Blog: The Work and Health Programme

Blog: The Work and Health Programme

Huw Davies offers his personal view of the newly announced Work and Health Programme

While the media focused on the Government’s U-turn on tax credits, few may have noticed that tucked away in the detail of the Spending Review was an announcement that the Work Programme and Work Choice are to be combined into a single Work & Health Programme from 2017. In the same week that the UK signed up to an international promise to leave no one behind, it has decided that a single employment programme is sufficient to meet everyone’s employment aspirations. Despite calls from the Work and Pensions Select Committee and others, the Government will press ahead with a single programme.

The Department of Work & Pensions (DWP), like a number of other Departments, has had its funding cut significantly. It wants to become a smaller, more efficient department spending 22% less on administration in real terms. In this light, it’s hardly surprising that a single programme seems more attractive; with simplified contract management and less duplication of systems. Although we've yet to see any details of the new programme, including how it will be commissioned; it appears that this is a decision born out of financial necessity rather than based on evidence. The Government has an ambitious target of halving the disability employment gap which now stands at 33%. This means a million people with a disability must be supported into employment. The trouble with targets is that they dictate the strategic response. To reach its target, DWP may be tempted to focus on those that it considers nearest to the labour market.

Huge numbers of people experience mental ill-health and I welcome the newly established Work and Health Unit. Cross-Government collaboration is essential and the new unit will receive £115m in funding, including £40m for a health and work innovation fund, to pilot new ways to join up across the health and employment systems. We have already engaged with the unit and will continue to seek to work with them to ensure that Supported Employment and IPS provision features. There has been little in the way of rigorous research into the effectiveness of these models within the UK and this may be an opportunity to further build the evidence base. I also welcome the renewed commitment to Access to Work, a programme that is the envy of Europe and has so much potential to fund the support that individuals need to get into, and remain in, work.

The Work and Health Programme is the headline act here though. We’ve requested sight of an equalities impact assessment, as we’re concerned that the decision to go with a single programme may not be based on any sort of analysis of the evidence. DWP appears committed to combining a programme that works, albeit with a limited group, and a programme that has patently failed.

The Work Programme offers a 4% chance of getting you a job if you’re an existing IB claimant; 7.7% if you’re a new ESA claimant. Work Choice is nearer to 40% for IB claimants. Overall, Work Choice is delivering close to 60% job outcomes compared to 30% for the Work Programme where 70% of those referred are sent back to the Jobcentre after 2 years.

Whilst it's heartening that the Government is saying that the new programme will “provide specialist support for the long-term unemployed and claimants with health conditions and disabilities” where will people with substantial disabilities such as learning disabilities and autism conditions will fit into this new provision? We hope that the new programme will draw on the lessons learned from Work Choice. Unfortunately, the high turnover of staff at DWP means that there’s a danger that lessons are forgotten. Valuing People and PSA16 are already distant memories for many officials.

The new programme will present real challenges for DWP:

  • How will it ensure the meaningful involvement of specialist services within large supply chains?
  • How will it ensure that sufficient resources reach the end user and don’t disappear in management fees?
  • How will it ensure that nobody is left behind and that there is access to support for all those who want to work?

To achieve it’s stated aim of a million people entering work, the new programme will have to be flexible and responsive to the individual needs of disabled jobseekers. The challenge for BASE and it's members is to safeguard the place of specialist support within the range of provision on offer in the future.

BASE is responding to this challenge by continuing to engage with the DWP. We’ve already had a very constructive meeting with senior officials and will be putting the case for specialist support to the Minister . By offering its support to make the new provision work for people and campaigning for better recognition of the role of that locally-commissioned specialist support plays we hope that everyone will have a chance to fulfill their potential.

Further reading

Steve Hawkins, CEO Pluss, has written a blog on the Health and Work Programme