This week’s Panorama documentary showed that the Government’s Work Programme, designed to get the long-term unemployed into work, often doesn’t provide the support people with disabilities need to help them find a job. So, is it time to bring back initiatives like Valuing Employment Now? To me, the answer is yes.
The evidence seems to be mounting that the Work Programme isn’t working for people with disabilities, especially those with more complex needs.
For instance, the Panorama documentary reported cases where people with disabilities are “parked” by employment firms – which are paid if they get people on the Work Programme into a job – and not given the support they need to get a job, in favour of others who are viewed as easier to get into work.
Meanwhile, last November, figures published by the Department of Work and Pensions on the Work Programme showed that out of 79,000 employment and support allowance claimants referred to the programme, only 1,000 – 1.3% – had been in work for six months. How many of those had learning disabilities is not known, but it is reasonable to assume that it was relatively few.
Moreover, only about half of people with disabilities are in employment, but this falls to roughly 10% for people with learning disabilities. This is a figure which remains stubbornly low – it hasn’t improved since the last election.
It is well known that the majority of people with learning disabilities want to work but face multiple barriers such as a lack of skills experience or confidence as well as the negative attitudes of some employers.
To overcome these barriers, they often need tailored, specialised support, which it seems the Work Programme isn’t always providing.
But it is not so long ago that there was a Government scheme specifically designed to tackle these problems: Valuing Employment Now. However, it, along with its parent strategy, Valuing People Now, was abandoned by the Government in 2011, and has not been replaced.
Since then the Government has maintained that mainstream employment support, including its flagship Work Programme, would be able to provide the support people with learning (and other) disabilities sometimes need to overcome these barriers to employment.
I can see the logic to this strategy. It is being inclusive rather than exclusive, which ties in with the overarching personalisation agenda. But it seems that it is now becoming a form of inclusion that leads to exclusion because people aren’t getting the specialist help they need and, as a result, are not able to get into work, which excludes them from many aspects of society.
For me, the time has come for the Government to rethink its disability employment strategy. Now is the time, if not to bring back Valuing Employment Now, at least to introduce something like it that gives people with learning disabilities the support they often need, not only to get a job, but to stay in it.
Without such support, I can see many people with learning disabilities desperately wanting to get a job but being ‘parked’ on the Work Programme, marooned on diminishing levels of benefits. Hardly in keeping with the personalisation agenda that the Government claims to be backing.