THE BLOG

Government Has Listened to Papworth Trust Over Work Choice - Now They Must Go Further to Halve the Disability Employment Gap

09/12/2015 11:13 GMT | Updated 08/12/2016 10:12 GMT

Buried beneath the commotion of the tax credit u-turn and Chairman Mao's little red book that accompanied last months' comprehensive spending review, were vital changes to how government plans to deal with unemployed disabled people in our society.

The government promised in the Conservative Party manifesto to get 1 million more disabled people into work in this parliament. In effect, they set the very welcome but ambitious target of halving the disability employment gap over the life of this parliament.

In order to have any hope of realistically achieving this, they must now make drastic changes to the way in which disabled people are treated by the welfare state when seeking employment.

The scale of his self-imposed target is considerable. The number of working aged disabled people currently in employment is just over 4million which equates to 49% of the total number. Worryingly disabled people are nearly 4 times as likely to be unemployed or involuntarily out of work as non-disabled people.

There are some clear and obvious reasons for why disabled adults struggle with employment. For instance access to education has meant that disabled adults are nearly 3 times as likely as non-disabled adults to have no formal qualifications.

Indeed there are varying commentaries on the exact other reasons why disabled adults are continually struggling to find work, ranging from a lack of job opportunities, a lack of employer understanding, poor literacy skills, language barriers and access to transport.

However the reality is there are solutions that the government can adopt.

For example, since the inception of the Work Choice project the leading disability charity that I lead has been calling for the Government to merge the Work Programme and Work Choice. In fact the recent Work and Pensions Select Committee report into employment programmes highlighted our desire to see this merger happen sooner rather than later. Until last week, these programmes were run as two different projects with disabled people able to volunteer for Work Choice.

As a consequence, there are many disabled people who don't fall perfectly into either programme. Increasingly we have found that disabled people have subsequently spent time on a programme that may not be right for their support needs and which delays their employment chances

Whilst the Work Choice programme provides more intensive jobs search support, the onus is still on the disabled person to have found work in just six months. By contrast only a third of those close to the labour market on Work Programme will have found sustainable employment within the first 6 months of starting the programme.

For good reason.

In order for any disabled person who has been out of work for a considerable length of time to re-join the world of employment, there are time-intensive support measures that need to be adopted.

Things many of us take for granted such as travelling, an office environment, a structured working day, a routine, toilet breaks, lunchtimes, are all aspects of the working world that may be a huge barrier for a disabled person entering work. In many cases there is a fear of even talking about work.

In order to half the disability gap as DWP envisage, cognisance must be taken of these factors and support given to Work Programme providers who want to take extended periods of time to offer tailored support to disabled people.

That is why we are keen to continue to find answers that work for the government and support them to find an alternative way to address the growing problem of unemployment amongst disabled adults.

It is welcome that the government's decision to accept our proposal to merge Work Programme and Work Choice was announced alongside the spending review last week. We believe this ends the segregation that existed in the system; where disabled people were judged on their disability rather than on their actual employment support need.

The introduction of a single system forces providers to look at that individual and holistically assess their employment support needs, and design support that is right and appropriate for them.

Now the government must go further.

On Thursday we marked the 13th UN Day of Disability where we are asked to refocus our energy on how we enable disabled people to live equal, independent lives. Our government could start to observe this mission by closing more of the gaps we have identified in the current system.

Firstly, we believe that the government should utilise the skills, knowledge and competencies that charities possess to act as sub-contractors for Work Programme providers.

The model that Papworth Trust has developed in the East of England has demonstrably been successful.

That is because our model ensures that our employment advisers are experienced individuals who understand and emphasise with the challenges disabled people face and can therefore recognise the needs of the individual more quickly.

By injecting empathy into the process at the start, disabled people feel more able to ask questions and address the fears they have over entering into employment rather than suffering in silence.

We are also then able to facilitate training courses within the work programme that ensure disabled people have CVs, intensive job search sessions and interview training that are fit for purpose and skills they can bring into interview situations.

We believe that our model should be rolled out across the country and help to drastically increase the chances disabled people have of finding employment.

Next the government needs to reconsider its proposal to allow the majority of claimants to stay with Jobcentre Plus for up to 2 years.

Instead, they need to enter the new Health and Work Programme sooner. Why? Time and support.

If a person is at the Jobcentre Plus they are given a 5 minute weekly appointment to check their benefits are up to date and to talk about their job search. This contrasts with a minimum of fortnightly half an hour appointments on the Work Programme where a disabled persons employment needs are more closely examined and employment opportunities found that have more chance of successfully playing the individual into work.

Finally, what has become evident is that, whilst Job Centre Plus is a great benefits agency, it is failing to adequately assess the employment needs of disabled people and determine the best route into work for them in the same way that the Work Programme is able to do. Therefore it makes far more sense to allow greater flexibility in the system at an earlier stage so that a disabled person can be referred to the Work Programme sooner and have their specific employment needs assessed earlier in the process. This will hopefully produce an efficacy in the system that is currently delaying disabled people from entering into work.

It is right to be ambitious for disabled people. It is right to acknowledge the positive impact a disabled person can make to a workplace environment and do all we can to find a more prolific path to employment for every disabled person that wants a job.

We are on the right track so now, let's finish the job.

Vicky McDermott

CEO of Papworth Trust