Supporting disabled people is crucial to halving the disability employment gap

23rd October 2015

The Parliamentary Work and Pensions Committee have just published their report on the Work Programme after interviewing a series of expert witnesses and taking a mountain of evidence. Their report is clear-sighted, far-reaching, and unanimous.

It makes clear that a mainstream, one-size–fits-all Work Programme is not working well for people who need more intensive help. That’s why, as the Committee observes, nearly 70% of participants are completing  two years on the Work Programme without finding sustained employment.

Condemning so many people with disabilities to live out two whole years of their lives on the Work Programme does no-one any favours, least of all the Exchequer.

But its central point is this. If the Government is serious about halving the disability employment gap, it must retain and significantly expand a specialist employment programme separate to the mainstream Work Programme.

What’s more, the Committee are adamant that this specialist programme should be delivered exclusively by specialist disability organisations with the expertise to support disabled people.

Why? Because Work Choice, the current specialist programme, offers a clearly different kind of provision but is too small to make a big enough difference.

For reasons of cost, the Government may be tempted to consolidate mainstream and specialist disability employment support into a single new programme. If the Government elects to go with a single programme, there are some stark challenges to avoid vanquishing all meaningful expertise from the sector.

Service fees intended to support work with the most vulnerable customers must not be gobbled up by hungry primes or heavily top-sliced as a tax on supply chains; they must reach specialist providers in full. As an integral part of the bidding process, primes must be forced to explain what the challenges are to each customer cohort across each CPA and how specialists will be used to meet these challenges. The commissioning process must include active dialogue with bidders to drill down into their levels of expertise and localised resources.

Under these circumstances, a single programme could deliver at least some of the benefits of a separate specialist approach. But let’s be clear, this is not the optimum solution, it’s a second best. The Work and Pensions Committee report goes further and says that a single programme would be a grave mistake.

For myself, I am certain that, over five years of costs and benefits, Government would gain considerably if they follow the unambiguous advice of the cross-party Committee.

Of course, the people who have most to gain are the one million people with a disability who will need to be supported into sustainable work if the disability employment gap is to be halved.

These are the individuals who need the right support to find the right job first time, and the Work and Pensions Committee have now set out clearly for all of us the best way for this to be achieved.

Steve Hawkins is the CEO of Pluss.