Thank you Rich Watts for perusing the Spending Review and highlighting passages regarding the Department for Work and Pensions. The devil as always is in the detail, but for now I’d rather remain positive about two announcements in particular:
- a real terms increase in Access to Work funding to help 25000 more disabled people and people with health conditions return to, and remain in, work
- a new Work and Health Programme replacing the Work Programme and Work Choice which will provide specialist support for the long-term unemployed and claimants with health conditions and disabilities
Regarding the latter, the review also announced:
- over £115 million of funding for the Joint Work and Health Unit, including at least £40 million for a health and work innovation fund, to pilot new ways to join up across the health and employment systems
In our paper ‘Taking Control of Employment Support’ Liz Sayce and I called for the Work Programme and Work Choice to be replaced by a locally led, personalised approach which put employers and disabled people in the driving seat as co-commissioners of support. It was recently reported that the State of Vermont in the USA had adopted such a approach with huge success in relation to the employment opportunities of people with learning disabilities. I understand DWP has since been piloting the use of personal budgets in relation to employment support and look forward to the results.It will though be important not just to look across employment and health, but also at the role of wider support infrastructure, including social services and community support.
The yawning gap as ever is skills: inexplicably it never features prominently in relation to disability employment policies, despite (a) disabled people being twice as likely to have no formal qualifications and (b) evidence of the huge economic benefits such investment would bring. Hopefully this is something the new unit will major on.
The government’s welcome goal of halving the disability employment gap echoes one of the key strategic objectives of the now defunct Disability Rights Commission. By focusing on the gap rather than the overall employment rate of disabled people, the government has provided the opportunity to focus on the nature and causes of employer discrimination and labour market disadvantage after a long period during which policy has centred almost wholly on individual behaviour and motivations. This would fit nicely with other policies, such as the National Living Wage, which seek to (pre)distribute responsibilities from the State to employers. What better way for the current government to remind people that it was the last Conservative government that introduced the Disability Discrimination Act 20 years ago this year than by re-asserting employer obligations not to discriminate against disabled people, just as David Cameron did recently with respect to race discrimination?