The Public and Commercial Services union (PCS) has slammed “secret” Tory plans to sell off a publicly owned back to work scheme, that helps people with long-term illnesses and severe disabilities remain in work or find other suitable employment.
A memo seen by the Mirror reveals that Iain Duncan Smith has splashed out £200,000, on employing consultants to draw up possible ways of privatising the Access To Work scheme.
The Mirror reports that the Tory Work and Pensions Secretary is exploring ways to put the scheme out to tender, which may include the private sector as well as non-profit organisations and charities.
According to official Government statistics (pdf), Access to Work helped nearly 29,000 individuals between April to September 2015. The vital scheme also employs more than 600 people.
The memo admits that selling off the scheme could lead to accusations that it “represents a dilution of Government support for disability employment”.
It also recommends that DWP ministers “do not make a separate public announcement about the feasibility study at this stage”, adding that the consultants’ work should not be “widely promoted”.
The memo says Access to Work should preferably remain in-house, but adds: “We are open to looking at delivery options both inside and outside of Government, particularly where the latter have the additional capability of raising additional external funds.
“Our primary business objective is to increase customer reach whilst remaining a demand-led scheme, at no additional cost above Government forecast expenditure.”
PCS General Secretary Mark Serwotka said it’s “staggering” that the DWP is looking at ways to privatise Access To Work, especially “following the Atos debacle with back to work tests”.
Mr Serwotka told the Mirror: “It’s staggering that after all the failures of privatisation in DWP, such as the work programme and the Atos debacle with back to work tests, that ministers would even consider going for this.”
A DWP spokesperson admitted that the department is “exploring whether there is an opportunity to work with organisations such as charities”, but insisted “no decisions have yet been made”.