Employment rates for people with disabilities and long term conditions (LTCs) have long been below the national average. This is perhaps understandable, when you consider the additional barriers that the individuals face when both looking for and retaining employment. Data from 2014 tells us that whilst the national employment rate was 76.1% at that time, only 46.1% of disabled people were in work .

This is a problem for several reasons. Evidence tells us that ‘good work’ (work that is fulfilling, secure and interesting) has many psychosocial and financial benefits, and can even improve health. Many people who are disabled or have LTCs want to and are capable of work, so surely the Government has a duty to assist them where it can. Additionally, the current Government has a manifesto commitment to halve the disability employment gap, meaning that they’re aiming for one million more employed disabled people by 2020.

Is there existing support for these groups?

In 2011 the Coalition Government launched its flagship welfare-to-work programme, called the ‘Work Programme’. Within this, unemployed people with varying levels of condition or disability are placed in groups according to their assessed ability to work. Dependent on their allocation, individuals are supported to make certain steps towards gaining employment. However, while the programme is undoubtedly comparable in performance amongst these groups to previous programmes, overall it has not created the necessary shift in performance for this group to close the gap.

What are the problems with existing provision?

It’s an exciting time in Westminster for those of us interested in health and employment. Last autumn, the Chancellor announced the formation of a new ‘Health and Work Joint Unit ’, which will be responsible for commissioning the next key DWP programme when the Work Programme and Work Choice ends in 2017.

The Work Foundation’s seventh policy paper looks at the existing Work Programme, examines the challenges facing it, and makes recommendations for what the new programme could change to improve employment outcomes.  In particular, we take a look at the Work Capability Assessment (the measure used to decide which group a person with a disability or health condition is placed in to), which quickly became controversial after its inception in 2011. The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) have already made changes to the process, but the need for further reform endures. We then turn to the commissioning and structure of the Work Programme, which, despite efforts to prevent it, still doesn’t do enough to incentivise providers to work with those at a significant distance from the labour market. This happens in part due to the inefficient and often inaccurate grouping process that can fail to fully acknowledge the difficulties an individual may face in gaining employment. We then discuss the importance of specialised support for people with disabilities and LTCs, and whether the voluntary, smaller programme Work Choice, solely designed for people with health problems, is a better fit. Finally, we look at devolution and the opportunities it can bring, and whether in the promotion of local, more specialised schemes (some examples of which have shown promising signs), regions can improve their own provision.

How can employment support be improved?

Our paper makes four categories of recommendations to improve on current provision for the new programme. These are:

We believe the recommendations proposed in this paper, if implemented in the new Work and Health Programme and in Jobcentre Plus, will improve employment outcomes for people with LTCs. However, in order to meet the increase required to close the disability employment gap, more radical approaches should be considered. We particularly suggest that social enterprise opportunities and utilising the Apprenticeship Levyl to support disability employment should be examined as options.

The full report can be read here: http://www.theworkfoundation.com/Reports/405/Is-welfare-to-work-working-well-Improving-employment-rates-for-people-with-disabilities-and-longterm-conditions

Cicely Dudley, Policy Analyst, The Work Foundation