
Providing jobs with extra career support can improve the health, wellbeing and finance of people living with mental illness and help the nation’s social services, new research has found.


Maggie Coggan | 31 May 2019 at 4:43 pm


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Employment-focused social enterprise proves itself… with little support
31 May 2019 at 4:43 pm

Providing jobs with extra career support can improve the health, wellbeing, and finance of people living with mental illness and help the nation’s social services, new research has found.

Research produced by the Centre for Social Impact Swinburne and funded by the AMP Foundation looked into the social, health and economic impact of Vanguard, a commercial laundry social enterprise providing jobs for people living with mental illness who struggle to find work.  

In the two years the Toowoomba enterprise has been running, it has employed 120 people and 26 have been supported into mainstream work or full-time education.

The report found that within the first year of work, employees had more financial independence, earning around 84 per cent of the average fortnightly income in Toowoomba, up from the 55 per cent they were earning prior to working at Vanguard.

They were also less reliant on Centrelink, with $153,451 in Centrelink payments saved in Vanguard’s first 18 months.

Physical and mental health also improved, with the target group reporting 138 fewer days in hospital since starting at Vanguard, and 64 per cent of workers saying their health was somewhat or much better than before.  

One employee said that getting a job there saved their life.

“I’m getting exercise and feeling better because of it. It’s improved my mood. It’s just totally changed my life,” they said.

Vanguard Laundry Services founder Luke Terry said the project had exceeded expectations.

“The change that can occur when you give someone the chance to work can be quite incredible, and it’s something we see every day,” Terry said.

“The social benefit that comes from working alongside others, sharing a purpose and experiences, and feeling valued for what you do, that alone makes it all worthwhile.”

Terry said his dream was for mainstream business to provide the support needed to get a person with mental illness into work, but the cost of doing so was holding businesses back.   

“When you hire people who have a lived experience of mental illness, according to our research, there is an efficiency gap of about 25 per cent, so that means there is a loss of around $250,000. Then you hire a mental health support team, which is $150,000,” he said.  

“We’ve got this $400,000 weight behind us and that’s why businesses aren’t going out and giving this a go.”  

He told Pro Bono News they had proved the social enterprise model worked. Now it was up to the government to make an effort to support other social enterprises into the space.

“There are only around 25 employment-focused social enterprises in Australia that pay award wages and are employing more than 50 people,” he said.  

“That is nothing when you compare it to the $800 million Disability Employment Services system, so we need to build bigger stronger social enterprises.”

Terry criticised the current subsidy system which sees the government give DES providers a $17,000 fee for every person employed for 26 weeks, compared to an average payment of $5,000 for a social enterprise.

He said employment-focused social enterprises were the key to fixing some of Australia’s biggest social problems.

“They are the key to creating change for some of Australia’s most complex social problems, but we’re not seeing a growth in that enterprise model which really upsets me,” he said.


Maggie Coggan  |  Journalist  |  @MaggieCoggan

Maggie Coggan is a journalist at Pro Bono News covering the social sector.

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