Providing employment and tailored career support can improve the health, wellbeing and finances of people living with mental Illness

Providing employment and tailored career support can improve the health, wellbeing and finances of people living with mental illness, according to a new evaluation report from Centre for Social Impact Swinburne (CSI Swinburne) and Vanguard Laundry Services.

Vanguard Laundry Services is a social enterprise that operates as a commercial laundry and career development centre – creating jobs and career opportunities for people living with mental illness who have struggled to gain work.

Since early 2017, more than 120 people have started work at Vanguard and 26 have been supported to transition into external roles or full-time education.

Evaluation report findings

Findings from Vanguard’s 2018 Social Impact Report indicates many of the laundry’s employees experienced physical and mental health improvements, and increased levels of social engagement and financial independence – particularly in the first year of work.

Only 25% of employees had worked within a year of starting at Vanguard, and 11% had never worked.

The report revealed:

  • One year after starting at Vanguard, employees had more financial independence
  • Less welfare dependence. The average reduction in Centrelink income was $204 a fortnight, with a total of $153,451 in Centrelink payments saved in Vanguard’s first 18 months
  • A reduction in housing stress. Employees reported a 48 percentage-point reduction in housing affordability stress, with 17% spending 30% of their income on housing costs (a marker for housing stress) – compared to 65.2% spending this amount prior to starting at Vanguard.
  • Reduced use of health services, with the target group reporting 138 fewer days in hospital since starting at Vanguard. The report estimates that $231,767 in direct hospital costs have been saved between December 2016 to June 2018
  • 64% of employees who started in FY2018 said their health was somewhat or much better than before Vanguard, again emphasising the initial impact felt in the first year of employment

Vanguard Laundry Services founder Luke Terry said the laundry 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. 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.

“I would like to thank the AMP Foundation for investing in Vanguard’s career centre and this research.”

Helen Liondos, Head of the AMP Foundation, said such research was an important part of the funding equation: “Investing in research into the health and economic impacts of any innovative approach to overcoming long-term unemployment is ultimately an investment in the wider community.”

The AMP Foundation has been supporting Vanguard since late 2016, providing $790,000 to date for research as well as business and career development roles.