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Work Programme helps fewer than one in five people with disabilities into employment

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Fewer than one in five people with disabilities or suffering from a 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 could 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. Among those suffering from mental and behavioural disorders, just 8.7 per cent went on to gain employment.

“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.

This is an edited version of an article in the 20 November edition of TES. Subscribers can view the full version of this story here

Read the full coverage of the Work Programme's performance in this week's TES magazine, available in all good newsagents. To download the digital edition, Android users can click here and iOS users can click here

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