Any opinions represented within this blog are the authors and do not represent the views of ERSA.
The Parliamentary Work and Pensions Committee have recently published their report on the Work Programme after interviewing a series of expert witnesses and taking a mountain of evidence. Their report is clear-sighted, far-reaching, and unanimous.
The report makes clear that a mainstream Work Programme is not working as well for some of the people who need the most intensive help.
One of its key points is this: If the Government is serious about halving the disability employment gap, it must retain and significantly expand a specialist employment programme separate to the Work Programme.
What’s more, the Committee recommends that this specialist programme should be delivered by specialist disability organisations.
Why? Because we believe that Work Choice, the current specialist programme, offers a clearly different kind of provision but is too small to make a big enough difference.
For reasons of cost, the report acknowledges that the Government may need to consolidate mainstream and specialist disability employment support into a single new programme. In our opinion, if the Government elects to go with a single programme, there are some current challenges which need to be addressed to ensure participation from the right organisations. These include:
- Service fees intended to support work with the most vulnerable customers must reach specialist providers in full, rather than being watered down through prime management fees.
- As an integral part of the bidding process, it should be mandatory for primes to explain what the challenges are to each customer cohort across each CPA and how specialists will be used to meet these challenges.
- The commissioning process must include active dialogue with bidders to drill down into their levels of expertise and localised resources.
Under these circumstances, a single programme could deliver at least some of the benefits of a separate specialist approach. But we would be clear that this is not the optimum solution, it’s a second best. The Work and Pensions Committee report goes further and says that a single programme would be a grave mistake.
For myself, I am certain that over five years of costs and benefits Government would gain considerably if they follow the unambiguous advice of the cross-party Committee.
Of course, the people who have most to gain are the one million people with a disability who will need to be supported into sustainable work if the disability employment gap is to be halved.
These individuals need the right support to find the right job first time and the Work and Pensions Committee have now set out clearly for all of us the best way for this to be achieved.
By Steve Hawkins, CEO, Pluss