The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) is refusing to confirm that it is about to announce controversial plans to remove staff from their roles as specialist disability employment advisers (DEAs) and move them into mainstream positions.
The department has apparently angered staff with its plans to move DEAs to roles as mainstream work coaches, according to a DWP whistle-blower.
According to a parliamentary briefing published last month, DEAs are trained to “help disabled people to find suitable jobs, and work alongside work coaches to provide additional professional expertise”.
But the whistle-blower contacted Disability News Service (DNS) this week to raise concerns that “DEA roles are being withdrawn and staff returned to being work coaches”.
They told DNS that DEAs were “furious about the changes and consequences” of the plans and the failure of communication and consultation “about how this will impact some of the most vulnerable people seeking the assistance of the DWP”.
They added: “In effect this change drastically reduces the availability of the assistance and support available for people with disabilities and/or mental health challenges.”
Although DWP has this week refused to confirm or deny the plans for its DEAs, it did not dispute any of the details provided by DNS.
In March, 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.
The move has apparently been made because of the need to move resources into the government’s new Kickstart scheme – which aims to create new, subsidised jobs for young people, but has already been criticised for discriminating against disabled young people – and the anticipated rise in unemployment as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and the gradual withdrawal of the furlough scheme.
Therese Coffey (pictured in a jobcentre), the work and pensions secretary, announced in July that the number of work coaches would be doubled to 27,000 by next March, and it appears likely – if the whistle-blower’s claims are accurate – that part of that rise will be met by transferring civil servants from their existing roles as DEAs.
A spokesperson for the PCS union, which has many DWP members, said: “We are not aware of any announcement relating to DEAs that is scheduled for today or any other time.
“However, PCS would have grave concerns if DWP were intending to deal with the fallout from the pandemic by stopping the additional support that is currently available to disabled people.”
A DWP spokesperson refused to say how many DEAs the department currently has and how many of them would now be moved to work coach roles; why DWP had taken the decision; and what concerns ministers had about the impact of this move on disabled people in vulnerable situations who were seeking employment support.
She said DWP does “not have anything further to add”, despite not saying anything about the plans.
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