MPs have expressed “grave concerns” over the Government’s flagship Work and Health Programme and the potential challenges faced by new ‘Work Coaches’ in supporting disabled people into work.
Jobcentres will instead be expected to provide employment support to a broader group of claimants, including people with disabilities, mental health issues, and long-term illness. But a “lack of specialism” means Work Coaches will be increasingly required to identify and refer claimants to appropriate external support. MPs say this in itself requires “a level of specialist knowledge” currently lacking in Jobcentre Plus offices.
Committee Chair Frank Field said: “The government is basing the future for the new Job Centre Plus advisers on too narrow a financial and administrative base.
“It is in danger of missing this opportunity to create a world-class first in respect of its job advisers, and a world-leading employment support programme for disabled people in Job Centre Pluses by not thinking through the demands to be made on what is, in reality, the same old system financed by a much reduced budget.”
The Work and Health Programme will also receive significantly less funding that the programmes it’s replacing: £554m compared to an estimated £1.5bn that was spent on disability employment through the Work Programme and Work Choice.
The Work and Pensions Committee heard from witnesses who said this stark reduction could mean that many of those who may benefit from the Work and Health Programme will be unable to access it. The Committee described this as “a disappointing development”, especially considering the government’s commitment to halve the disability employment pap – the gap between the number of disabled and non-disabled people in employment – by moving an additional one million disabled people into work.
Frank Field said:”The success of the Department’s approach will depend on supporting people who, in many cases, are long term unemployed or have substantial health issues back into work.
“Many of these may have seen Jobcentres as enforcement agencies, and their staff as police, and have been poorly served in the past. Instead of building on examples of successful programmes such as Work Choice, the Department is overseeing a massive reduction in the spending on the replacement Work and Health Programme.
“Compensating for this will require a massive cultural shift and practical shift in JCP, enabling it to become a place that supports real progress to, and in, work. We are not convinced that JCPs and Work Coaches will have the necessary resources, skills and expertise to do this, and especially not at the rapid and ambitious pace that the DWP is expecting.
“The Government has expressed the need to reform capitalism, and to “make work pay”. We welcome the Department’s willingness to take a flexible approach to JCP’s services, and to try to support those who have been inadequately served by the current system.
“But we have grave concerns that shifting a raft of new, specialised demands and requirements onto JCPs, without significant training and preparation and with greatly reduced resources, is simply front-loading this brave new world for failure.”