Comment: The Work Programme is not working for disabled people

Scope has called for disabled people to be taken off the Work Programme
Scope has called for disabled people to be taken off the Work Programme

By Mark Hoda

Yesterday's employment figures show that the disability employment rate has risen over the last year to 48%. This is positive news for the many disabled people who are pushing hard to find jobs and get on at work.

However, this rise masks a chronic problem: the gap between the employment rates of disabled people and the rest of the population has remained largely unchanged over the last decade, at around 30%. 

The fact is, if you are disabled in Britain today, you are more than twice as likely to be unemployed than someone who is not. 


For too many disabled people there are barriers to entering, staying in, and progressing in work and employer attitudes remain a significant barrier. Research by Scope shows that a staggering 74% of disabled adults feel they have lost out on a job opportunity because of their impairment.

Once out of the workplace, disabled people can find it much more difficult to return. Ten per cent of unemployed disabled people have been out of work for five years or more, compared with just three per cent of people who are not disabled.

The government has committed to halve the disability employment gap – the equivalent of supporting one million more disabled people into work. The way that disabled people are supported to find and stay in work must be at the heart of these efforts.

As the Welfare Reform and Work Bill makes its way through parliament and the government makes its spending decisions, it is vital this is not a missed opportunity to make employment support work for disabled people.

Cutting the money disabled people receive on Employment Support Allowance (ESA) is not the answer. It will make life harder at a time when disabled people are already struggling to make ends meet.

There must be a focus on improving the schemes that assist people back into work. Back-to-work schemes like the Work Programme are not working well enough for disabled people. It doesn’t provide disabled people with the specialist, personalised support they need to find work.

The number of disabled people finding jobs through the Work Programme is far too low. Just eight per cent of people receiving Employment Support Allowance, and four per cent of those receiving ESA/Incapacity Benefit find jobs this way.

A recent evaluation of the Work Programme by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) found disabled people were significantly more likely to say they had not received support than other groups. And those who had received support were less likely to say it was helpful.

Recent research by London Councils states that participants in the programme with no disability secure approximately twice as many jobs as those who are disabled.

The report also finds evidence that people over 50 and those who are disabled struggle to find work through the programme. It raises concerns about the suitability of the Work Programme for supporting claimants with complex needs.

Scope has been calling for disabled people to be taken off the Work Programme and instead be given specialist, personalised support that is appropriate to the kind of work they're looking for.

The Government made a welcome announcement in the Budget that it will provide new funding for employment programmes to help people return to work.

This will add up to £100m by 2021. It is vital that this investment is used to create personalised and tailored employment support to help disabled people find and stay in work.

Scope has a number of proposals for what employment support for disabled people should look like and we want to work with the Government to bring about the changes needed. These include: personal budgets for employment support services that would enable disabled people to have much more control over the type of support they receive, breaking down the barriers disabled people face when gaining employment, and staying in work which is vital to the country's sustainable economic growth.

The government must radically reform and improve its back to work schemes if it is to close the disability employment gap.

Mark Hoda is the interim head of public affairs at disability charity Scope

The opinions in Politics.co.uk's Comment and Analysis section are those of the author and are no reflection of the views of the website or its owners.

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