Social prescribing is missing an opportunity to help people with long-term health conditions into meaningful work, Work Foundation report finds. The new report from the Work Foundation – part of Lancaster University – promotes this in supporting clients with long-term health conditions back into meaningful work, arguing that the services need to play a far greater part in achieving this goal.

Social Prescribing: A Pathway to Work? found that employability and work-related outcomes need to become a core aim of social prescribing services, with greater recognition required for the important role that work plays as a social determinant of health and wellbeing.

Social prescribing is a means of enabling healthcare professionals to refer patients to a non-clinical service, who will work with them to co-design “non-healthcare interventions” to improve their health and wellbeing. There is growing evidence that social prescribing, where patients are linked into a variety of community activities, improves self-confidence, self-efficacy, and reduces social isolation. As this report shows, this can also support people onto the pathway back to work.

The report includes a survey of members of the Social Prescribing Network, ascertaining their views on how well employment is currently being championed within this context.  The majority (70 per cent) of respondents agreed that employability and work-related outcomes should be included in the specifications of social prescribing services. Overall, respondents believed there was real potential for social prescribing to better help clients achieve work.  However, the majority also felt that work was not currently optimised within the system as employment was seen as low priority goal for social prescribing services, and limited formal recognition or support available to achieve it.

Authors also looked in detail at four social prescribing organisations, showing how they are supporting people to find and prosper in work, and how they can be supported to do more.

Karen Steadman, Research and Policy Manager at the Work Foundation, said: “Social prescribing services should more directly recognise getting clients who want to work, back to work, as a key aim – whether this is in the short or long-term. More emphasis must be placedon the role of meaningful work in sustainably reducing social isolation, improving self-confidence, and self-esteem, and improving health and wellbeing.

“However, we must show caution before tying such an approach too closely to the welfare system: in order to help those who most need it, we must listen to what they want, and support them on their pathways.”