How can we better support clients into work?

Thursday, 1 August 2013 - 3:28pm

Lessons from research with 50 homeless people about their experiences of starting work.

I wanted to research the issue of homelessness and work for several reasons.

Firstly, so many of the hundreds of homeless people I’ve interviewed over the years talk about how they want a ‘normal life’ – and by normal they mean having a home, having friendships and relationships, having money, paying taxes, and, crucially, getting up and going to work every day.

Financial pressures are one of the greatest causes of stress and anxiety when homeless people move into work.

Secondly, I saw some statistics showing that only one third of homeless people who start work are still in work six months later. What did that mean, I wondered, for all those people who had struggled so hard to gain work but then lost it? And how did things go wrong for them?

And thirdly, I saw a number of people I knew with a background of homelessness starting work full of commitment, enthusiasm and energy, but then struggling. They struggled when old issues came back to haunt them, when problems outside work started to take over, when a lack of self-confidence and a lack of understanding of how to behave at work (what to do when you’re sick, when you can’t cope, when you’re not sure how to do a task) got them intro trouble.

So we designed a research project, Keeping Work, to find out more. A team of interviewers and I spoke to 50 homeless people at regular intervals during their first 6-12 months after starting new jobs, in order to find out what happened with them: Did they stay in work? What was hard about starting work? What helped them move into and stay in work? And what could have helped more? Their views and experiences contain some important lessons for the homelessness sector.

Two thirds of the people we interviewed were still in work at the end of project, 6-12 months later. The remainder had lost work – most commonly from short term contracts coming to an end, but five people were sacked, and three decided not to continue working. Some of the most important things we found out from talking to these people were:

People who are homeless are strongly motivated to work, and work can change your life. It can be a pathway to meaning and purpose, increased self-esteem, new friendships and ultimately a route out of homelessness (many of the people we interviewed moved into their own tenancies after starting work).

Dennis (not his real name) talks about how it feels to start work after homelessness.


As a sector, we should make supporting people into work a central part of the work we do. 77% of homeless people want to work now and 97% want to work in the future. However, only 2-14% do. Moving into work when you’re homeless is not easy, and it is crucial that people are supported to do so.

We should all review the support we provide to our clients around moving into work. These are some simple things support workers can do:

Talk to all of your clients about their work aspirations in standard support planning. Even if someone’s not ready to work now, they might be ready to do a course or volunteer. Creating a vision for their future will give them something meaningful to work towards.

Make sure you know about in-work benefits and other financial sources of support when people move into work, and support your clients to secure them. Keep an eye on people’s arrears. Financial pressures are one of the greatest causes of stress and anxiety when homeless people move into work.

Give as much support to your working clients as to those who don’t work. Someone who’s working can be doing fine on the surface but struggling deep down, and it can be hard to ask for help. Be flexible about keyworking times. Give people the chance to talk about any problems and challenges, and to reflect on their progress and their future goals.

Read our free guides for staff and clients

We've published guides for support workers and people who are homeless and wish to work, based on our research. The guides and research reports can be downloaded from the Keeping Work website, or you can email us to request free printed copies.

The research was funded by Trust for London and the Department for Work and Pensions, and conducted by Broadway in partnership with Business in the Community.

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Juliette Hough

Research Manager, Broadway

Juliette is Broadway’s Research Manager. She is experienced at conducting research with socially excluded people and has an MSc in research methods.