Work Programme blow to charities

The number of people on sickness benefits expected to be referred for specialist help in finding work has been sharply scaled back by the government, the FT has learnt, sparking allegations that difficult cases are being “parked”.

The move will also deal a blow to cash-strapped charities that had hoped to play a leading role in the former claimants into jobs.

The Department for Work and Pensions is estimating that 596,000 people claiming either incapacity benefit or its replacement – employment and support allowance – will be referred to the Work Programme over the five-year life of the contracts, compared with 819,000 envisaged when the programme got under way in June this year.

For the 2011-12 financial year, the department is now estimating that 72,000 sickness benefit claimants will be referred to the Work Programme – substantially fewer than half of the 192,000 expected in June.

The reduction means organisations that would have helped the claimants would potentially lose about £72m in funding. The majority of such groups are voluntary organisations, which have been subcontracted to do the work, generally by private companies.

At the same time forecasts for the numbers being referred from jobseekers allowance, the unemployment benefit, whose needs will in many cases be less complex than those who are coming off ESA, making it easier to find them work, have been substantially increased by the department since its June estimates.

Chris Grayling, employment minister, said there was “absolutely no question whatsoever” of the government reducing the support being provided for people on ESA. “Every single person on ESA has access to the Work Programme and will continue to do so.”

But he acknowledged “variations on numbers in each group”, which he said were “down to the mix of people coming through the [work capability assessment], particularly incapacity benefit claimants, which has been different from those originally projected”.

Kirsty McHugh, chief executive of the Employment Related Services Association, trade body for the welfare to work industry, said she believed the problems were twofold. First, it was taking far longer than expected for assessments of ESA claimants to be completed, in part because of a high number of appeals which meant people were simply being “recycled through the system”.

Second, jobcentre Plus, which is charged with supporting people of working age from welfare into work, was failing to refer ESA claimants to the Work Programme in anything like the volumes that had been expected. “Now the government is having formally to say to providers ‘we are well behind where we thought we would be’,” she added.

Voluntary sector providers were being “disproportionately hit” as a result, just as they were also struggling with public sector funding cuts. The £72m lost in potential funding is calculated by multiplying the 120,000 drop in forecast referrals by the £600 “attachment fee”, paid for each person coming on to the programme.

Sir Stephen Bubb, chief executive of the Association of Chief Executives of Voluntary Organisations, said: “It looks as though, in the light of what is happening to unemployment, the scheme is falling back on just supporting the less difficult to get into jobs and the hardest to help are being parked.”

He criticised the “gagging clauses” that he said were preventing the prime contractors from releasing information on their performance. Sir Stephen added: “This is increasingly untenable. DWP need to be transparent and now release all the data so we can see the true picture and then talk about emergency remedial action to support the hardest to reach unemployed.”

Liam Byrne, shadow secretary for work and pensions, said: “This is a humiliating blow for the government’s flagship welfare to work scheme. The government should stop hiding behind a wall of secrecy and urgently publish all information they can now, so we can get to the bottom of just how far off course the Work Programme is.”

Financial Times

Comments
  • Joe Kane on Facebook December 29, 2011 at 5:21 pm

    Earning government taxpayer-subsidised profits by exploiting chronically sick and disabled patients, turning them into slave labour and forcing them to work for nothing, isn’t going smoothly.

    Grayling’s gulags are not reaching their agreed work norms and job quotas. The Stalins of this world will be the only ones disappointed in this paper exercise in phoney economics and medical abuse of the long-term patient community of the UK.

  • Celia Lawton-Livingstone on Facebook December 29, 2011 at 5:28 pm

    What good is a work program when there are no jobs?

  • That’s the sum of it Joe! Concise and on the nail as usual my brother-in-arms! (JJ)

  • Joe Kane on Facebook December 29, 2011 at 7:06 pm

    The chronically sick and disabled are actually telling the truth about their medical conditions. Who would have guessed?

    Regarding the justifications for these so-called “welfare reforms” –
    – practically everything the DWP has released as official statements on the subject, trying to prove that sickness and disability welfare benefits are being widely abused and fiddled, have turned out to be untrue, and they’ve had to eat their words.
    There is next to no fraud in the system that anyone can detect. Indeed, there is far more departmental DWP inefficiencies and waste than there is actual fraud.

    Regarding the forms of and contents of the “welfare reforms” –
    – the medical psuedo-science behind ESA and the WCA is that developed by the Wessely school of psychiatry who pioneered it first on ME sufferers. In other words, WRAG is a load of Simon Wessely school crap. Nobody is suffering from being de-conditioned and de-motivated due to long periods of unemployment. No-one has false illness beliefs that are holding them back from getting on with their real lives. And no-one is being held back by being given welfare handouts either.

    The WCA is a human rights atrocity which turns medical ethics on its head, ignoring pain and suffering and holding patents in suspicion and disbelief. The DWP is claiming sickness and disability is all in the patients head. That they have false illness beliefs. All they need is some CBT (Cognitive Behaviour Therapy) and GET (Graded Exercise Therapy) in the form of forcing patients onto jobseekers allowance and forcing them to look for work is all that’s needed to make them get well again.

  • Michael Caits on Facebook December 31, 2011 at 12:40 am

    Fuck Me.. do they? Do they roar about in 4×4’s or Ferraris when picking up their dole checks? Do they take long holidays on the Costa-del-bomb at Taxpayers expense.. more than that… are they EVER caught doing so? Didn’t think so.. Privelige is theft, because those who think they are above the “ordinary working man and his Family” (you patronizing bastards) are the very same people who used to take what they wanted at sword-point.. If you want a more Darwinian Society Mr Cameron – better get used to the sound of gunfire – particularly the sound of the AK47!! ‘Cause if you and your American sodomites succeed in destroying the health and welfare services in this country – the only thing you will be able to do is to bury yourself in the ground so deep no-one ever sees you again! There have ALWAYS been idiots like you in politics: those who ‘think’ a harsher, dangerous or miserable life for some carries no penalty, because you have all the weapons. Bad idea. Considering what has already unfolded in this Country – and not even at the hands of its own people.. Just my opinion of course.. no need to believe me!? 😀

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