The Department for Work and Pensions has refused to name the charities and other organisations being paid millions of pounds to help deliver its new disability employment programme across England and Wales.
All six of the new Work and Health Programme contracts went “live” last week, and DWP announced the main contractors in October.
But it has refused to say which smaller organisations are helping to deliver the programme as sub-contractors.
DWP’s reluctance to do so is likely to be linked to criticism that has been aimed at disability charities that were set to play a significant role in the new programme.
When Disability News Service contacted seven of the largest disability charities – most of which are not user-led – in December 2016, none of them ruled out seeking Work and Health Programme contracts.
But disabled activists have raised concerns that winning such contracts could mean that these and other charities would be unwilling to criticise the government on social security reform.
All seven of the charities contacted in December 2016 insisted then that any contracts they won from the government would have no impact on their campaigning work.
There are also major concerns about the programme itself, which is part of the government’s much-criticised Improving Lives work, health and disability strategy, with its “cruel and disastrous” emphasis on “work as a cure”, the placement of employment advisers in health services, and the continued use of benefit sanctions to “punish” disabled claimants.
Disability News Service submitted a freedom of information request last month in a bid to discover which voluntary and private sector organisations would be helping to deliver the Work and Health Programme (WHP).
But when DWP responded to the request earlier this month, it said the subcontracting organisations were still “subject to change”, but that it would “seek to publish a list of the confirmed main sub-contractors supporting the WHP” following “go live of all WHP contracts” in the week beginning 15 January.
That date passed last week, but no list has yet been published.
When DNS asked why it had not been released, a DWP spokeswoman said the department “will seek to publish a list of the sub-contractors in due course”.
She refused to comment further.
Linda Burnip, co-founder of Disabled People Against Cuts, said: “It is no surprise that DWP are unwilling to release details of firms involved in colluding to exploit disabled people for their own profits and this simply confirms the underhand way DWP run their programmes and their diabolical practices.
“We look forward, together with Boycott Workfare, to finding out which organisations will be involved in implementing the new disability employment programme.”
Denise McKenna, co-founder of the Mental Health Resistance Network, said: “No one who is on the side of disabled people is celebrating the delivery of the Health and Work Programme, as it will wreck lives.
“Perhaps the successful bidders will choose to celebrate their wins in private, because they know these contracts are shameful.
“Disabled activists have called out charities on their close links with the DWP and their failure to remain independent of Tory ideology.
“The private firms who take on these contracts, along with the charities, will be closely watched by activists.
“Their identities can’t be protected by the DWP forever.
“We are used to the DWP being secretive. After all, they have so much to hide.”
The main WHP contractors are Remploy (in Wales); the charity Shaw Trust in central England and the home counties; Reed In Partnership in north-east England; Ingeus in the north-west; and Pluss in the south of England.
Remploy, formerly owned by the government, is now mostly controlled by the US company Maximus.
Maximus has a disturbing track record of discrimination, incompetence and fraud in the US, while Remploy slashed the pay of service-users who were taking part in inspections of health and care facilities, after taking on three Care Quality Commission contracts, and has since been heavily criticised for its performance in delivering those contracts.