The government has admitted its Pathways to Work programme has been less effective in getting disabled benefit claimants back into work than previously hoped and has launched a consultation on how it can be improved.
While an evaluation of the initial pilots of Pathways, which began in 2004, showed the scheme significantly increased the probability of claimants finding work, a later study published last year found this was not the case in some Jobcentre areas.
Client base shift
The Department for Work and Pensions also said the introduction of ESA in 2008, which applies to new claimants, was changing the Pathways client base, increasing the need for support to be tailored to individuals’ needs. It said a review was urgently needed.
RNID’s head of policy, Mark Baker, welcomed the review but said the way funding for Pathways was allocated to employment support providers was holding back the provision of more tailored support for individuals.
He said: “The problem may have been that funding structures coupled with the recession meant it was very difficult for small specialist providers to engage with harder-to-help groups.” He said specialist providers found it hard to absorb the costs of finding work for individuals who required intensive support.
Concerns also remain over the mooted toughening of the work capability assessment, which determines whether people are eligible for ESA or jobseeker’s allowance. Those on JSA are deemed ready to work and receive less support and £25 a week less than those on ESA.
The DWP has commenced a review of the system but disabled people’s groups have warned that proposed reforms may make it more difficult for people to claim ESA because assessors would be able to take adaptations to enable people to work into account.
Ian Greaves, the editor of the Disability Rights Handbook, a guide to benefits published by the Disability Alliance, said: “My understanding of the review so far is that it will be far worse and almost nobody will be able to claim employment and support allowance.”
A DWP spokesperson said: “The review is considering the impact of any adaptation an individual may make to a disabling condition, and ways to reflect this in the WCA. It is not about making the WCA tougher for people who are unable to work, instead it is about ensuring individuals receive the right benefit and support.”
DWP officials are due to meet disabled people’s groups tomorrow to discuss the progress of the review.
Fit for work
The concerns follow figures published in October which showed 36% of those assessed for ESA from October 2008 to February 2009 were found to be fit for work and therefore not eligible for ESA. This compares with 17% of claimants under the old incapacity benefit system.
Respondents to the Pathways consultation should email their submissions by 28 January.