The Work Programme: experience of different user groups

Written evidence submitted by Mencap

1. About Mencap and its employment service

1.1. We support the 1.5 million people with a learning disability in the UK and their families and carers. We fight to change laws and improve services and access to education, employment and leisure facilities, supporting thousands of people with a learning disability to live their lives the way they want. See for more information. We are also one of the largest providers of services, information and advice for people with a learning disability across England , Northern Ireland and Wa les .

1.2. Mencap’s network of supported employment services has been in operation since the 1980s. It aims to give people with a learning disability equal opportunities to get and keep rewarding jobs that match their individual needs and preferences. The service works in a person centred way, drawing on the range of experiences, aspirations, skills, abilities and support needs of each individual, and working to ensure the involvement of the individual throughout the process.

1.3. Mencap’s employment staff may work with family members to address any concerns they have, and will also engage with employers in order to challenge prejudices and secure job opportunities for people with a learning disability. From experience, Mencap knows that with the right support and opportunities, people with a learning disability can succeed in the workplace and become highly valued employees.

2. Learning disability and the employment situation for this group

2.1. A learning disability is caused by the way the brain develops before, during or shortly after birth. It is always life-long and affects someone's intellectual and social development. It used to be called mental handicap but this term is outdated and offensive. Learning disability is NOT a mental illness. The term learning difficulty is often incorrectly used interchangeably with learning disability.

2.2. Less than 7% of people with a learning disability known to social services are in any form of paid employment [1] . Even where people do work, it is often for low pay and for part-time hours. However, research shows that 65% of people with a learning disability want to work and that with the right support they can – and do – make a significant contribution to the workplace.

2.3. People with a learning disability tell us about the importance of work to them. It is not just about the financial benefits that employment brings, it is also about the opportunity to become more independent and take greater control of their own lives, to expand their social relationships, to play a more active part in the wider community, and to develop confidence and self-esteem.

3. Mencap and the Work Programme

3.1. The Work Programme has been described as the "centrepiece of the Government’s plans to reform welfare-to-work provision in the UK". [2] Overall, across five years, the DWP ’s estimation of how many people will enter the Work Programme has increased from 2.5 million to 3.3 million. [3] It has been estimated that cost of delivery will total around £5 billion [4] . The Programme is aimed at supporting a wide range of individuals, including disabled people, contributing to "the Government’s key aims of fighting poverty, supporting the most vulnerable, and helping people break the cycle of benefit dependency." [5]

3.2. Given the focus being placed on the Work Programme to support the Government’s reform of the welfare system, Mencap’s involvement in its delivery has been with the aim of ensuring our specialist knowledge and expertise is available to people with a learning disability coming through the system, and ultimately to support more people with a learning disability into paid employment.

3.3. Mencap has been involved in the delivery of end-to-end contracts as a subcontractor in six of the contract package areas. However, this has proved unsustainable for us. The financial model, combined with a low number of referrals in some areas, and the intensive support required by those individuals being referred to us, has led us to stop delivery on this basis. We are now working towards converting our contracts to a ‘call-off’ arrangement, which will allow us to provide specialist intervention services on a more ad-hoc basis.

4. Summary

4.1. Given the centrality of the Work Programme to the Government’s ‘welfare to work’ agenda, it is essential that it fully open to, and supportive of disabled people. However, Mencap is very concerned that this is not the case. The most recent referral and outcome figures published by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) suggest a programme that is supporting very few people into employment, and the situation for disabled people appears particularly worrying.

4.2. The low number of Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) referrals (just under 9%) to the Work Programme raises serious concerns about the support being offered to a group of disabled people who have been deemed to have "limited capability for work", but for whom many will see conditions attached to receipt of their benefit (i.e. those in the work-related activity group (WRAG) of ESA). Of these referrals, 8.2% have actually attached to the Programme – a total of just 73,000 ESA claimants, out of 837,000 total attachments [6] .

4.3. In parallel, Work Choice, the specialist employment programme aimed at those "who face the most complex and long-term barriers to employment", is limited to 115,000 placements over the lifetime of the five year contract. Additionally, Work Choice has also seen a low number of ESA (or Incapacity Benefit) referrals. Out of a total of 50,700 referrals, only 14% have been ESA (or Incapacity Benefit) claimants – a total of 7,150 claimants. Of these, 5420 have started on the programme. [7]

4.4. These numbers should be considered in the context of the total ESA caseload. The latest Government statistics show this figure to be 991,000 people, with 309,000 being found eligible for the work-related activity group (WRAG) of ESA [8] - the group identified as needing additional help and support to move towards and into employment. Whilst the figures cannot be compared like-for-like (e.g. the data collection spans different time periods), in the absence of any robust analysis of the entire ‘welfare to work’ process for benefit claimants, the gap between the total number of ESA claimants (991,000) and total numbers accessing employment support through the two principal programmes (78,420) available to them, is significant and concerning, and merits detailed investigation and explanation.

4.5. Numbers of ESA claimants with a learning disability specifically are not collected, but this group is likely to fall under the DWP classification group "mental and behavioral disorders". Of the 991,000 caseload, 426,000 claimants fall within this group. In contrast, 41,000 referrals to the Work Programme are identified as having a mental and behavioral disorder. [9]

4.6. The Government’s first set of official statistics on outcomes (27 November 2012) is also a concern for disabled people. Whilst the overall figure for job outcomes is around 3.5 per cent of those referred to the Programme (below the 5.5 per cent minimum target set by Government), for ESA claimants this figure drops to just 1.3 per cent. [10] Further work is needed to fully understand what is happening in the supply chain, and the support being accessed by those furthest from the labour market.

4.7. An individual claimant’s experience of the ‘welfare to work’ system is about the entire journey from making an initial claim for benefit, all the way through to the employment support they receive and – hopefully – any job outcome. Currently, this end-to-end process is not being considered in its totality, with fragmented data collection by the DWP and information that does not look in detail at different disability groups. As a result, it is impossible to track a cohort of people through the system from beginning to end and therefore establish how it is working for different user groups.

5. Response

5.1. The differential payments model

5.2. A differential payment model, aimed at reducing the ‘parking’ of those ‘harder to help’ groups, is a welcome approach. However, there are a number of issues with the current model that are challenging the aim of the Work Programme to support a range of customer groups. Even with the potential for higher unit costs for those ‘harder to help’ groups, the bulk of payment comes only with a sustainable job outcome. With a minimal up front attachment fee, this is proving hugely financially challenging to a range of providers, and can set the clock ticking in relation to further payments for sustained employment (for example, if payments are not delivered beyond the Programme’s two years, and a job outcome took a significant amount of time to secure).

5.3. For prime providers, who are dealing with high volumes and a wide variety of customers – some of whom will be more job ready that others – this model is perhaps more manageable. For Mencap, due to the disability and/or enduring and complex health issues of those people we work with, this approach has simply not proved sustainable. The people Mencap tend to work with are those who need far more intensive support than other groups and may take far longer to progress into paid work – if they reach it at all. Essentially then, any programme that is structured around a sustained employment outcome to ensure a flow of income presents challenges for those who are furthest from the labour market.

5.4. The differential payments model does not recognise distance travelled for those who are furthest from the labour marker. Thus, while differences in payment groups may appear significant, this must be considered against the likelihood of lower outcome rates for the more ‘difficult’ groups. There is potential for the development of an assessment that better determines a person’s distance from the labour market, and therefore a more robust differential payment model.

5.5. Additionally, this model relies heavily on benefit types as a means for determining payment groups. Current issues with the assessment for ESA (the Work Capability Assessment) mean that this determination is not straight forward. With high numbers of people with significant disabilities failing the assessment and moving onto Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA), it may not always be the case that those furthest from the labour market are ESA claimants and therefore subject to a higher payment. Indeed, Mencap’s employment services have noted that in some cases, there is little to distinguish ESA and JSA customers in terms of levels of support required, despite them being in different payment groups.

5.6. It is also significant to note the very low numbers of ESA claimants being referred to the Programme – fewer than 9% of all referrals. Initially, prime contractors were anticipating 30% of referrals to be ESA. [11] The latest data published by the DWP show that 89% of the total number of referrals have been referred via only three of the nine payment groups, including JSA 18-24, JSA 25+ and JSA Early Access. As noted previously, Work Choice, running alongside the Work Programme has also seen a very low number of ESA referrals, with the majority of referrals to this programme also being JSA claimants.

5.7. Total job outcomes for the Work Programme to date are 31,000 (June 2011 – July 2012). Only 1000 of these are job outcomes for ESA payment groups, with 96.3% being for participants in a JSA payment group. Whilst it is possible that some of these may be disabled JSA participants, the data collection does not provide this level of detail. [12]

5.8. There remains confusion about the relationship between Work Choice and the Work Programme, with a lack of clarity around the ‘gate-keeping’ process – how does a DEA decides to refer someone to the Work Programme rather than Work Choice? Is there consistency in approach? Some providers for Work Choice have suggested that difficulty in getting referrals through has been as a result of claimants being referred to the Work Programme.

5.9. Additionally, it is confusing to comprehend why a Work Programme prime provider can potentially receive up to £13,000 for supporting someone in the highest payment group into a job, whilst those providing specialist support for those with the most severe disabilities through Work Choice receive around £3000 for the same outcome.

6. The prime provider model

6.1. The prime provider model means that subcontractors are reliant on their prime contractor for referrals and information. In some cases, there have been issues with transparency in relation to volumes of claimants, and a fewer number of referrals in some areas have meant that these have not flowed down the supply chain, and have limited numbers.

6.2. As noted previously, referrals to Mencap through the Work Programme have tended to be claimants with very complex needs - including claimants with serious illnesses, and awaiting invasive medial interventions. In these cases, there are significant challenges for claimants to engage with the Programme, despite being at risk of losing their benefit if they do not. Yet, once someone is on the Programme it is not a straightforward process in getting him or her off it and reassessed – even if their condition worsens.

6.3. As a subcontractor, Mencap has found that in some cases we have been provided with limited information about the referral to ensure a good diagnostic assessment is achieved. This can lead to access and safety issues when members of staff are arranging to meet with customers, as they have limited knowledge about them.

6.4. In relation to participants receiving the services that meet their needs, it is also worth noting the inflexibility of the Work Programme’s focus on job outcomes of 16 hours or more (as is also the case for Work Choice). Whilst Mencap absolutely support the ambition to support people with a learning disability into work of 16 hours or more, we also believe that this may not be a realistic ambition for everyone. It is essential to acknowledge the spectrum and range of people we are talking about within this group. For some, it may never be likely. For others, it may be necessary to build up their hours over time. In addition, it may also be the case that an employer is only willing to "try out" someone with a learning disability for a few hours a week. Again, there is potential for providers to cherry pick those with lower level need or risk those with more complex support needs disproportionately eating into the budget.

8. The "black box" approach to service delivery

8.1. The "black box" approach is intended to allow providers to be flexible in their approach, providing personalised support to claimants, which can meet their specific needs. This is right in principle, given the range of customers coming through the Programme, but this has to be balanced with a means of providing some level of expectation about what people can expect from the programme.

8.2. A flexible approach might include Primes buying in specialist support through sub-contractors, but there are parameters for such organisations within the financial model, as well as through specified terms passed down from Primes to subcontractors - particularly around process and monitoring. As Mencap has noted previously, if the funding is not there, there is a real danger that quality of provision will be jeopardized and that the "innovation" associated with the "black box" approach to the Work Programme will be lost.

8.3. We believe there is potential for linkage with other related funding streams – for example, skills funding to support claimants who may be struggling with basic literacy / numeracy skills.

7 December 2012

[1] Social Care and Mental Health indicators from the National Indicator Set – 2009-10 Provisional, August 12 2010:





[6] As at 27 November 2012 . See:

[7] See November 2012 data:

[8] Based on DWP statistical data up to February 2012:

[9] Based on the International Classification of Diseases, 10th Revision, published b y the World Health Organisation

[10] Based on 1 thousand job outcomes for ESA payment groups, out of 73,000 attachments:




Prepared 3rd January 2013