BASE statement on Panorama: The Great Disability Scam?

The Panorama programme on disability and the Work Programme broadcast on 28th January will come as no surprise to thousands of disabled jobseekers in this country. It is clear that the programme is failing many disabled people. The recent data release from DWP showed that just over 1,000 of the 68,000 ESA claimants referred to the programme had sustained work for over 3 months. The Panorama programme highlighted how so many people considered by providers as too hard to help are `parked`; a euphemism for ignored and neglected.

The Department for Work and Pensions knows that financial incentives drive provider behaviour, and the financial modelling of the Work Programme was meant to encourage providers to seek greater rewards by offering significantly higher outcome payments for those people with disabilities or long term health problems. It is an approach which, on the evidence, seems to be failing spectacularly.

BASE has always opposed the use of the DWP Commissioning Framework for providing welfare to work support to significantly disabled jobseekers. It is simply inappropriate. Most prime contractors don’t have the expertise to meet the needs of their disabled customers and yet they seem reluctant to refer on to specialist organisations. DWP claims that there are over 1,000 subcontractors on the Work Programme. Yet a BBC sample of 348 of these named subcontractors suggested that 40% of these didn’t even know that they were listed and some considered themselves to be just `bid candy` for the tenders that were submitted. Of those who were indeed subcontracting, 73% had received fewer referrals than expected and 41% had received no referrals at all.

The Government is this week launching a consultation on a new national disability employment strategy. Lessons must be learned and evidence-based support must be commissioned in the future. If personalised support is truly a Government aspiration then the Government should provide resources for an expansion of supported employment. It must also ensure that this provision meets agreed standards for each and every customer.

DWP recently published an evaluation of the Work Programme. It highlighted:
• limited use of specialist provision to address individual barriers to work, and that the personalisation of support is often more procedural than substantive in nature;
• deficiencies in communication and information flow (in both directions) between Jobcentre Plus and Work Programme providers; and
• that many providers are prioritising more ‘job-ready’ participants for support, ahead of those who are assessed as having more complex/substantial barriers to employment.

We all want employment rates for disabled people to rise substantially, but the evidence now emerging from the Work Programme confirms without doubt that the programme is failing disabled people. The Government is right to talk about rights and responsibilities but this should work both ways. If the Government has the right to demand greater numbers of people actively seek work then it should also have the responsibility to ensure that adequate and suitable support is in place for every person seeking work.