Work Choice must go, say campaigners


theweeksubNew figures show that the government should scrap its specialist disability employment programme and replace it with a more intensive, personalised system of support, say campaigners.

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) figures show that its Work Choice scheme has only been finding jobs for an average of two people a day who claim out-of-work disability benefits.

The figures also show that more than half of nearly 17,000 “job outcomes” produced through Work Choice since it launched in October 2010 have gone to people claiming no disability benefits at all, almost certainly those with the lowest support needs.

Between October 2010 and December 2012, only eight per cent of people referred to the scheme had found unsupported employment that lasted at least six months. The latest figures show that by June 2013 this had risen slightly but was still only just over nine per cent.

Andy Rickell, chief executive of Action on Disability and Work UK, said the figures showed the government must scrap Work Choice.

He said the money saved, together with funding from the Access to Work programme and the resources previously used to subsidise the Remploy factories, should be used to provide personalised budgets for disabled people to spend “as they see fit” on their own employment support.

Rickell, a former chief executive of the British Council of Disabled People, said: “What we have at the moment is a mish-mash. The Work Choice figures demonstrate that.

“It would be better to do something more focused and put this money into the hands of disabled people.

“I think if personalisation works [in social care and health], then why not personalisation in employment support? It would help disabled people to get work and to keep work.”

He said the current system – which provides support only as someone enters work – was in danger of creating a “revolving door” of disabled people who continually find jobs, and then lose them as that support melts away.

Rickell said the organisations providing Work Choice support were “struggling” to help those with significant support needs and so were scrabbling around for people with lower support needs to help into jobs instead.

Peter Jackson, deputy chief executive of another disabled people’s organisation, Breakthrough UK, said he was not surprised by the poor Work Choice results because the providers were not able to offer the necessary level of personalised support.

He said: “I just think there is a lack of appreciation of the barriers and just how far from employment some of those customers are and the sort of personalised support that is needed to help them play catch-up with people with lower support needs.”

His organisation has been running a scheme for Work Choice clients in parts of Manchester, under the Right to Control (RTC) programme of “trailblazing” pilot schemes, allowing each person to have full control of their own employment support budget.

Although the scheme is still in its early stages, he is convinced it allows a more personalised service, which “engages them and enables us to support those people”.

He added: “Particularly for those with high support needs or those who have been unemployed for a significant amount of time, they really do need an intensive level of dedicated support on a one-to-one basis… quality time with an employment adviser.

“The feedback we get from customers and others is that the default Work Choice offer is not sufficiently personalised.”

A DWP spokesman said Work Choice was a voluntary programme and supported disabled people “with complex barriers to employment and more intensive support needs regardless of the benefit they receive”.

He added: “Disabled people who do not receive disability benefits may still require specialist, tailored support to enable them to find and sustain employment.”

He said Work Choice results were “continuing to improve”, while DWP was taking action to “refine” its performance, for example by introducing a wage incentive to encourage employers “to give young disabled people a chance”.

He said: “We will continue to closely monitor providers to make sure improvements are implemented and performance is improved.”

15 August 2013