employedReduced funding for the new Work and Health Programme could mean that each year 45,000 fewer people with disabilities will be able to access specialist employment provision, according to a new report.

The Employment Related Service Association’s (ERSA) report, ‘More than Words: Rethinking employment support for disabled jobseekers’, an independent report by WPI Economics, shows a gap between government rhetoric and reality in terms of support for jobseekers with disabilities and health conditions. 

The report is released in advance of the government’s Work and Health Green Paper and to a backdrop of a Government commitment to halve the disability employment gap. This target would require well over 1.2 million more people with disabilities to enter work than is the case today.

With the government’s flagship employment programmes ending next year, the replacement Work and Health Programme is set to be dramatically smaller in terms of funding and the number of jobseekers it will support. The report shows that the reduction in funding – from £750 million in 2013/14 to less than £130 million next year – means that while 300,000 disabled people accessed contracted support between 2012-2015, this will fall to just 160,000 from 2017 to 2020. The damage resulting from this funding reduction may be exacerbated if European Social Fund support – currently worth more than £500 million a year for employment and skills provision – is not fully replaced beyond 2020.

The size of the new programmes means that, in each remaining year of this Parliament, 45,000 fewer disabled people will be allowed onto specialist employment provision. This means that only 1 in 8 unemployed disabled people who want to work will receive the necessary help. The report notes that this makes no business sense – doubling the size of the Work and Health Programme would not only give an extra 160,000 disabled people access to specialist employment support, but would also mean wider savings of £280 million to the Chancellor.

Kirsty Mchugh, chief executive of ERSA, said: “[This] report shines a critical light on the government’s ambition to halve the disability employment gap. 

“As a society, we have an obligation to ensure that appropriate support is available and [this] report shows that we are in danger of failing disabled people and their families.

“We know that good quality frontline provision can provide help to more disabled jobseekers, but only if it is given the funding to do so. Turning the government’s plans into more than words would be good for businesses, communities, disabled people and the economy – let’s make sure it happens.”

Matthew Oakley, director of WPI Economics, added: “If the government is serious about its ambitions on disability employment, it needs to take bold action now. A vital first step should be to reverse decisions made by the previous Chancellor and double the number of disabled people with access to specialist employment support in this Parliament.

“Although this will not alone halve the disability employment gap, it will send a clear signal of the government’s intent and could lead to 30,000 more disabled people in work and net benefits to the Exchequer of £280 million.

“But ultimately, we need to be clear that this is not just about saving money. It is about supporting more disabled people who want to work to achieve that ambition, because it’s the right thing to do.”