The government is pressing ahead with plans that could see disabled people lose their benefits if they drop out of a work experience scheme, despite backing down on imposing such sanctions on young people.
This week, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) bowed to pressure from campaigners and businesses and removed the threat of benefit sanctions for unemployed young people on jobseeker’s allowance who drop out of a government work experience scheme.
But DWP has confirmed to Disability News Service that no such changes will be made to a similar scheme created for disabled people found eligible for employment and support allowance (ESA) – the replacement for incapacity benefit – but capable of some “work-related activity”.
DWP insists that the work-related activity group (WRAG) scheme is part of the Work Programme – which the young people’s scheme is not – and that any work experience will only be carried out with the agreement of the disabled claimant, and would usually last for two to eight weeks.
DWP has already admitted that there will be no upper limit to how long the WRAG work experience could last.
It says the WRAG scheme is not “workfare” – being forced to work for your benefits – because participation will be voluntary and “not coercive”, although sanctions will be available for those who drop out halfway through for no reason.
Neil Coyle, director of policy and campaigns for Disability Rights UK, said his organisation opposed the use of sanctions for disabled people on work schemes.
He said: “There are better ways of getting disabled people into work than compelling them with the threat of losing benefits.
“It does seem remarkable that a young person might not be compelled to do something that a disabled person with less resources and greater disadvantage is compelled to undertake.”
A DWP spokeswoman said: “The sanctions regime is an important part of the Work Programme, which is to help long-term unemployed people get back to work. What we are not doing is removing sanctions from the Work Programme.”
Asked if it was fair to impose sanctions on disabled people when those same sanctions had been dropped from the scheme for young people, she said: “The Work Programme provides tailored support. The provider would be aware of their individual circumstances. They would not put them on things that would not suit them. It’s not a prescriptive thing. It is tailored to individuals.”
Asked if DWP had concerns that it could be accused of discriminating against disabled people in the WRAG, she said: “No.”
1 March 2012