So now we know that a new Work and Health Programme will replace the two current DWP employment programmes when they end in 2017.
Just a month after the Work & Pensions Committee recommended that DWP should ‘maintain, and ideally expand, a separate employment programme for disabled people’, the Government has instead announced that a single Work and Health Programme will be commissioned to support into work people with health conditions and disabilities, and job-seekers who have been unemployed for two years.
The government is clear that it wants to halve the disability employment gap. In other words, it wants to see a million more disabled people moving into work. We know now that this new programme will be one of the main vehicles tasked with achieving that goal.
Of course, by focusing on the disability employment gap, the government is acknowledging the reality of a distinct set of labour market disadvantages faced by people with complex support needs. It is asking the new programme not to hit and hope, but to identify these disadvantages and to fix them.
The challenge for DWP is now to commission the new programme in a way that ensures disability specialists are at the heart of delivery, not pushed to the edges, and to align the programme’s commercial drivers with the goal of securing sustained jobs and careers for people needing highly specialised support.
The challenge to the primes who will lead the new programme is to recognise early on that this isn’t Work Programme 2.0. This is a specialist programme, but one with the potential to be delivered on a much bigger scale than existing specialist provision. It is clear that there was a strong argument for retaining a separate specialist programme, but at least the emphasis of the new programme is right.
Gone is the flawed logic of having a ‘universal’ programme which was expected to cater for everybody. As the results showed, the mechanics of the Work Programme forced most providers into a standardised one size fits all model that focused on those closest to the labour market. By contrast, the message now is that the new programme is to be aimed by design at people with disabilities, with health conditions, with chaotic lifestyles and with multiple barriers to work. In truth, this is a quiet revolution. It’s one that we shouldn’t underestimate. And it’s one that is re-enforced by the decision to provide £115m for the Joint Work & Health Unit, including £40m for a health and work innovation fund to pilot new ways to join up health and employment systems.
The arguments put forward for a separate specialist programme had a clear logic. They were based on the understanding that helping someone who needs highly specialised support to gain a job and build a career is a wholly distinct profession to the carrot and stick business of prompting work-ready jobseekers to submit multiple CVs. This insight remains vital.
It’s why those primes with the financial muscle to lead bids for the new programme will need to ensure that resources intended to support work with the most vulnerable customers do reach the front line. And it’s why those primes will also need to put specialists at the heart of the process to craft and develop what will be a radically new programme.
That’s because those partnerships that do go on to make money from welfare to work services in the future will be the ones not simply bent on crashing cohorts into the first jobs they spy. Instead they will have sufficient expertise threaded through their supply chains, connected to supporting health and welfare systems, to support the right person into the right (often modified) job and then a career with employers who themselves are partners in the process.
As the new programme starts to takes shape, it will be important for everyone involved in the process to recognise the reality that there are one million individuals, at home, in college, outside the doctor’s consulting room or the therapist’s office, waiting to make one million separate journeys into work.
For now, we at Pluss await with interest details of the scale, design and commissioning of a programme that will need to provide the specialist support that each of those million journeys into work will require.