NSUN has deep concerns about a recent proposal which has been put forward to create Peer Support Worker Apprenticeships. We have signed an Open Letter, drafted by peer support workers and their allies. We now have over 100 signatories, from individuals, groups and organisations.

The values of peer support are the driving force behind NSUN.

Ten years ago, we worked to promote peer support. Now, part of our role is to protect it. 

We have summarised the main points of the Open Letter below, and you can read it here. Email us if you would like to add your name. We are keeping our members updated on developments- see timeline below.

*UPDATE* 10th February

On the 6th February, we received a response to the Open Letter from the Trailblazer group. You can read their response here.

We replied on the 10th February with the following: 

"Thank you for the response to our Open Letter. It is disappointing that you have not responded to the substance of the letter: both our concerns about the apprenticeship proposal, and the - in our view- flawed consultation process, which did not engage meaningfully with a wide range of stakeholders. We also note that you are seemingly not looking to invite new members to your trailblazer group, in order to better reflect the diversity of peer support in practice. 
Thank you as well for your offer of a meeting. Our understanding, from the IfA, is that a decision is due mid-February. If the proposal is approved, we will be appealing. We would therefore like to meet sooner than mid-March with the Chairs & Lead of the Trailblazer Group, although we are also happy to have an additional meeting with you in mid-March as suggested in your email. This will hopefully give us a chance to express and explain our concerns in person, and to start the process of discussing a way forward. As stated in our letter, we are looking to work towards a new proposal, and we would be happy to work with you towards that. We do not believe that the current proposal reflects the roots, values or diversity of peer support, and have not seen any indication that it is flexible enough to accommodate the diversity of expertise and views in peer support. In short, as it stands, it is not a proposal which commands the support of the wider peer support community - including peer support leads and workers in statutory services- and is therefore, in our view, not fit for purpose."

*UPDATE* 4th February

After we sent out the NSUN bulletin informing our members of progress, we received holding emails from the Institute for Apprenticeships and the Trailblazer group, letting us know that they are currently in discussions and will respond as soon as they have considered their response. The Institute added the following:

"The Institute has a clear approval process for assessing proposals and we carefully take into account all responses from our consultations including in regard to the Peer Support Worker proposal your open letter. Our approvals cycle takes six weeks, we will not have a decision on the proposal until mid-February at which time we will inform the employer group of the outcome."

*UPDATE* 3rd February

We provided the following update to our members through our bulletin and on social media:

After initially sharing the letter with the Trailblazer group which led on the apprenticeship proposal, we were offered an open meeting within two weeks, to discuss our concerns. Unfortunately, we were not free on the one date offered. Beyond this, we fed back that whilst we appreciated the offer, one meeting, within a 2 week timeframe, would not be enough to address the issues we raised, as they were both broad and deep; and that one of our most pressing concerns was - despite the efforts of the Trailblazer group - the lack of meaningful engagement with the wider peer support community during the consultation process. In our view, one meeting would not be enough to rectify this.
 
On the 30th January, we then formally shared the Open Letter (with the signatories) with the Institute for Apprenticeships and the Trailblazer group, asking them to pause the process in order to open up a wider conversation. We have not as yet heard back.
 
We have now submitted the Open Letter to the Route Panel at the Institute for Apprenticeships, which approves or denies the apprenticeship process. 

Our main concerns are as follows:

We acknowledge and appreciate the group's attempts to recognise the value of peer support across communities and mental health systems in England. However, we feel that this particular apprenticeship proposal falls short in a number of ways.

The proposal's definition of peer support is too narrow and does not reflect the roots of peer support which lie in social justice, human rights and community action. It also does not reflect the diversity of peer support roles and settings, with its huge variations in practice, perspective and context. Fidelity standards for peer support have not as yet been identified in England, and its core values and principles have not been nationally agreed. This process cannot be rushed.

Core concepts of grass-roots peer support that are absent in the role description include social action/justice, a human rights approach, the importance of community, the non-coercive nature of the role, and a focus on peer support as relational rather than as an intervention. We also have concerns around the peer support worker's duty to 'maintain a focus on their own personal self-care and well-being, engaging in self-management strategies' which we view as discriminatory. 

Due to the important ramifications of apprenticeships and associated fidelity standards, there needs to be a thorough, open and inclusive conversation which examines the benefits and drawbacks of any such scheme. This should involve all stakeholders, in particular user-led groups and peer support workers from both grassroots settings and statutory services. We urge the group who have developed this proposal to pause this process and invite a transparent and open discussion.

You can read the Open Letter here, and email us if you would like to sign it. Please also fill in the consultation on the proposal which ends on the 19th January.