Blueprint for one million disabled people to get back to work awaited.

What do you think:

  • Got some ideas for the Work and Health Programme Green Paper that’s due?
  • What happens to vulnerable people repeatedly set up to fail?
  • If employers won’t change, what will?


There are nearly 7 million disabled people of working age in the UK but over half (3.6m, 53%) of them don’t work (compared with some 20% of non-disabled people).    To meet the Conservative manifesto of halving this employment gap by 2020, over a million more disabled people need to get work in the next four years!

This looks like a hugely over-optimistic pledge taking account of the very tight timescale with tiny (0.1% progress since 2015), no Government having achieved significant success over decades and the limited funding of the main delivery vehicle: the Work and Health   programme.

The Government is about due to issue a Green Paper on this new Programme.  I strongly commend the Learning and Work Institute paper with ideas about how the Programme should be shaped and funded.

From my perspective, all this ambition risks foundering without a major change in employer attitudes and behaviour – the job market is already massively restricted by more than half of small and medium sized businesses admitting that they discriminate when recruiting.

Once again, I champion self-employment as a potent alternative (already highly favoured by many disabled people) but this needs wholescale re-design of New Enterprise Allowance and proper integration with HMRC’s current Making Tax Digital ambitions and accessibility channels.

Based on the 20% success rates for disabled people achieved by the Work Programme and Work Choice, the pool of 3.6 million unemployed disabled people seems just too small to achieve the Government’s goal.  The situation is even more challenging when the pool includes significant numbers of ESA/IB claimants for whom these two programmes had even lower success rates (about 12%).  Additionally, many (47%) within that pool have limited work interest/capacity.

In real terms, future interventions might not achieve many more than about 2 million disabled participants   and so would need 50% success rates – a massive leap over past performance for those receiving ESA/IB.

With Jobcentres taking on more responsibility for long-term JSA claimants, most of the future Work and Health Programme funding of about £400 million (up to 2020-21) is likely to be aimed at disabled clients.  It sounds a lot until considering how the funds will be spread across 2 million participants/1 million work successes.

In reality, at this funding level, the “halving the employment gap” by 2020 is clearly not feasible and nor is participation by 2 million people.  The Programme Green Paper is only due to be issued in autumn 2016 so there is even less time for implementation and delivery.

Targeting interventions on volunteers who are keen to take part and work could be most cost-effective: avoiding expenditure on enforcing “mandatory” participation, offering employers the most motivated job applicants, providing success role models for those currently reluctant and demonstrating that interventions succeed.

But success rates need to be excellent and multi-faceted.  Not everyone will get work but even those who don’t must achieve life improvements (whether more social inclusion, better health, increased independence, new skills etc.) so that each individual, various public services and society as a whole all benefit and become enthusiastic champions of the interventions.   Like any other experience, bad reviews have longer reach than good and, for individuals who are repeatedly set-up to fail by poorly designed and ill-funded interventions, their life prospects can be irrevocably damaged.  They are more likely to join a cadre of people who are highly resistant to employment interventions as their risk-aversion to attempting work is reinforced.


Penny Melville-Brown OBE

Disability Dynamics ltd

Helping disabled people to work since 2000

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