Getting Britain working? Not if you’re disabled…

20th November 2015 at 00:00
Flagship Work Programme fails some of the most disadvantaged, study warns

Fewer than one in five people with disabilities or suffering from serious illness who enrolled on the government’s flagship welfare-to-work programme managed to find employment, TES can reveal.

The impact of the controversial Work Programme, introduced in 2011, has been mixed. A series of targets for helping people into work set by the government have been missed. A report by the Commons Work and Pensions Committee, published last month, warned that 70 per cent of participants were still not getting long-term jobs, but said the programme was producing results as good as the systems previously in place at a “greatly reduced” cost.

Work Programme provision is largely offered by independent training providers, with some colleges and charities also signed up. About 1.75 million people have been referred to the service since 2011, only 459,400 of whom have achieved long-term jobs. Contracts for the programme come to an end in 2017, and plans for a replacement scheme are expected to be unveiled in next week’s spending review.

But new research on the programme – whereby providers receive full payment only if participants go on to find a job and stay in work – raises serious questions about the impact on the most disadvantaged communities.

Figures calculated by Inclusion (the Centre for Economic and Social Inclusion) for TES show that just 16 per cent of disabled people referred to the programme between 2011 and 2015 went on to achieve a successful job outcome – half the proportion of those without a disability (inset, far right). Among those suffering from mental and behavioural disorders, just 8.7 per cent went on to gain employment (see panel, right).

“Only about one in 10 disabled people who are out of work are on the Work Programme, and barely one in five of those gets a job,” said Tony Wilson, policy director for Inclusion, which in January will merge with adult learning body Niace to form the Learning and Work Institute.

“We need to do more and we need to do it better. We still don’t know if the Work Programme has been better than doing nothing, but it is clear that we set our ambitions pretty low. Any programme where nine in 10 people don’t get a job at the end of it is hard to describe as a success.”

Inclusion has also unearthed huge disparities across England in the success of the programme. While 42 per cent of all participants in Brentwood recorded a positive outcome after two years, the equivalent figure in Rutland was just 5 per cent (see map, left). The analysis suggests that the scheme is generally less successful in areas of high unemployment.

These discrepancies could in part be linked to the payment model, Mr Wilson said, with providers being paid the same for placing someone in work regardless of local economic challenges. He added: “We need more investment in areas where it is more difficult to get people into work.”

Stephen Evans, Niace’s deputy chief executive, said the programme’s performance was “really starting to pick up”, but there was “room for improvement for disadvantaged people”.

Mr Evans said he hoped the successor scheme would go beyond people simply securing any kind of employment and tackle the number of people in low-paid jobs in the UK.

Mr Wilson said the payment-by-results model had “not been a success”, explaining that it had led to “less money being available to support disabled people and to less innovation and partnership work”.

Stewart Segal, chief executive of the Association of Employment and Learning Providers, said the most difficult participants to help often had multiple barriers to work. “That is why we believe that funding should be based on the needs of the individual rather than an arbitrary benefit category,” he said.

A spokesman for the Department for Work and Pensions said the programme had helped “almost 460,000 of the hardest to help claimants” into sustained employment since 2011, which he described as “a real achievement”.

The scheme was “one of a wide range of services available to people with long-term health problems looking for work”, he added.

‘We have adapted our model’

At Sheffield-based independent training provider Interserve Learning and Employment, more than half of Work Programme participants have gone into employment, with almost three-quarters of these ending up in continuous work, significantly outstripping national figures.

Adele Holloway, pictured above, operations director for employment, says the programme has on the whole worked “very well”, although there have been challenges.

“As the programme progresses, we’re seeing customers referred to us with more complex barriers to work, making the first job start a little more challenging to achieve,” she explains.

“However, we have adapted our model to suit this and developed accredited training courses for all groups to support them on their journey.”

The payment-by-results system has “enabled providers to continue to provide long-term support to all customers”, Ms Holloway adds.

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