Shining path?

The Pathways to Work scheme, which has pioneered an approach to help incapacity benefit claimants back into work, has been hailed as a success in some quarters and is set for expansion under government proposals. Derren Hayes reports

The coverage surrounding the government’s proposals for reforming the incapacity benefit system gave the impression that thousands of people will be dragged kicking and screaming back into work.

However, evidence from a government-run scheme for those unable to work on health grounds suggests innovative approaches to encouraging people back into the labour market not only work but are often embraced by those trapped by the benefits system.

The Pathways to Work Scheme was introduced in October 2003 by Jobcentre Plus centres in three pilot areas: Bridgend and Rhondda Cynon Taff in Wales, Derbyshire in the Midlands, and Renfrewshire, Inverclyde and Argyll and Bute in Scotland. Since then, the scheme has been introduced to eight further areas and expansion into 10 more areas between April and October 2006 will see it cover a third of the UK by the end of the year.

Offered to all new IB claimants in the pilot areas, Pathways provides health rehabilitation services, tailored job advice and work placements. Importantly, these services can be used without any loss to benefits, although failure to take part in the scheme could see money docked.

According to a report published last month analysing the effectiveness of the first seven pilot sites, 19,500 of the 148,000 customers who started the scheme have gained employment.(1) Furthermore, the number of job entries for people with health conditions and disabilities in the pilot areas has increased at a greater rate than in the rest of the country.

Although the scheme is only mandatory for new IB claimants, more than 11,000 existing claimants have also volunteered to take part. Following the initial assessment process (see The Process) participants are allocated an IB personal adviser or disability employment adviser to co-ordinate the back-to-work plan and manage and commission the support best suited to their needs. In some cases this could involve being referred onto a condition management programme (CMP) (see case study) or the New Deal for Disabled People (NDDP) under the Choices package.

Take-up of elements of the Choices package is more than 21 per cent, with 7,500 referrals to the CMP, around 75 per cent of which have had an initial assessment with the CMP provider; and 8,500 NDDP registrations. Nearly 15,000 have gone onto jobs. In Jobcentre Plus integrated offices NDDP take-up following the work focused interview (WFI) is about 4 per cent, whereas in
Pathways pilots it is about 10 per cent.

The report has found that advisers are using the NDDP and CMP to address the needs of relatively distinct groups of customers: “Those referred to CMP tend to be more difficult to help and are expected to take longer to gain jobs while NDDP registrants tend to be nearer to the labour market,” it finds.

As encouraging as these figures are, they are dwarfed by the scale of the problem: 2.7 million people of working age currently receive IB. In Derbyshire alone 46,000 people are on IB, with about 1,000 people per month making new claims.

Bob Kendall, Pathways to Work manager at the Derbyshire pilot site, says: “The average person has been on IB for nine years. If you are on IB for more than two years you’re more likely to die or retire than go back to work. People get into the lifestyle of benefits, of living in poverty, and convince themselves they’ll never work again.”

Kendall says this is partly down to the failure of the current system where people are assessed by their GP as being unable to do their existing job and then offered little help in finding alternative work or being retrained.

“There was no help in terms of indicating to people how they might take steps back into the workplace or pointing to the assistance out there. The only check that took place was to assess whether someone was still incapable of working via a medical test,” he explains.

Derbyshire’s high IB claim rate has much to do with the social policies of the 1980s – most of its traditional employment in coal mines and in heavy industry has gone over the past 20 years – but Kendall says a new trend has seen an increase in the number of younger people, particularly women, with mental health problems making claims.

Pathways helps claimants to rebuild confidence through the CMP’s use of clinical psychologists and cognitive behaviour therapy.

IB personal advisers work with the clients to create an action plan on how to get them back into employment, help with the practical aspects of doing a CV and applying for jobs and give grants of up to £100 for customers to buy new clothes for job interviews. They can also refer clients to more specialist mentoring, occupational health support or debt counselling.

Kendall says advisers are put through an intensive eight-week training programme. “It’s about winning the hearts and minds of customers and getting them to believe in themselves again. You have to convince them it is worth getting back into work and what the benefits are of doing so. It’s about motivation.”

In Derbyshire, nearly 4,000 people – 40 per cent – who have worked with a personal adviser have gained jobs. And Kendall denies accusations that the jobs are of low quality.

“These are everyday jobs in the care sector, retail, offices and call centres. We are working with major chains such as Marriott Hotels, Tesco and M&S and are getting increasing interest from organisations with social commitments or a high turnover of vacancies,” he adds.

And evidence gathered for the report suggests the work the pilots are putting in is starting to make a dent on the number of IB claimants. Although it admits there was a slight decline in IB caseloads just prior to Pathways starting up, after the introduction of the first and second set of pilots the rate of decline speeded up.

(1) Incapacity Benefit reforms – Pathways to Work Pilots performance and analysis from


  • All new incapacity benefit claimants must attend an initial work-focused interview (WFI) eight weeks after making their claim.
  • Many claimants then go on to attend a further five mandatory WFIs at roughly four-week intervals.
  • Non-attendance at this or any subsequent mandatory interview can result in deductions from benefit.
  • Personal capability assessment completed within 12 weeks of an IB claim being made. In cases where the person is assessed as having a severe illness or disability, they will be exempted from participation in the further mandatory WFI process.
  • Clients are then able to be referred onto the Choices package – either the Condition Management Programme or New Deal for Disabled People.

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