MPs voice 'grave concerns' over new scheme to help disabled jobseekers
MPs have expressed "grave concerns" over a new Government programme aimed at helping disadvantaged jobseekers and people with disabilities into work.
The Work and Pensions Committee said the Work and Health Programme, due to start in 2018, represented a "manifold reduction" in external support, with a budget of £554 million over its lifetime, substantially less than the estimated £1.5 billion spent on programmes it replaces.
The MPs also raised the challenges it said work coaches in jobcentres faced, saying many lacked the specialist skills they needed.
Committee chairman 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 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."
Mr Field said the Work and Pensions Department was overseeing a "massive" reduction in the spending on the Work and Health Programme.
Public and Commercial Services union general secretary Mark Serwotka said: "We have said for years that turning jobcentres into combat zones through increasingly harsh sanctions was demoralising for staff and cruel and counterproductive for claimants.
"If it is to meet its obligations to unemployed people and cope with the move to universal credit, the Government must reverse the DWP's planned budget cuts and invest in staff and resources."
Rebecca Hilsenrath, Equality and Human Rights Commission chief executive, said: "Employment is crucial for disabled people to live independently. Government strategy must be intelligent, informed and not 'one-size-fits-all'.
"We must recognise that a supportive welfare system is essential for those who are unable to work at all.
"In order for greater numbers of disabled people to enter the workplace, there needs to be a comprehensive approach which includes targeted support in the job market, such as ensuring that apprenticeship schemes use positive action, with monitoring of outcomes for the disabled."
A Department for Work and Pensions spokesman said: "Our Work and Health Programme will provide specialist support to people with disabilities, health conditions and the long-term unemployed, but we recognise there's more to do.
"That's why we're increasing support in jobcentres, investing more in adapting workplaces for people with specific needs while our newly launched Work, Health and Disability Green Paper is looking at how we can go even further."
Debbie Abrahams, shadow secretary of state for work and pensions, said: "The report highlights how the Tories' rhetoric on supporting people back into work doesn't match reality. This Government can no longer hide the true impact of their failing austerity agenda.
"The disability employment gap has only got worse under this Government. Now they have decided to reduce the budget for support by two-thirds."