Disability employment strategy: Reform, rationing and a new gateway


newslatestThe government will base its new disability employment strategy on the provision of more personalised support to help disabled people into work, it announced this week.

In a paper providing details of “the discussion so far” on the strategy, work and pensions ministers said they wanted to move away from “supporting individuals in separated, segregated employment”, and towards a more personalised approach, with a “wider range of ideas and initiatives”.

One idea is for a new “gateway” to employment support for disabled people, to ensure they receive “the right support at the right time to enable them to get into or get back into work”.

Although details were sketchy, individuals will be asked to fill in a questionnaire about their skills and work history, before being placed in one of three categories, according to how much guidance and support they are likely to need in their job hunt.

Those referred for specialist support will be helped by an adviser to develop a personalised employment plan.

The paper suggests specialist support will shift away from the big Work Choice providers such as Seetec, A4E and Ingeus, and towards a more personalised approach, with a greater range of local provision, and supported – rather than sheltered – employment.

There is also an admission that the mainstream Work Programme needs to improve for disabled people.

Much of the rest of the paper focuses on improving advice and support, including a new “one stop shop” for employers, to bring together information on subjects such as Access to Work (AtW), reasonable adjustments and equality law on one website.

Other ideas given prominence include offering help to employment and support allowance claimants much earlier in the claims process, and the need for joint working across agencies to support people with mental health conditions into work.

And there was emphasis on reforming and improving existing schemes, including Access to Work and the Two Ticks programme, which recognises disability-friendly employers.

But there was also much that was potentially controversial, with an emphasis from Conservative employment minister Esther McVey on the so-called “biopsychosocial” model of disability, an approach – favoured by the insurance industry – which puts much of the blame for disability on the disabled person.

McVey says in a foreword to the paper: “A person’s belief about what they can do can be as important as other factors, including their health condition, in determining how likely they are to find a job.”

The paper also claims that replacing working-age disability living allowance with the new personal independence payment will help disabled people into work, when many disabled campaigners believe that it will do the opposite.

And it warns that employment support will be rationed, with eligibility criteria used to select which claimants receive anything more than “a basic, universal offer of support”.

In another nod to the biopsychosocial model, the paper suggests that those who have the strongest “beliefs” about their own skills and ability to work might be prioritised.

It also suggests that some disabled people’s organisations and disability charities could do more to promote the idea of work to their own clients, and should ensure that young disabled people about to enter the labour market are made aware of any jobs in their organisations.

The paper also claims that a number of new programmes that are rolling out or will soon be introduced should also boost employment for disabled people, including the key universal credit reforms, the two-year Disability Confident awareness-raising programme for businesses, the Fulfilling Potential cross-government disability strategy, the new “portability” measures in the care bill, a refreshed adult autism strategy, and the Health and Work Service, which is due to launch next year.

Although the paper includes a reminder that the budget for employment support for disabled people has been set at £350 million for 2015-16, some of the major reforms – including those to specialist support – will not come on stream until 2016 at the earliest, because of existing contracts.

Ministers say they will publish a delivery plan for the new strategy next year.

19 December 2013