Charities delivering DWP’s work programme ‘must promise not to attack McVey’

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Disability charities that sign up to help deliver the government’s new Work and Health Programme must promise to “pay the utmost regard to the standing and reputation” of work and pensions secretary Esther McVey, official documents suggest.

The charities, and other organisations, must also promise never to do anything that harms the public’s confidence in McVey (pictured) or her Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).

Disability charities like RNIB, the Royal Association for Deaf People and Turning Point have agreed to act as key providers of services under the Work and Health Programme – which focuses on supporting disabled people and other disadvantaged groups into work – and so appear to be caught by the clause in the contract.

At least one of them – RNIB – has also signed contracts with one of the five main WHP contractors that contain a similar clause, which explicitly states that the charity must not “attract adverse publicity” to DWP and McVey.

The £398 million, seven-year Work and Health Programme is replacing the Work Programme and the specialist Work Choice disability employment scheme across England and Wales, with contractors paid mostly by results.

All the disability charities that have so far been contacted by Disability News Service (DNS) insist that the clause – which DWP says it has been using in such contracts since 2015 – will have no impact on their willingness to criticise DWP and work and pensions secretary Esther McVey or campaign on disability employment or benefits issues.

But the existence of the clause, and the first details to emerge of some of the charities that have agreed to work for DWP – which has been repeatedly attacked by disabled activists and academics for harassing and persecuting disabled people, and relying on a discriminatory benefit sanctions regime to try to force them into work – will raise questions about their ability and willingness to do so.

It will also raise questions about their independence when delivering future statements on these issues.

The clause was revealed through a freedom of information request by DNS, with DWP finally producing contracts signed by the five main Work and Health Programme contractors, four months after the request was first submitted.

The contracts signed by the five organisations – the disability charity Shaw Trust, the disability employment company Remploy (now mostly owned by the discredited US company Maximus), Pluss, Reed in Partnership and Ingeus UK – all include a clause on “publicity, media and official enquiries”.

Part of that clause states that the contractor “shall pay the utmost regard to the standing and reputation” of DWP and ensure it does nothing to bring it “into disrepute, damages the reputation of the Contracting Body or harms the confidence of the public in the Contracting Body”.

The contract defines the “Contracting Body” as the work and pensions secretary, a position currently occupied by the much-criticised Esther McVey (see separate story).

And it warns that these promises apply whether or not the damaging actions relate to the Work and Health Programme, and it says they also apply to any of the contractor’s “Affiliates”.

This suggests that none of the organisations involved in providing services under the programme – and particularly those carrying out key elements of the contracts – will ever be allowed to criticise, or damage the reputation of, DWP or McVey during the course of the contract in connection with any area of the department’s work.

There is still considerable confusion over exactly how many disability charities will be paid to work for the five main contractors.

The contractual documents include the names of scores of organisations, including charities, local authorities, education providers and companies.

But some of the disability charities named – including Mencap and the National Autistic Society – made it clear this week that they have not agreed to carry out services under the Work and Health Programme, despite being named as “stakeholders” in the documents.

Other disability charities, though, have confirmed that they will be providing services under the WHP.

Among those organisations that have signed letters agreeing to provide services as a subcontractor for the Ingeus contract with DWP is the disability charity RNIB, which is currently “working on an agreement with them”, while it is already a subcontractor with Shaw Trust.

An RNIB spokeswoman said: “RNIB has a number of contracts for different services provided to the Shaw Trust as a sub-contractor.

“Some of the contracts do include a clause stating that when providing the services, we shall not do anything that may damage the reputation of the Shaw Trust (the contractor of the DWP) or of the DWP which has commissioned the services to be carried out by the Shaw Trust.”

That clause is almost identical to the one in the contracts signed by the five main contractors and says RNIB must not do anything to “attract adverse publicity” to DWP or “harm the confidence of the public” in DWP.

RNIB claimed that the clause “only refers to how we carry out the contracted services and does not restrict our campaigning ability. It relates solely to how we carry out the specific services.”

Another disability charity, the Royal Association for Deaf People (RADP), is described as a “core stakeholder” in the Pluss contract.

RADP had refused to answer questions about the contract by noon today (Thursday).

A third charity, Turning Point, is described as a “core stakeholder” in the Remploy contract, while it is also mentioned in the Ingeus and Shaw Trust contracts.

Turning Point had refused to answer questions about the contract by noon today (Thursday).

Leonard Cheshire Disability (LCD) – despite being mentioned in the Shaw Trust contract – says it has only agreed to provide support services in two London boroughs as part of the Ingeus contract.

An LCD spokesman said this work “in no way compromises our ability to campaign around issues related to payments or social care reform” or on the Work and Health Programme.

Action on Hearing Loss – formerly known as RNID – refused to comment on its presence in the Remploy contract with DWP, other than to praise its own campaigning work.

Business Disability Forum, which is mentioned in the Pluss contract, also refused to comment.

Remploy said the clause in its contract with DWP was “standard contractual language and has not impacted on our ability to support service users or engage with delivery partners”.

A Remploy spokesman said it was working “in collaboration with many organisations as we deliver the Work and Health Programme across Wales” and that the many stakeholders mentioned in the document were “public, private and third sector organisations across Wales that Remploy has identified and plans to engage with and signpost to as it delivers the Work and Health Programme”.

But he declined to say whether Remploy believed the clause also applied to its stakeholders and subcontractors.

Shaw Trust said the “publicity, media and official enquiries” clause had been present “in previous DWP contracts” and “does not and has not impinged on our independence as a charity”.

A Shaw Trust spokeswoman said the “stakeholders” named in the contract were “organisations we will engage with over the life of the contract to encourage voluntary referrals to the Work and Health Programme, or will engage to potentially source additional support to participants with wider requirements”.

She claimed that “no funds are proposed to be transferred in exchange for services” provided by these stakeholders, but she had not been able to clarify by noon today (Thursday) why these stakeholders would want to work for Shaw Trust for free.

A DWP spokeswoman appeared to suggest that the clause was partly intended to prevent those organisations providing services under the WHP from speaking out publicly to criticise DWP.

She said: “The department did not introduce this clause specifically for the Work and Health Programme contract.

“It has been used in DWP employment category contracts since 2015.

“The contract is the framework which governs the relationship with DWP and its contractors so that both parties understand how to interact with each other.

“The clause is intended to protect the best interests of both the department and the stakeholders we work with, and it does not stop individuals working for any of our contractors from acting as whistle-blowers under the provisions of the Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998, nor does it prevent contractors from raising any concerns directly with the department.”

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