Campaigners are calling for a “radical re-think” of employment support that would sweep away the government’s sprawling, centralised programmes and allow disabled people to decide for themselves how to spend the money allocated to help them into work.
In a new report, Disability Rights UK (DR UK) said there was a “huge appetite” for a more personalised service, with three-quarters of disabled people who took part in a survey saying they would like to decide how the money allocated for their employment support was spent.
The DR UK report, Taking Control of Employment Support, is dismissive of the government’s schemes, particularly the mainstream Work Programme – which will cost up to £5 billion over five years – and the specialist Work Choice.
And it concludes: “Successive governments have set up huge, centralised employment programmes and the stark truth is that they have not worked.”
The report was written by Neil Crowther, former director of human rights at the Equality and Human Rights Commission, and Liz Sayce, DR UK’s chief executive.
Sayce said DR UK was pressing the Department for Work and Pensions to pilot the personalised approach suggested in the report, which she said had already been shown to improve people’s quality of life in social care and – increasingly – with personal health budgets.
She said disabled people often feel “very powerless” in undergoing the work-related activities they have to carry out because of the benefit regime they are placed on by the government.
But she warned that some of the large existing employment support providers were likely to push the government to reject the new approach.
She said: “The question will be whether the government listens to disabled people and what is absolutely, purely in the interests of disabled people, or whether government is swayed by provider interests.”
Sayce said that, in the medium term, such a personalised approach would mean the “flawed” work capability assessment – which did not “in any way” assess whether someone was able to work – would have to be replaced with something “radically different”.
By June this year, only nine per cent of people referred to Work Choice had found unsupported employment that lasted more than six months, while more than half of the 17,000 “job outcomes” since its launch in October 2010 had gone to people claiming no disability benefits at all.
Results from the Work Programme were even worse, with only 5.3 per cent of new employment and support allowance claimants finding “sustained” work between April 2012 and March 2013.
Many of the disabled people surveyed by DR UK said they were offered basic training on skills such as writing their CV and completing job applications, rather than any opportunity to retrain or develop new skills or qualifications.
Sayce and Crowther call in the report for more work experience – such as apprenticeships, internships and work trials – and for disabled people and employers to be able to choose how to spend the disability employment support budget, including through obtaining skills and qualifications.
They say: “It is time to cut out the middleman, releasing the money that is presently being wasted and transferring control of employment support to those who know how it can be used best – disabled people and employers.”
They also want to see more contact with disabled people’s organisations, “particularly to unlock the power of peer support and peer mentoring”.
Sayce wrote a high-profile report for the government two years ago, which concluded that its employment support for disabled people should be personalised and focused “on the individual and not the institution”, with a move away from funding for segregated workplaces.
10 October 2013