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Keyworker perspectives on employment support for people with mental health problems

This project was a qualitative exploration of the experiences of employability keyworkers, supporting unemployed and economically inactive people within the Action Towards Inclusion employability programme. 


The overarching aim of the research was to contribute to understanding of what makes for effective employment support for people experiencing mental health problems, drawing on experiences of the ATI Programme.

As the project evolved, we took a wider focus on the broad range of personal, social and economic circumstances faced by ATI participants, and the effective features of support for people facing a complex combination of barriers to work, where mental health was a common and interwoven challenge.

By focusing on the keyworker experience, we were able to develop novel insights into both the strengths and challenges of more person-centred approaches to employment support, and the inherent tensions that may arise for keyworkers as they carry out their role.


The project involved qualitative research with keyworkers who support participants in the Action Towards Inclusion programme. Key themes of interviews included:

  • Keyworkers’ experiences of carrying out their role
  • Their perspectives on the experiences of ATI participants
  • Influences of conditional welfare benefits on ATI participant experiences and outcomes

Interviews were conducted between November 2021 and February 2022, with 13 keyworkers representing seven of the ATI delivery partner organisations. Analysis was conducted collaboratively with members of ATI programme management, leading to more contextualised interpretations and more direct feed forward into future programme development.


The project has provided practical and operational insights for Better Connect as it develops its suite of employment support and social inclusion programmes. Findings are contributing to future programme development as new funding streams (e.g. the UK Shared Prosperity Fund) become available to build upon the ATI model. 


Better Connect is collaborating with the ESRC Centre for Society and Mental Health to carry out research to understand the experience of Action Towards Inclusion (ATI) keyworkers as they support people towards and into training and employment. The project will provide practical and operational insights for Better Connect and contribute to the CSMH objective to understand how conditional welfare benefits within the UK social security system influence and interact with mental health.

Action Towards Inclusion (ATI) is an employability programme operating across York, North Yorkshire and East Riding, funded by the National Lottery Community Fund and the European Social Fund. ATI is focused on those furthest from employment and facing a variety of (often complex) barriers to work. The programme began in 2017 and has funding until June 2023.

The Action Towards Inclusion (ATI) programme is led by non-profit organisation Better Connect and operates via a network of regional delivery partners within the voluntary and community sector. The ATI model is based on keyworker support in combination with access to a tailored range of projects focused (as appropriate) on health, wellbeing, finances, skills, training, job search, etc. The keyworker role involves supporting unemployed adults to overcome physical, psychological, financial and skills-related barriers and progress towards employment, training, education and job-search, whilst at the same time helping to combat a range of social issues including poverty and social exclusion.

Find out more about Action Towards Inclusion:

Project Team

Our Partners

Project status: Completed

Principal Investigator

Project websites


Amount: £4,753

Period: November 2021 - February 2023