-A A +A
Select color visibility that suits you Basic theme Dark theme Darker theme Text only

MPs call for radical overhaul of DWP’s approach to employment support

02 August 2021

 The DWP’s national programme for supporting Disabled people to find and stay in work is not working and must instead be delivered at a local level as part of a renewed effort to break down unacceptable barriers Disabled people face in the labour market, MPs have said.

A new report by the Work and Pensions Committee says that while the Government is not far from meeting its current target for increasing the number of Disabled people in work.

However, it finds that it has largely got there because overall levels of employment have risen and the prevalence of disability has increased - not because of substantial progress in tackling the barriers that Disabled people face.

The MPs say a new, more ambitious target of getting an additional 1.2 million Disabled people into work by 2027 should also be introduced.

Among the Committee’s main findings and recommendations are:

Targets and measures

Although the number of disabled people in work has increased since 2013, this is largely due to overall improvements in the labour market rather than substantial progress breaking down specific barriers. (p14)

The Government should both re-adopt its target of halving the disability employment gap and aim to increase the number of disabled people in work by 1.2million between now and 2027. This combined approach would benefit from the advantages of pursuing both absolute and relative targets.

Employers with more than 250 employees should be required to publish data on the proportion of workers who are disabled. This could be a highly effective way of holding employers to account and closing the disability employment gap.

Supporting disabled people into work

Charities and disabled people’s organisations were critical of the DWP’s centralised approach to employment support, with its main programme, the Work and Health Programme (WHP) currently commissioned at a national level.

The Committee calls on the DWP to take a new approach, granting more powers and funding to groups of local authorities to set up their own versions of WHP.

Supporting disabled people in the workplace

Access to Work, which provides advice and support to disabled people and their employers, is dogged by a bureaucratic, cumbersome and time-consuming application process. DWP has announced some welcome changes. DWP should work with disabled people to redesign the process.

Disability Confident, a programme which educates employers on the benefits of recruiting disabled employees, needs to be urgently evaluated by the DWP. The Government acknowledged that it was not possible to know whether it was any measurable impact on increasing the number of disabled people in work.  The scheme was described by many as a tick box exercise.

Employers are required, under the Equality Act 2010, to make reasonable adjustments to ensure disabled employees do not face disadvantage when doing their job. But evidence was heard that some employers may not understand their legal obligations or purposefully flout the law. The Committee welcomes proposals for an online information hub planned for August and also calls on the Government to consider ‘naming and shaming’ employers who continue to breach the law.

The disability benefits system

The Committee agrees with witnesses, including Professor Dame Carol Black, that the Work Capability Assessment (WCA) for people applying for Employment Support Allowance (ESA) is not fit for purpose. The fact that a majority of appeals against fit for work decisions are successful is evidence that it is not achieving its aim of supporting disabled people who can and want to work into employment. The Committee is to look at the issue in more detail in a future inquiry later this year.

Stephen Timms MP, Chair of the Work and Pensions Committee, said:

The Government is not far from meeting its current target for increasing the number of disabled people in work. But it has largely got there because overall levels of employment have risen and the prevalence of disability has increased—not because of substantial progress in tackling the barriers that disabled people face.

He added that:

“The gap between the proportion of disabled and non-disabled people in work has remained stubbornly high for years. The currently, overly centralised model of support simply isn’t working. We need a radical new localised approach. Support for finding and staying in a job that is much more personalised, flexible and effective should be delivered by groups of local authorities working with the NHS, training providers and charities.”

Fazilet Hadi, DR UK’s Head of Policy said;

“The conclusions of this report that the Government needs a bolder target to reducing the disability employment gap, that employment support for Disabled people needs to be more personalised and localised and that there should be mandatory disability employment and pay gap monitoring are much more radical actions than anything contained within the Government’s Disability Strategy.

We urge DWP to build these recommendations into the implementation of the Disability Strategy.”

The Committee’s report on the Disability Employment Gap is available from committees.parliament.uk.

 See also our related news stories: