Reaction to the Work, Health and Disability Green Paper

10 November 2016

Last week saw the long-awaited arrival of the Work, Health and Disability Green Paper. It restates the Government’s commitment to halving the disability-employment-rate gap, and rightly notes that “[c]hange will come, not by tinkering at the margins, but through real, innovative action”.

Some of the proposed actions are consistent with these aims. The paper suggests changing apprenticeship eligibility criteria to make it easier for people with learning disabilities to participate; introducing an employer inclusivity ranking resembling the Stonewall index; and, crucially, scrapping the current assessment process in which “someone’s entitlement to additional financial support can also result in them being given no employment support” – all of which are policies Reform has recommended.

However, the paper also reveals concerning developments in employment support services, which will likely mean many incapacity-related benefit claimants will be ‘parked’ with very little access to support.

Work Choice is to continue alongside the new Work and Health programme. Access to either programme is to be restricted to new Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) claimants in the Work-Related Activity Group (and the corresponding Universal Credit Limited Capability for Work Group) who are deemed to be able to find work within 12 months. Participation will be voluntary.

Though not altogether surprising given the vastly reduced funding envelope for the Work and Health programme, the decision to target this and Work Choice solely on claimants with less than a 12-month prognosis clearly limits them to numbers well below those needed to halve the disability-employment-rate gap. Taking the Work Programme’s payment group 6a – the group for whom Work Choice and the Work and Health programme will be exclusively for – fewer than 120,000 people have attached to the programme across its entire five-year lifespan.

Furthermore, these 120,000 participants were mandated to the Work Programme, whereas the green paper indicates the programmes going forwards will be voluntary. As Reform highlighted in Stepping up, breaking barriers, previous voluntary employment support programmes have had very poor uptake and very high drop out. For example, between November 2013 and 2014, only around 1.2 per cent of eligible ESA claimants volunteered for the Work Programme, and only 3.1 per cent of those eligible volunteered for the New Deal for Disabled People (NDDP) to the end of 2006. For Work Choice and Working Capital, 22 and 38 per cent of referrals fail to start the programme, respectively.

Clearly, participation would not be appropriate for all eligible participants. But research showing only small differences in the various incapacity-related benefits and premiums claimed between participants and non-participants of NDDP suggests that many who chose not to volunteer would have been well placed to benefit from the programme.

Given that halving the gap will require around 1.2 million more disabled people moving into work, the green paper’s proposals mean the main employment support programmes are likely to fall several orders of magnitude short of this target. And though the paper also pledges more places on the Specialist Employability Programme for those further from work, the very small scale of this intervention means it too will have only a minor impact on the Government’s mammoth target.

The paper does, however, ask for views “on whether we are doing the right things to ensure that we are allowing everyone the opportunity to fulfil their potential”, suggesting policy is still at least somewhat flexible. Hopefully the paper’s reception will be sufficient for the Government to revise the proposed strategy that will see so many disabled people written off.

Ben Dobson, Researcher, Reform

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