ERSA has today welcomed the announcement of a new Secretary of State at the Department for Work and Pensions and is looking forward to working with him and his team to put into practice existing commitments around halving the disability employment gap and full employment. 

However, it warns that the increased level of economic uncertainty is likely to have a negative impact on the labour market and thus both the capacity and the specialism of the employment support market must be maintained at a greater level than is currently planned.

ERSA is calling for the new Secretary of State to focus on the following three items.

  • Prioritise letting of the ESF contracts in line with practice by the Big Lottery Fund and Skills Funding Agency.  Make sure that money which is rightly owed to the UK from the EU during this period of continued membership of the European Union is not lost to the nation’s jobseekers.  Delay will mean that the period for delivery is truncated which is not in the interests of employers, jobseekers or the public purse.
  • Rethink the shape and size of the Work and Health Programme.  The minimum spend announced in the Financial Statement was accepted by previous ministers and officials, plus disability campaigners, as wholly inadequate, particularly given the aim of halving the disability employment gap.  This was going to be boosted, including with ESF. The level of economic uncertainty ahead means that the programme may need to be radically flexed up over the contracts’ life.  The ask is therefore to ensure that additional monies are added to the programme at the outset and that a deal is struck with HM Treasury to make this an uncapped programme, allowing it to be expanded in future.
  • Safeguard the level of social spending lost to England and Wales post European Union exit.  ESF has funded vital programmes at local and national level over many years.  The UK has developed a world class employment support sector.  This needs safeguarding for the future.

Kirsty McHugh, Chief Executive of the Employment Related Services Association, said:

‘The new Secretary of State for Work and Pensions and his team have a substantial challenge on their hands, not just to meet existing commitments around halving the disability employment gap, but also in relation to increased economic uncertainty and potential impacts on the labour market.

In the immediate term, we need ministers to prioritise the letting of delayed ESF contracts and rethinking the shape and size of the Work and Health Programme.  In the longer term, we must help them safeguard spending on vital employment and skills programmes, post ESF.’