The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) is facing questions over its commitment to disability equality after new figures revealed the number of disability employment advisers fell sharply during the pandemic, while the number of mainstream work coaches soared.
The figures were finally released – weeks late – by DWP in response to a freedom of information request by Disability News Service (DNS).
They show that at the start of 2021 there were just 447* disability employment advisers (DEAs) in post across DWP, compared with 661 on 1 February 2020.
But over the same period, the number of work coaches across DWP rose from 12,555* on 1 February 2020 to more than 19,000 at the start of this year, as part of ministers’ pledge to recruit 13,500 new work coaches to deal with the pandemic unemployment crisis.
This means that the number of DEAs fell by 32 per cent during the pandemic while the number of work coaches was rising by 51 per cent.
Last September, DWP declined to comment on claims by a whistleblower that it was about to move DEAs to new roles as work coaches.
The new figures do not prove that that happened, but they do show that DWP has appointed thousands of new work coaches across the country, while allowing the number of DEAs to fall sharply.
The whistleblower warned in September that DEAs were concerned that the changes would “drastically” reduce the availability of advice and support for disabled people on out-of-work benefits.
According to a parliamentary briefing published last year, DEAs are trained to “help disabled people to find suitable jobs, and work alongside work coaches to provide additional professional expertise”.
In March last year, the minister for disabled people, Justin Tomlinson, stressed the importance of the DEA role, suggesting to MPs that they would play a key part in achieving the government’s target of seeing one million more disabled people in work between 2017 and 2027.
Work and pensions secretary Therese Coffey then announced last July that the number of mainstream work coaches would be doubled to 27,000 by March this year.
DWP told DNS yesterday (Wednesday) that any suggestion that the department had behaved in a discriminatory way was completely misleading.
The department said that both DEAs and work coaches support disabled jobseekers and those with complex health conditions, and so the figures provided in the freedom of information response should be taken as a combined total of the support the department provides.
A DWP spokesperson said: “Our priority is to support all jobseekers into employment.
“Throughout the pandemic both disability employment advisers and work coaches, alongside work and health services colleagues, have supported jobseekers with complex health conditions and disabilities to move towards, or into, sustainable employment or to remain in work.”
*The number of full-time equivalent posts
Picture: Therese Coffey in Marylebone jobcentre
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