NAO critical of DWP’s failure to improve disabled employment rates

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) spent £386m on employment support programmes and Job Centre-based support for disabled people in 2017-18, but has only limited evidence of the effectiveness of this funding

The latest National Audit Office (NAO) report says current efforts are failing to achieve the government’s goal of getting 1m more disabled people into work by 2017.

The number of disabled people in work has risen by 930,000 (31%) in the last five years, but this has not been matched by a reduction in the number of disabled people who are out of work, the audit watchdog said.

Currently only 51.5% of disabled people are in work, compared with around 81.7% of non-disabled people.

The NAO said that the government’s headline goal of getting one million more disabled people into work from 2017 to 2027 cannot be used to measure the success of its efforts, since broader factors, such as more people who are already in work reporting a disability, and rising employment rates, have a significant effect.

DWP itself recognises that this measure cannot be linked directly to any specific government policy or programme on the measure and is not prepared to be held to account on a particular target.

The department set its goal as part of a 10-year strategy on work, health and disability. The NAO found that two years into this strategy, it has not yet developed detailed proposals in key areas or an implementation plan covering the full 10 years.

NAO points out that the disability gap, which is the difference in the employment rates of disabled and non-disabled people, has only narrowed by four percentage points since 2015 and is still high at 30 percentage points. The potential demand for DWP support is substantial, with at least 600,000 disabled people classified as fit for work, or fit for work related activity.

The NAO has found that despite the department’s decades of experience supporting disabled people it is still failing to provide the level of support or displaying the knowledge to help disabled people to get and keep jobs. It has also missed opportunities over the years to assess the impact and cost-effectiveness of its programmes, leaving it with limited evidence to support its current efforts.

DWP is now trialling new approaches, but the NAO warns that turning the results of trials into a clear and funded strategy for more transformational change will not necessarily be straightforward. The results of many of the trials will also not be ready until at least 2020 which is likely to be too late to feed into the next spending review or deliver ‘transformation’ by DWP’s promised date of 2022.

In addition, the NAO warns that work coaches, who are responsible for supporting job centre claimants with a disability into work, may come under increasing pressure as universal credit is rolled out, when number of claimants each work coach is responsible for is expected to increase from around 130 currently to over 280, and a 39% increase in the group requiring the most intensive support.

Amyas Morse, NAO head, said: ‘Given it has been supporting disabled people to work for a long time, it is not beyond reason to expect the Department to know “what works” by now and it is disappointing that it does not.

‘It has yet to make a significant dent in the number of disabled people who are out of work, some of whom say they would like to work given the right support.’

NAO report, Supporting disabled people to work, published 27 March 2019

Report by Pat Sweet

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