Rethinking employment support to disabled people

BASE supports the general point made within the ERSA/WPI report, More than words-Rethinking employment support to disabled people that more resources need to be invested in providing appropriate specialist support to disabled people. The Government has set an ambitious target to halve the disability employment gap and this will require a comprehensive approach to support both the recruitment and retention of all people who have a disability and who aspire to work.

We expect the Government to publish a Green Paper imminently regarding the future of employment support for people with a disability. It’s been a long time coming and BASE has been active in various policy task and finish groups since 2013.

We know that the Work Programme and Work Choice will be replaced by a new Work and Health Programme and that this will have an indicative budget of £130m by 2020. This compares to the current annual budget of £86m for the Work Choice programme and £636m for the Work Programme. Clearly, there will be fewer contracts for providers to compete for but where will it leave jobseekers who have a disability?

The Work Programme has not delivered the support that people with a disability want or need. Success rates have been poor and the programme has failed to deliver the expected outcomes despite the use of differential payments. Only 5% of those people who were on Incapacity Benefits have been supported into work. Around 10% of ESA customers with a 12-month prognosis have started work.

Work Choice has a much better track record with around 60% of participants accessing paid work. This has come at a price though. Increasingly the programme has focussed on those with health conditions rather than those with disabilities. It has become increasingly difficult to access employment support if you have an autism condition or a learning disability.

Government will have received advice from different directions; from charities, trade bodies, disabled people’s groups and directly from provider organisations. We all recognise that there are going to be fewer resources available to support people into work meaning fewer people will receive support. All the more reason to focus on what we know works.

Government has consistently said that it wants people with disabilities to receive individualised support from specialist organisations but its procurement methods must catch up with the policy intent.

Many specialist organisations don’t even express an interest in working as subcontractors because of the complexity and costs of contract management. They face the challenges of submitting expressions of interest to multiple prime contractors whilst they fear being used as bid candy. Many have been disappointed in the past by lower than expected customer flows, high management costs, and having contracts withdrawn with minimal notice. The supply chain quality standard, Merlin, has failed to assure potential subcontractors.

Most specialist support for people with a learning disability or autism condition is delivered through locally commissioned contracts; through local authorities and health trusts. Disinvestment is increasing as the financial cutbacks get tougher and non-statutory provision is cut. Increasing numbers of local employment services have been scaled back drastically or are closing altogether. As a result we're seeing reductions in the employment rates for people who have a learning disability or a long-term mental health need.

Many are arguing that the reduction in programme expenditure will see fewer people receiving support and that the new Work and Health Programme should be doubled in size. This argument has a lot of merit. The new programme will also be catering for those people unemployed over two years and the demand for employment support could easily outstrip the new programme.

While many people with disabilities will only need the lighter touch that the new programme will offer, there are many who require more intensive support. We know that Supported Employment works well when done well. If the Government truly wants economic and social reform that works for everyone then it has to recognise people’s differing needs and respond with evidence-based commissioning.

What’s needed is an enlarged Work and Health Programme, based on the Work Choice approach, that doesn’t squeeze out those with a disability. We also need recognition that locally commissioned support is a key provider of job outcomes and should be rewarded for the savings that come from it. It is time for the Government to take a more active role in funding Supported Employment services. Then, maybe, it can say that it is making reform for everyone. BASE will continue to work with DWP to make that a reality.

ERSA Press Release