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For over 2 million people who are long-term unemployed as result of disabilities and health conditions the DWP just isn’t working: new report

28 October 2020

Millions of people find it difficult, or even impossible, to work due to the impact of disabilities and long-term health conditions and it’s a number that looks set to rise.

But the current employment support system, managed by the DWP, can often do more harm than good, leaving people distressed and fearful, and only helping to lift 4% of the group into work every year, says a new research report from the New Local think tank.

The new report -This Isn’t Working - says:

“Even during periods of low unemployment, the DWP has a poor record of supporting this group into work – only around four per cent of those on associated benefits move into employment each year.

The system DWP oversees has also often made people’s lives more difficult, exacerbating the stress and anxiety many already live with. Without major reform, the financial costs and human impact will continue to mount. It’s time to radically rethink support for this group.”

In contrast, the report says:

“The most dynamic and effective responses to the coronavirus crisis have been facilitated by collaboration between local government, public services, the third sector, businesses and communities - adding to a growing evidence base for the value of locally coordinated responses to complex challenges.

This points the way to a different approach for designing and delivering employment support for people facing complex disadvantage.”

New Local makes the following recommendations for National government:

  • the DWP should no longer be responsible for providing employment support for people on ESA and the equivalent groups in Universal Credit;
  • for people facing complex disadvantage, DWP should focus on providing financial security;
  • power and resources to support people facing complex disadvantage with employment should be shifted from Whitehall to local areas; and
  • devolution should actively foster a more community led approach to employment support for people facing complex disadvantage;
  • national economic and social policy should help foster a more inclusive economy.

In turn, New Local calls for radical change in the form of a new community-led approach that would:

  • offer support to people based on what they want and need, in a relational model where power is shared equally and engagement is built on trust and rapport;
  • recognise that people are experts in their own lives and would build their confidence and commitment based on their strengths and aspirations;
  • involve designing and delivering services in collaboration with the people who need support, with experimentation and flexibility actively encouraged; and
  • treat trust as a prerequisite for services and would build this from the ground up by designing and delivering support in collaboration with those who need it.

New Local concludes:

“By addressing fundamental barriers within the current system, the shift to a community-led approach could revolutionise the support available to people facing complex disadvantage.

This is not just about employment, but the whole range of people’s interconnected needs and aspirations.”

The full report, This isn’t working: Reimagining employment support  for people facing complex disadvantage, and an Executive Summary are available from newlocal.org.uk.

Also available is an introductory blog by report co-author Tom Pollard, who spent 18 months seconded from Mind to the DWP advising on how to better support people with mental health problems and who concluded that the DWP is institutionally and culturally incapable of making the reforms needed to bring about a “step-change in outcomes for ill and disabled people”.