Concerns that disabled people will be failed by the government’s welfare-to-work plans have been heightened after a key policy statement failed to clarify the future of a specialist employment support scheme for the group.
Employment minister Chris Grayling announced today the government would be going ahead with Conservative proposals to merge existing back-to-work schemes into a single overarching work programme.
But the statement made no mention of Work Choice, a back-to-work programme for disabled people devised by Labour and due to start in October, prompting concerns that disabled people may not receive the specialist support they need when looking for work.
Liz Sayce, chief executive of the disability network Radar, said: “There’s a need to reassure disabled people that there will be specialist support available. If you have autism, for example, you want somebody who understands your needs with autism.
“We hope that the overarching employment programme will work well for people but there’s a need for specialist support. The sooner government can clarify how this will work the better because there will be real anxiety.”
However, a Department for Work and Pensions spokesperson said no decision had been taken on its future and did not specify a timescale for one.
This is likely to cause problems for organisations that had been selected as preferred providers for Work Choice. Shaw Trust has already said it needed a decision by the end of June if it could start delivering services on Labour’s proposed start date of 25 October.
Grayling also announced an independent review of the controversial work capability assessment, which will report by the end of the year and will be chaired by occupational health expert Professor Malcolm Harrington.
The WCA was introduced to assess people for employment and support allowance (ESA), which replaced incapacity benefit for new claimants in October 2008. Disability campaigners and jobcentre staff have warned that the WCA has wrongly assessed many people as fit to work, leaving them on jobseeker’s allowance, which is worth £25 a week less than ESA and involves less support.
However, Grayling said the government would start reassessing existing claimants of incapacity benefit in the autumn, before Harrington’s review reports and any resulting changes are made to the WCA.
Grayling added that, in the meantime, he would extend WCA exemptions to people waiting for or between courses of chemotherapy and to those with severe disabilities due to mental health conditions.