New data reveals individuals earn more and stay employed longer in a social enterprise

People living with a disability are twice as likely to stay in their job and earn 28 per cent more when employed by a jobs-focused social enterprise, compared to a job placement through Disability Employment Services (DES), according to a new independent report released by White Box Enterprises today.  

The report compares public data on Disability Employment Services (DES) with White Box preliminary data from the federal government funded Payment By Outcomes trial.

The early findings suggest individuals fare better when working in a social enterprise:  

  • They stay in work longer. Employee retention after 26 weeks with a social enterprise is at 86%, compared to DES at 37%.
  • They are earning more. Individuals are estimated to earn $28,000 in their first 12 months, 28% more than the average DES participant.
  • They start work sooner. When individuals are employed with a social enterprise, paid employment at full award wages and training start simultaneously.

The report, ‘Costs and benefits comparison: Social enterprise employment and Disability Employment Services’, suggests that social enterprise can deliver better financial returns for government:

  • The current Payment By Outcomes model is estimated to be 17% more cost effective than DES. The government will save an estimated $18,300 per person over five years under the PBO model (based on an expected 150 participants), equating to a $2.75 million saving.
  • No job outcome, no payment. Unlike a DES provider, a social enterprise only receives its first payment once the individual has retained employment for at least 26 weeks and earned a minimum of $513/fortnight.

These are conservative estimates based on the information publicly available, according to analytics firm Taylor Fry which produced the report.

White Box Enterprises CEO Luke Terry said the data findings supported the overwhelming lived experience of social enterprises around Australia.

“Jobs-focused social enterprises have been creating incredible returns for individuals, their communities, and the economy for decades,” Mr Terry said. “Based on this data and the anticipated outcomes of the Payment By Outcomes trial, we’re asking government to look more closely at social enterprise and the role it can play in the national employment services system.”

“We’re not suggesting social enterprise replace DES or Workforce Australia. We see social enterprise sitting alongside these, as an alternative for people who need that extra level of support which open employment doesn’t provide.” 

Jobs-focused social enterprises exist primarily to create inclusive employment for people who face barriers to mainstream work. Beyond people living with a disability, this includes refugees, First Nations people, people with a criminal record, people experiencing homelessness and other groups experiencing disadvantage.

Until now social enterprises have struggled to gain recognition and be paid for the outcomes they create, limiting the sector’s ability to reach its full potential.


According to Social Enterprise Australia CEO, Jess Moore, “While the government pays employment service providers and employers for their role in tackling unemployment, as it involves costs, this funding has largely not been available to social enterprises. This has hampered their ability to sustain, scale, and maximise the role they play. This data gives reasons to change this.”

Mr Terry urged the federal government to use the opportunity created by the current reviews of Workforce Australia and the Disability Employment Services model to consider the evidence for alternatives.

“What’s interesting about this dataset is it’s looking at a small group of individuals who face the greatest barriers to employment, including those who are eligible for the Disability Employment Service (DES), receiving Jobseeker or Disability Support Pension (DSP) payments, and out of work for more than nine months,” said Mr Terry.

“Ideally, we want to see the trial expanded to really test the model of social enterprise, so we can ultimately create more jobs and opportunities for individuals who are looking for a workplace that understands them and helps them to thrive.”

Unlike mainstream employers, jobs-focused social enterprise provide additional wrap-around supports in the workplace. These can include counsellors, youth workers, mental health practitioners, as well as increased flexibility and more focus on each individual employee’s circumstances.

These supports are the critical difference and the main contributor to the high employee retention rates within a social enterprise, however they come at a cost.

Under the Payment By Outcomes trial being run by the Department of Social Services in partnership with White Box Enterprises and 15 jobs-focused social enterprises, the enterprises are being paid for the first time for long-term employment outcomes they create at six, 12 and 18 months. These payments are designed to cover the costs of the wrap-around supports.

To download the full report head to the Payment By Outcomes Trial page.