A disabled-run social enterprise will be able to set up a national support service to help disabled people find jobs in the economic crisis caused by the pandemic, after fighting off competition to secure £125,000 in funding.
Evenbreak is one of 14 organisations that each received £125,000 from the Nesta Rapid Recovery Challenge, and it could still receive £350,000 more if it is one of the two eventual winners.
The new funding will allow Evenbreak – which only employs people with lived experience of disabling barriers – to set up a free support service, catering for both disabled people seeking employment and those already in jobs.
Among the support offered will be help with CVs, finding inclusive employers, seeking workplace adjustments, and securing funding from the Access to Work scheme.
Evenbreak, which was founded in 2011 by Jane Hatton and bases its services on the social model of disability, currently focuses on its accessible online job board, where inclusive employers can advertise their vacancies.
About 50,000 disabled candidates have registered on the job board, and about 30,000 of them are “actively engaged” with Evenbreak.
But Hatton said she had gradually realised that there were also massive gaps in the provision of “appropriate and relevant” support for disabled job-seekers.
She said: “We are constantly being approached by disabled candidates asking for support – whether help with CVs, with finding inclusive employers, with asking for workplace adjustments and so on.
“Up to now we have offered some generic online support, or signposted them to other organisations who offer such support.
“We were increasingly becoming aware that there are massive gaps in the provision of support, in terms of location, quality, eligibility criteria or relevance.”
Now she hopes the funding from the Nesta Rapid Recovery Challenge will help Evenbreak fill that gap, by providing free support which is “non-judgmental, not related to benefits, responsive to individual needs and realistic” and is delivered by careers professionals with lived experience of disabling barriers.
Hatton said the pandemic and Brexit had created fresh challenges.
She said: “There are likely to be far fewer jobs available following both COVID and Brexit, which is why it is more important than ever to ensure that disabled people – already disproportionately affected by any downturn in the economy – don’t get left behind this time.
“The new ways of working – more flexible working, remote working becoming more commonplace, the need to do things differently – mean that disabled people are generally premium candidates.
“Employers and disabled candidates themselves both need to realise that, and we will continue to help employers remove disabling barriers from their recruitment processes.”
In addition to the £125,000, Evenbreak will receive training and capacity-building support from the innovation charity Nesta, which is running the challenge.
Among the other 13 successful semi-finalists, announced this week, are a digital platform that shows low income, insecure and young workers the sources of income available to them through unclaimed benefits, grants and other financial support; and an organisation that supports young people in insecure or low-paid jobs to find roles in technology start-ups.
Six of the 14 semi-finalists will receive an additional £150,000 next May, with two final winners securing a further £200,000 in September 2021.
There were 148 entries to the competition, which aims to improve access to jobs and financial support for those impacted by COVID-19, by helping organisations reach more people in need.
Among those supporting Nesta’s challenge by contributing funding are the Money and Pensions Service, the Department for Work and Pensions and JPMorgan Chase.
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