The Government’s employment schemes need to do more to focus improved support on unemployed people with the most complex needs, MPs have said today.
The Work and Pensions Committee says back to work programmes are failing unemployed people with challenging problems; such as addiction, illiteracy and innumeracy, homelessness and limited employment history.
The DWP should also maintain, and ideally expand, a specialist scheme for people with substantial disabilities, says the Work and Pensions Select Committee in its report.
MPs say the Government’s current scheme for disabled people, Work Choice, “does not appear to be well-focused on people with higher levels of need”.
Committee chair, Labour’s Frank Field MP, said: “DWP deserves credit for implementing a programme which, in general, produces results at least as good as before, for a greatly reduced cost per participant.
“But we must not forget that nearly 70% of participants are completing the Work Programme without finding sustained employment. We must do much better.
“Our recommendations aim to create an employment support system which is equipped to help into work people facing serious problems who have been distant from the labour market, and inadequately supported, for far too long.”
The Committee says categorising Work Programme participants based upon the type of the benefit they’re claiming, “is a poor proxy for claimants’ relative employability and level of employment support required”.
MPs have called for a new assessment to better determine claimants’ individual barriers to employment. This assessment would place people into one of three groups, based upon the level of support they need to return to work (work-ready; intermediate support; or intensive support group).
Mr Field says the DWP has “under-invested in people with more complex barriers to making a swift return to work”.
“We strongly support a continued focus on payment-by-results in welfare-to-work but the evidence is clear: pure payment-by-results has not worked in relation to people who need a lot of help to return to work.
“Some upfront funding from the Government is needed to address this.”
He added: “A growing proportion of long-term unemployed people have serious barriers to employment and require more intensive and personalised help.
“The next programme needs to more consistently identify people facing very challenging problems, and provide the right type of help, delivered by the right type of adequately-resourced organisations, at the right time.”
Heidi Allen MP, a Conservative member of the Committee said: “Our recommended approach to faster and more focused triage, coupled with changes to the Work Programme’s payment model will help, but is not the complete answer.
“The Government should also coordinate much more effective integration of employment support with related health, housing, education and skills and other locally-run services and employers.
“Too often numerous local agencies spend money on the same individuals in a rather chaotic and overlapping way, with insufficient focus on providing the help people need to get back into work and become more self-sufficient.
“Addressing this does not necessarily require more money, in fact we believe pooling of resources and joint-working across policy areas could lead to much better results while also producing efficiencies.
“This focus will also help with clients’ self esteem. Being passed around for up to two years cannot have a positive effect on a person’s aspirations.”
Commenting on the Government’s “ambitious aspiration” to halve the employment gap between disabled and non-disabled people, Frank Field said:
“The Government’s very ambitious aspiration to halve the disability employment gap must be reflected in the configuration of DWP’s contracted employment programmes.
“Helping over one million more disabled people into work won’t be achieved without an effective employment programme, delivered by specialists.”
He warned the Government against merging mainstream and specialist disability employment support programmes. “We think this would potentially be a grave mistake”, he said.
The Commmittee has urged the DWP to establish an “Employment Support Innovation Fund” and bring labour market policy into the remit of a “What Works Centre”.
This, they argue, would allow employment programmes to evolve and be more effective in supporting more people into employment.
Commenting on the report, Emily Thornberry MP, Labour’s Shadow Employment Minister, said:
“With a price tag approaching £3 billion and a success rate of less than 30 per cent, the Government’s flagship Work Programme has been an expensive disappointment.
“As the committee notes, providers have not always been able to resist the temptation to focus their resources on those considered easiest to help. As a result, the Work Programme has been a particular let down for those who face more significant barriers to employment, including disabled people and the over 50s.
“This is not good enough, either for taxpayers, who expect better value for their investment, or for jobseekers, who expect to have access to support which is appropriate to their needs.
“Today’s report is a timely reminder that, as the DWP considers the future of back to work support, services must be designed and delivered in a way that provides the right kind of support to help everyone, regardless of their circumstances, to help realise their potential in meaningful, rewarding jobs.”
Last updated at 02:43 on Thursday 22 October.