Work Programme bid winners ‘should do more on prejudice’


The organisations that have won major contracts under the government’s new Work Programme should do more to overcome the “prejudices” that still exist in the jobs market, according to a new report by MPs.

The work and pensions committee’s report says many employers remain “reluctant” to take on disabled employees, including those with mental health conditions.

The committee, chaired by the disabled Labour MP Dame Anne Begg, said the 18 “prime contractors” – all but three of which are private sector organisations – should play “a more active part in working with employers to persuade them of the need to be more open in their recruitment policies and more positive in employing someone with a disability”.

The committee said it welcomed many of the principles of the Work Programme, which “continue the direction” of the Labour government’s job schemes.

But it said there were still “many uncertainties around the programme”, and it made a number of recommendations for improvements.

It also warned of the “significant new challenge” of providing support for large numbers of former incapacity benefit (IB) claimants, with 1.5 million of them set to be reassessed for their “fitness to work” over the next three years.

The committee said that some of them “may face significant barriers to finding work and require a level of support that has not been delivered under previous programmes”.

The Work Programme – which will be implemented from next month – will see customers divided into eight groups, with higher payments for contractors who find jobs for those in the “harder to help” groups, such as former IB claimants.

This aims to prevent contractors focusing on those who are easier to help into employment, which happened with some providers under the previous government’s job schemes.

But the committee said that – despite the new payments scheme – it was still concerned that contractors could concentrate on those who were easier to place in work within each of the groups.

Dame Anne said: “We welcome the fact that the Work Programme will offer financial incentives to encourage service providers to support jobseekers who are harder to place in work.

“However, we remain concerned that these providers may still focus their efforts on the jobseekers who are easiest to help at the expense of those who face greater challenges, such as those with long-term health conditions.”

Among its recommendations, the committee called on the government to commission regular, independent reviews of the Work Programme.

The committee also said the government should clarify what would happen to former IB claimants who have been placed in the employment and support allowance (ESA) work related activity group (WRAG) and assessed as not yet ready to work, but who would only receive contributory ESA payments for one year, as a result of the coalition’s programme of spending cuts.

9 May 2011