Is the Work Programme failing those with disabilities and mental health issues?

Is the Work Programme failing those with disabilities and mental health issues?

“The Work Programme is not a serious attempt to help people with significant disabilities back into work.”

The work programme is a new payment-for-results welfare-to-work programme that hit the UK in June 2011. It is currently being delivered by a range of private, public and voluntary sector organisations which are helping people who are at risk of long-term unemployment find work.

There are roughly around 5 million people, who are of working age, receiving out-of-work-benefits, and roughly half of these receive incapacity benefits. Unemployment of young people is a rising concern, and the percentage of individuals living in a workless household is one of the highest in the EU. Although there has been some improvement over the last two decades, the problem of long term unemployment still remains. The Universal Credit reforms of benefits and tax credits are designed to improve work incentives for all, and make financial support much simpler.

Jobcentre Plus is responsible for benefit delivery, overall customer experience and supporting people by helping them find work in the early stages of their benefit claim. The company’s managers have been given more freedom to design services locally and employment advisers are being given more leniency to personalise support for each individual person.

The Work Programme provides support for people who are facing long-term unemployment or for those who are at risk of facing unemployment.

‘It replaces previous welfare-to-work programmes such as the New Deals, Employment Zones and Flexible New Deal, which were developed and delivered over the past decade. These programmes suffered from several problems: they were fragmented; interventions were over-specified; and incentives were poor, allowing providers to stay in business without delivering strong results.’

The overall design of The Work Programme addresses these weaknesses and puts change into action. A service providers pay now comes almost entirely from results, which means the longer a customer stays in work, the more the delivery partners will be paid, which without a doubt creates a very strong incentive to continue to support their clients once they are in work.

The site has case studies that recognise the success of The Work Programme, where people tell their stories on how it has helped them. However, it seems that The Work Programme has not helped everyone get out and stay out of long-term unemployment. Some feel that it has failed the people who face disabilities or mental health problems.

The first DWP (Department for Work and Pensions) report shows that about 79,000 ESA (Employment and Support Allowance) claimants successfully worked through the Work Programme between its launch in June 2011 and July 2014, only giving a poor success rate of just over one percent. To be acknowledged in these figures, a disabled benefits claimant needed to stay in a job for only three months, compared to six months for non-disabled job seekers.

The second DWP report suggests some explanations for the low number of disabled people who were helped into work. It seems that the government has underestimated the hurdles that many of those forced onto the programme, including those on ESA, have to face.

The report shows that the Work Programme has neglected those with the most significant problems to overcome, such as people who have a disability or a mental health problem. As well as this, it appears that Work Programme contractors have been overwhelmed by the amount of people they are trying to support, and instead of prioritising and helping those who need it most, they have in fact given them less attention than they require and seem more interested in helping those who are closer to being ‘job ready’.

Steve Harry, an employment advisor and board member of Disability Cornwall said that he believed the Work Programme was doomed to fail people with disabilities and other job-seekers. He said, “The Work Programme does an awful lot if what you need is a CV and how to apply for jobs. If you need more than that it doesn’t really meet your needs. It is not really a serious attempt to help people with significant disabilities back into work.”

Following a report written by Catherine Hale (Fulfilling potential? ESA and the fate of the Work-Related Activity Group), Tom pollard, Policy and Campaigns Manager at Mind said,

“The current benefits system is failing people with disabilities and mental health problems. There is far too much focus on pressuring people into undertaking compulsory activities, and not nearly enough ongoing, tailored support to help them into an appropriate job. Just five percent of people are actually managing to get into work through this process, while many people are finding that the stress they are put under is making their health worse and a return to work less likely. We urgently need to see an overhaul of this system.”

The report has been endorsed by another 18 organisations including Mencap, Disability Rights UK and Parkinson’s UK. You can read the report by following the link below:

Most people who looked to the programme for support found they only received back-to-work support such as CV writing. Over half of the people who responded to Catherine Hale’s survey said they thought their ‘action plan’ of activities did not suit them and six out of ten people said they felt no adaptations were made to the activities they were given to help them with the barriers they face. Almost all of the respondents had said that they are very keen to start working as long as there is support put into place for them and they find a job that is suitable to their disability. Although people believed that they had valuable skills that an employer could make good use of, 82 percent of the respondents expressed that their Work Programme provider or Jobcentre Plus had made no effort what-so-ever to adapt jobs that were currently available to make it easier for them to work.

A high percentage of people agreed that if there was a package of support agreed upfront, that would be the most helpful option and would reassure potential employers that they have all the relevant abilities to do the job in question. Suggestions for adjustments that could be made were flexible working hours, working fewer hours than 16 hours per week and recruiting through work trials opposed to interviews.

So it seems that the Work Programme is successful in some cases, but needs to be further developed in order to support those who have a disability or mental health condition. The Work Programme and employers should consider adapting their jobs, if only slightly, to help and support those with a disability take on and keep a long-term occupation.

At Wave-length we have been trying to meet the need of offering fresh approaches to supporting people with disabilities into work by offering an alternative to employment, that of self-employment which many people feel suits their lifestyle better.  However on approaching those holding Work Programme contracts with our alternative solution for their clients, we have often been met with ‘can you offer it for free?’, which Ann of Wave-length feels that this means we would be offering the support and those holding the contracts would receive payment through our results.

It is great now that the Job Centre has recognised our fresh approach to people with disabilities through an alternative early intervention programme.  Ann Johnson of Wave-length said; “it is great to be awarded this first pilot in Telford to support those unemployed facing social challenges and to deliver in partnership with the Job Centre and Telford College, this shows the power of local commissioning and hopefully we will be able to evidence success for other areas to follow, there is a long way to go.”

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